The Health Benefits of Nigella Sativa

Shot Of Super-food, Nigella Sativa
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Nigella sativa is a small black seed that has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. The seed comes from a flowering plant (part of the Ranunculacea family) native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. The plant now grows throughout India, the Middle East, and Europe. Nigella sativa is sometimes used to treat certain health conditions including asthma, bronchitis, and inflammation, and has long been used as a spice and food preservative.

While research on Nigella sativa's health effects is limited, findings from in vitro, animal, and a small number of human studies show that it may offer immune-boosting and antioxidant benefits.

Also Known As

Nigella sativa is the scientific name for a plant that goes by several other names, including:

  • Black seed
  • Black cumin
  • Black caraway
  • Cumin noir
  • Fennel flower
  • Seed of Blessing
  • Small Fennel
  • Kalonji

Health Benefits

To date, there is a lack of clinical trials testing Nigella sativa's health effects. However, some research suggests that the seed holds promise for the treatment and/or prevention of asthma, blood pressure, and certain cancers, thanks to thymoquinone, an active ingredient in Nigella sativa oil extract that has anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, antibacterial, and anti-cancer properties.

Asthma

According to a 2013 review investigating the therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa in boiled extract form, authors concluded that the natural substance has potential to alleviate the symptoms of asthma by widening the bronchioles to allow airflow to the lungs.

Similarly, a month-long 2011 study looked at Nigella sativa's impact on allergic rhinitis. In a sample of 66 men and women who experienced nasal congestion, runny and itchy nose, and sneezing, Nigella sativa reduced symptoms during the first two weeks.

High Blood Pressure

Nigella sativa is widely reported to have anti-hypertensive properties, which aid in reducing blood pressure. A 2013 study found that Nigella sativa oil significantly decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure among 70 participants.

However, a more recent study from 2017 wanted to test Nigella sativa's diuretic properties and ability to curb overactivity in the sympathetic nervous system to gauge whether it positively impacted blood pressure. After administering Nigella sativa seed extract twice per day for 28 days, the result was lower blood pressure, but not to a significant degree.

Further studies on humans are needed to confirm this benefit.

Cancer

While most research has focused on animal studies thus far, a 2019 review cited past studies in which human breast, bladder, cervical, prostate, and renal cancer cells found that Nigella sativa has the potential to fight cancer. Studies showed that thymoquinone inhibited cancer cell multiplication and in some cases, killed cancer cells.

Other Illnesses and Ailments

Some limited studies have suggested that Nigella sativa may have potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and high cholesterol. Other popular uses include:

  • Inflammation
  • Migraine
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hayfever
  • Seizures
  • Improved mental performance
  • Eczema
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hepatitis C
  • Birth control
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Digestive problems
  • Increasing breast-milk flow
  • Menstrual disorders

That said, there is not enough scientific evidence to know for sure if Nigella sativa can aid in the treatment of these conditions.

Possible Side Effects

When the black seed is used in food or medicinally in small amounts for a short period of time, it is possibly safe. But there isn't enough information to know for sure if it is safe in higher amounts or for longer periods of time.

Taking Nigella sativa during chemotherapy may hamper the effects of chemotherapy drugs. Tests on animals indicate that high doses of Nigella sativa may damage the kidney and/or liver.

There is no standardized dose of Nigella sativa, but different amounts have been studied in research. For example, when studying black seed's effect on asthma, two grams of ground nigella sativa has been used daily for 12 weeks. Also, 500 milligrams of black seed oil has been taken twice daily for four weeks. When studying its effect on blood pressure, a half to two grams of black seed powder has been taken daily for up to 12 weeks.

Certain people should exercise caution and speak to their healthcare provider before taking or using nigella sativa, including those with low blood pressure. Although studies analyzing any effect Nigella sativa might have on pregnancy and breastfeeding have focused on animals, women are advised to talk to their doctor before consumption.

Lastly, Nigella sativa may cause an allergic reaction when applied topically.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Nigella sativa is found in some specialty grocery stores because the ingredient is used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. The seeds are known to have a strong aroma with notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper. You'll find them used in curries and lentil dishes.

Store Nigella sativa seeds like you would store your other spices. Keep them in airtight containers, away from heat and light.

The natural substance is also sold as a dietary supplement, sometimes as an oil or in capsule or powder form. Always read the label to make sure there are no other ingredients in the product you choose.

Keep in mind, however, that supplements are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While it is illegal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a disease or to reduce symptoms of a disease, the FDA does not test products for safety or effectiveness. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the amount specified on the label. There have also been published reports of supplements containing ingredients not disclosed on the label.

When choosing a supplement, try to buy from a familiar seller such as your local pharmacy. Ask questions if you are not sure which product to choose. Also, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

A Word From Verywell

Due to a lack of scientific support for its health effects, it's too soon to recommend Nigella sativa as a principal standard treatment for any condition. If you're considering the use of Nigella sativa for treatment or prevention of a specific health problem, make sure to consult your doctor before you start your supplement regimen.

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