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Nigella Sativa: The Herb in Antiquity Making Wonders
May 1, 2016

Recent findings in health care are portraying the wide-ranging impact of Nigella Sativa, especially in fighting cancerous cells. 1,2,3,4

An ancient herb Nigella Sativa, a flowering plant native to southern Asia, grows to roughly 30 cm in height. But what it lacks in height, it more than makes up in its fruits, which are home to the powerful black cumin seeds. Following a cold-pressing process, the famed black seed oil is extracted from these seeds. Lying within this versatile oil is the primary active ingredient Thymoquinone. As a phytochemical, Thymoquinone is capable of preventing and combating diseases in plants. The extensive history of this herbal medicine has shown that humans are equally capable of benefiting from its majestic healing power. Nearly three centuries ago, ancient Egyptians utilized the black seed oil from Nigella Sativa to rejuvenate the skin and face, as well as to treat digestive problems. Ibn Sina, the renowned Persian physician of the 11th century, wrote of the oil’s ability to revitalize the body’s energy, and to treat common maladies, such as fever and headaches. 5 In the contemporary age, many consume this plant’s blessed seed in combination with honey, as part of a salad, in tea, or as a form of added flavoring.

Touching upon cancer Thymoquinone is well known for its role in promoting the well-being of the immune system. This is all the more important in cases involving cancer in which the bypassing of important check points in the cell-cycle leads to the uncontrollable growth and infinite divisions of unhealthy cells. Often, the circumvented check point lies between the Gap 1 phase (G1) and Synthesis phase (S), where cytoplasmic and DNA conditions are regulated following an external signal, such as a growth factor. Therefore, the discovery that Thymoquinone is capable of halting such a detrimental act is quite important for the future of cancer treatments.1 It is also noted that Thymoquinone has repeatedly displayed the ability to impede damaged-cell functionality through facilitating apoptosis, a natural cell death inflicting little to no harm to nearby cells. It is also believed that a link exists between Thymoquinone and p53, a tumor-suppressor protein, since many more human breast cancer cells entered late apoptotic stages when treated with Thymoquinone.2 In 2016, 1.6 million people worldwide are projected to pass away from lung cancer alone. In the United States, that value checks in at slightly under 160,000 deaths, with nearly 18 Americans dead per hour. Moreover, approximately 1.8 million new cases of lung cancer will arise around the world. In light of these staggering figures, the findings of Al-Sheddi et al. provides a glimmer of hope. When viable human lung cells inflicted with cancer were exposed to Nigella Sativa extract (NSE) for 24 hours, the percent viability of the cancerous cells decreased nearly 65% as the concentration of NSE increased from .25 to 1 mg/ml.3 This cytotoxic effect, coupled with a reduction in size and adhesion capacity of the cancerous cells, is an important step in the right direction towards preventing metastasis and growth. Likewise, Thymoquinone has been identified as an effective role player in treating breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Motaghed et al. report that human breast cancer cells treated with Thymoquinone experienced a nearly 75% decrease in cell proliferation over a 48 hour period as the concentration of Thymoquinone increased from 0 to 300 μM. Not surprisingly, the findings of Motaghed et al. do happen to support those discussed earlier by Al-Sheddi et al. as percent viability of breast cancer cells decreased across all measured concentration levels of Thymoquinone over 72 hours.2 Such data speaks volumes, underlining the extract’s ability to sustain effective, long-term treatments. On a similar note, when human prostate cancer cells were introduced into mice (allowing the tumor to settle), certain mice given an additional injection of 6 mg/day of Thymoquinone were observed to have substantially less growth in tumor size and shape after 15 days of treatment as compared to the mice who were not administered Thymoquinone.4 Furthermore, Yi et al. noted a sharp difference in blood vessel formation from tumor angiogenesis as the untreated mice developed many more vessels. This ability to stymie vessel formation from tumor angiogenesis ensures that tumor growth and expansion into other bodily organs is abrogated.

Into the bloodstream While effective in cancer treatment, the far-reaching impact of Nigella Sativa has also been linked with glycemic control in diabetes, an illness plaguing tens of millions of people in America alone. Diabetics suffer from a considerably high level of glucose in their bloodstream due to the body’s inability to produce enough, or even any, insulin. As a result, many are at risk for eventual kidney failure. With this in mind, Type 2 Diabetics may rejoice upon hearing that similar patients experienced substantially lowered fasting blood glucose (FBG) levels when exposed to 2 gm/day of ground Nigella Sativa seeds in conjunction with current type 2 anti-diabetic medicine. The phenomenal decrease was such that at 4, 8, and 12 week intervals, FBG levels were 45, 62 and 56 mg/dl less than the baseline value. Similarly, after a 12 week duration, measured glycosylated hemoglobin levels were lowered over one and a half percent, returning to a healthy range. Amazingly, the effect of insulin resistance, the defining characteristic of type 2 diabetes, was minimized in patients administered 2 gm/day of ground Nigella Sativa seeds.6 Serviceable in the bloodstream, Nigella Sativa has been pinpointed as an effective tool in regulating cholesterol. Ali et al. exposed a test group of white female albino rats to various dosages of Nigella Sativa seeds. What they found was that after 4, 7, 10, and 14 days, the administered Nigella Sativa dosages (between 200 and 400 mg) were capable of decreasing cholesterol. Furthermore, blood triglyceride values dropped across most dosage levels after the above time periods.7 Such a finding is crucial, considering that excessive triglyceride readings can result in atherosclerosis (clogged, inflexible arteries), high cholesterol levels, elevated LDL cholesterol (responsible for plaque buildup), and lowered HDL cholesterol (which typically cleanses arteries of LDL cholesterol). Interestingly, heightened levels of triglycerides have also been correlated with diabetes, an illness equally treated by Nigella Sativa seeds.8

