Black Seed Oil – Truth and Myth

What Is the Truth Behind Trending Interest in Benefits of Black Seed Oil?

Also known as nigella, black caraway, kalonji, Roman coriander, black onion seed, nutmeg flower, black cumin and fennel flower, this herb has a long history of use for medicinal, cosmetic and culinary purposes. Archaeologists even discovered black seeds preserved inside King Tut’s tomb. These seeds probably date back to 1323 B. C.

Among ancient Egyptians, Cleopatra is said to have used black seed oil for beautiful hair and skin. Hippocrates prescribed it for digestive troubles. The Old Testament of the Bible mentions black seed oil (Isiah 28:25-27 ). As long ago as 1025 A. D., Avicenna, in his Canon of Medicine, recommended it to treat dyspnea. The fourteenth century text, Medicines of the Prophet, lists as many as fifty different illnesses for which black seed preparations may have healing qualities.

Recently, though, there has been a flood of new information in scholarly journals and in the popular press about potential benefits of black seed oil. Since 1959 more than 200 studies were conducted and articles published internationally in various journals.

Given the scientific name Nigella sativa, this small flowering shrub is a member of the buttercup family. It grows with purple or white-tinged flowers and flourishes in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and western Asia. It produces fruits with tiny, crescent-shaped black seeds. The seeds have a pungent, bitter taste and odor sometimes described as a combination of onions, black pepper and oregano.

Black seed oil is available for purchase at most health food stores and pharmacies, usually sold as capsules for ease of consumption. It is available, too, as a liquid oil to apply topically to the skin and hair or to take by mouth from a spoon. While there are no well-established recommendations for intake, individual packaging will generally suggest a daily intake of about one to two teaspoons.

Health Benefits

Preliminary studies are now underway to investigate claims from traditional medicine that N. sativa has therapeutic efficacy. The seed oil extract or its volatile oil and the isolated constituent thymoquinone are principal forms of black seed under study.

Black seed oil displays strong antioxidant properties. It may help to reduce inflammation inside the body and on the skin. According to Egyptian Journal of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology it also shows antimicrobial activity against Candida albicans, a type of yeast that can overgrow in the body and lead to the condition known as candidiasis. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that black seed can also act as an antihistamine, but there isn’t yet sufficient data from human studies to confirm it.

Effects under Study

The following claims are currently under study:

  • Reducing high blood pressure: Taking black cumin seed extract for two months apparently can reduce hypertension in some people with mildly elevated blood pressure. One meta-analysis of clinical trials found a short-term benefit for it to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Reducing high cholesterol: Another meta-analysis found that various extracts of black seed can reduce triglycerides, LDL (bad) and total cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. It is high in healthy essential fatty acids such as linoleic and oleic. The levels of oil content can vary, though, depending on where the black seeds grow. Consuming the crushed seeds may also have a beneficial effect.
  • Liver health: In a recent Egyptian study scientists discovered that black seed oil benefits liver function. It may also help to prevent both liver damage and disease among laboratory rats.
  • Diabetes management: in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers from the Indian Council of Medical Research report animal studies showing that black seed oil “causes gradual partial regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells, increases the lowered serum insulin concentrations and decreases the elevated serum glucose.” The effect has not yet been replicated in human studies.
  • Improving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: Taking oral black seed oil may help reduce inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.  Some people also apply black seed directly to the skin for joint pain.
  • Decreasing asthma symptoms: The anti-inflammatory effects of black seed oil may include improving asthma symptoms. Its effect in reducing inflammation in the airways may also help with some symptoms of bronchitis as well.
  • Reducing stomach upset: Eating black seeds or taking black seed oil might relieve some stomach pains and cramps. Traditional medicine claims the oil can help to reduce gas, stomach bloating, colic, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation, hemorrhoids and the incidence of ulcers.
What Role Might Black Seed Oil Have in Fighting Cancer?

Black seed oil may help fight against some skin cancers when applied topically. Research recently published in Biochemical Pharmacology investigates the effect of thymoquinone from black seed oil. Findings there document the reduction in growth of tumors in laboratory rats. Scientists in Croatia also discovered two phytochemicals in black seed oil that resulted in 52% decrease in tumor cells among rat subjects.

The oil also may help to reduce some tissue-damaging effects of radiation treatments to kill cancer cells. Black seed in combination with cysteine, vitamin E and saffron can sometimes ease side effects of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin and may potentiate the effects of other conventional chemotherapeutic drugs.  These effects, however, have not been fully studied in humans.

CAUTION: Do not use black seed oil as a substitute for the conventional cancer treatments ordered by your doctor.

