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, Arabia, 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 nigella sativa 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, the available research suggests that nigella sativa holds promise for the treatment and/or prevention of the following conditions:

Asthma

Nigella sativa may help ease symptoms of asthma, according to a small study published in 2007. For three months, 29 adults with asthma took either a placebo or a nigella sativa extract daily. Study results showed that those treated with nigella sativa had significantly greater improvements in the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms such as wheezing.

Another research review examined a number of studies investigating the therapeutic potential of nigella sativa in boiled extract form. Study authors concluded that the natural substance has potential in reducing symptoms of asthma.

Lastly, a study published in 2017 found nigella sativa to have bronchodilatory effects, with study authors attributing the benefit to the presence of an active constituent present in the seeds called thymoquinone.

High Blood Pressure

A large research review identified studies in which nigella sativa was examined to determine if the substance could provide cardiovascular benefits. In vitro and mouse studies suggested that it may have the potential to help lower blood pressure.

In a small study published in 2008, researchers found that nigella sativa may help keep blood pressure in check. After eight weeks of twice-daily treatment with nigella sativa extract, patients with mild hypertension had a greater reduction in blood pressure compared to those assigned to a placebo supplement.

Further studies on humans are needed to confirm this benefit.

Cancer

Findings from test-tube research indicate that nigella sativa may help hinder the development of pancreatic cancer. In a series of lab tests, scientists discovered that thymoquinone significantly reduced levels of pro-inflammatory compounds found in pancreatic tumors.

Other in vitro and animal studies have suggested that black seed may have potential in the treatment of breast, lung, kidney, skin, colon, and gastric cancers. However, study authors call for more rigorous clinical and animal studies.

Other limited studies have suggested that nigella may have potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and high cholesterol.

Other popular uses for nigella sativa 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

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 it is likely safe. When it is used 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.

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

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 mg of black seed oil has been taken twice daily for four weeks.

When studying its effect on blood pressure, a half gram 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 bleeding disorders, diabetes, low blood pressure, or patients about to undergo surgery. Black seed might also increase the risk of seizures in some people. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid the use of nigella sativa.

Lastly, nigella sativa may cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include stomach upset, vomiting, constipation.

Selection, Preparation & 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 it 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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