Unbearable pain Nigella Sativa’s panacea-like effect has also graced tender and swollen joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, occurs as a result of the immune system mistaking joints for foreign substances. Any inflicted joint will swell greatly, causing nearly unbearable pain. As an anti-inflammatory, Thymoquinone is capable of minimizing cartilage reduction and, therefore, pain. This is especially true for females, who are two and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with arthritis. A study in Egypt found that over forty percent of the given female patients in a treatment group suffering from arthritis reported an improvement in their health, with fewer swollen and tender joints, after administration of Nigella Sativa capsules.9

Bless you! The blessed seeds of Nigella Sativa have even demonstrated an ability to alleviate allergic symptoms. The immune system’s inflated response to allergens culminates in the release of histamines, the component responsible for inflammation. As a result, people may develop symptoms such as runny noses, sneezing, watery eyes, and itchy throats. A study carried out by Isik et al. found that when test subjects with predisposed allergies to dust mites were given immunotherapy for a period of time followed by a supplement of 2 gm/day of Nigella Sativa seeds, the immune system received a boost, generating an increased phagocytic and intracellular killing percentage. Moreover, the small group of healthy volunteers who participated in the study also noticed an increase in their body’s phagocytic activity after receiving one month of Nigella Sativa seed supplements.10 Hence, Thymoquinone yet again displayed the ability to minimize the effect of an unfavorable substance in the body.

A standard bearer But despite all of these promising results, has anyone heard of Nigella Sativa? In a health market dominated by pharmaceutical companies worth over $300 billion, word of a truly cost-effective, easily accessible, and safe food item spreads slowly and difficultly. According to the National Cancer Institute, the first year alone of cancer treatment can cost nearly $61,000, for either sex.11 That staggering number coupled with continually skyrocketing medical coverage costs should make alternative therapy, such as Nigella Sativa, appear even more attractive. Five patents for solutions including Nigella Sativa extracts have already been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, covering treatment for illnesses such as diabetes and viral infections, as well as cancerous cell growth.12 The FDA has already recognized Nigella Sativa, or black cumin, as being generally safe.13 And with over 1500 hits for “Nigella Sativa” and “Thymoquinone” on the PubMed website, one can only wonder how much more time will pass before pharmaceutical companies begin to take more drastic measures towards endorsing this natural, herbal medicine, especially considering that it significantly enhances the effect of current chemotherapy drugs Gemcitabine and Oxaliplatin in decreasing the viability of pancreatic cancer cells.14 Will Nigella Sativa become the standard bearer for alternative medicine, known to heal the mind and body through a holistic approach to one’s pain? Will those in line with the modern medical practices acknowledge the benefits of a strongly supported panacea? Many questions abound. However, with the black seed oil reported in a Prophetic tradition to provide healing for every disease except death, one can only hope that its rich history and certain healing methods reach the eyes and ears of all inflicted with illness. * * * a Department of Biochemistry, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO References

    • Raghunandhakumar, S., A. Paramasivam, S. Senthilraja, C. Naveenkumar, S. Asokkumar, J. Binuclara, S. Jagan, P. Anandakumar, and T. Devaki. "Thymoquinone Inhibits Cell Proliferation through Regulation of G1/S Phase Cell Cycle Transition in N-Nitrosodiethylamine-Induced Experimental Rat Hepatocellular Carcinoma." Toxicol Lett 223, no. 1 (Oct 23 2013): 60-72.
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    • Isik, H., A. Cevikbas, U. S. Gurer, B. Kiran, Y. Uresin, P. Rayaman, E. Rayaman, B. Gurbuz, and S. Buyukozturk. "Potential Adjuvant Effects of Nigella Sativa Seeds to Improve Specific Immunotherapy in Allergic Rhinitis Patients." Med Princ Pract 19, no. 3 (2010): 206-11.
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    • Banerjee, S., A. O. Kaseb, Z. Wang, D. Kong, M. Mohammad, S. Padhye, F. H. Sarkar, and R. M. Mohammad. "Antitumor Activity of Gemcitabine and Oxaliplatin Is Augmented by Thymoquinone in Pancreatic Cancer." Cancer Res 69, no. 13 (Jul 1 2009): 5575-83.