What about the Effect of Black Seed on Male Potency/Fertility?
From the tabloid press to traditional/alternative healers to cutting-edge science, interest abounds in possible use of black seed oil as a “cure” for male impotence and infertility. Not all claims are equally valid though. 
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers at Shahid Beheshti University determined that black seed oil significantly boosted semen quality, volume and motility. The study group consisted of 34 infertile male study subjects with low sperm counts or abnormalities in sperm morphology or motility. Scientists there concluded:
Results showed that sperm count, motility and morphology and semen volume, pH and round cells were improved significantly in N. sativa oil treated group compared with placebo group after 2 months.
Another study conducted in 2015, concluded that in rats treated with thymoquinone from black seed oil:
The number of healthy sperm was increased and the anomalies significantly reduced by using Thymoquinone.
Other published research has examined the ability of black seed products to boost testosterone levels. Most of these studies have been limited to rodent subjects. In a Pakistani study where the rats’ drinking water was fortified with 5% N. sativa extract, a slight increase (19% in diabetic rats; 33% in healthy rats) in testosterone levels resulted. Another study of black seed oil at 100mg/kg administered to male wistar rats also found increased testosterone levels. The 9% improvement, however, was too little to be significant.
In contrast a small study of obese human males provided daily supplementation with 3 grams of whole black seeds for 90 days. This treatment did not increase free testosterone levels.
Verdict: The jury is still out. The antioxidant activity of black seed may be helpful to correct some male health problems. More research is necessary, though, before recommendation as a cure-all for infertility issues.

Cosmetic/Beauty Applications

Black seed oil may be useful as a beauty treatment for the skin and hair:
  • Acne: According to the Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery, applying a lotion prepared with 10 percent black seed oil significantly reduced the incidence of acne after two months. Study participants reported 67 percent satisfaction.
  •  Hydrating hair: Black seed oil, applied to human hair, may soften it and encourage shine. Traditional healers claim that black seed oil even has the ability to help restore hair loss. Powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties may influence the effect. By strengthening hair follicles, black seed oil may also help strengthen hair roots.
  • Psoriasis: Applying black seed oil  can reduce the incidence of psoriasis plaques. It helps sooth inflammation and improve the speed with which skin heals.
  • Softening skin: Black seed oil, added to emollient lotions and moisturizers, may improve skin moisture and hydration. Known to promote and inhibit melanin production, black seed oil may benefit the skin and other cells. For example, in a recent study conducted by Iranian researchers, Nigella sativa was found as effective as the  skin cream Betamethasone in improving quality of life and decreasing severity of hand eczema.
  • Wound healing: Application of black seed oil can diminish inflammation and decrease growth of bacteria to aid in wound healing. While it does not seem to be helpful in growing new collagen fibers, it does stimulate other growth factors to help the body create new, healthy skinSome studies suggest that it may be a useful remedy against scars and might prevent scar formation on wounds.
 CAUTION: Black seed oil should not replace skin treatments prescribed by a doctor. It might have some beauty benefits, though, that can work in addition to the physician-prescribed regimen.

Recipe and Food Uses 

When eaten, the seeds have a bitter, pungent flavor somewhat like that of cumin, fennel or oregano. Whole seeds, found in many Indian and Persian markets, can be used in breads and other baked goods. They also impart flavor to some pickles. You can crush the seeds to use in beverages, teas and curries or as a pepper substitute. Black seed appears as an ingredient in the Indian herbal spice mixtures called masala and panch phoron.

If you are looking to expand your palate, try to incorporate black seeds into a variety of dishes. Suggestions on food enhancements include:

  1. sprinkled on ripe tomatoes as a substitute for black pepper
  2. roasted and scattered on flatbreads like naan
  3. added to soups, curries, salads and stir-fried dishes
  4. ground and mixed with other seasonings such as mustard, fennel and cumin seeds
  5. toasted and served on top of bagels or biscuits
  6. combined with other herbs (e.g., thyme) to make a rub for baked chicken or to add  to slow-roasted vegetables

Preparation Methods

  • Heat the seeds in oil or toast them lightly to release essential oils before including in wet-cooked dishes.
  • Grind the black seeds for roasting or other dry-cook methods to get a more intense flavor and a sweet aroma like that of black sesame paste.

Is Black Seed Oil Safe?

According to :

“Black seed, when taken by mouth in small quantities, such as a flavoring for foods, is LIKELY SAFE for most people. Black seed oil and black seed extract are POSSIBLY SAFE when medical amounts are used short-term. There isn’t enough information to know if larger, medicinal quantities are safe. Black seed can cause allergic rashes when applied to the skin.”

If you take any prescription medications regularly, talk to your doctor before starting to take black seed oil. Remember too: You should not stop taking any of your regular medications without talking to your doctor first. Pregnant or lactating women should check with a qualified healthcare professional before beginning black seed oil intake.

Black seed oil can potentiate the effects of medicines that the body processes through the cytochrome P450 pathway. Enzymes in this pathway metabolize up to 90 percent of common medications including beta-blockers such as metoprolol (Lopressor) and the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin).

Taking too much black seed oil can potentially be harmful to your liver and kidneys. If you have problems with either of these organs, talk to your doctor to determine a safe dose (if any).

Black seed oil can develop problems if it is not extracted, processed or packaged correctly. The oil can easily turn rancid if any of these operations are substandard. Be careful, too, to store the oil inside a dark, glass bottle (preferably miron glass). Refrigeration of black seed oil can extend shelf life.

Look for the following qualities to be certain of high quality in black seed oil:

  • Organic
  • Pure-pressed/cold-pressed without chemical extraction
  • Contains no additives or diluting oils
  • Protected from rancidity by high quality light- and air-protective glass container