By Abrar Al-Shaer, PhD and RD in Nutrition Candidate
Nigella Sativa, commonly known as “black seed” or “black cumin seed” is an ancient remedy mentioned in all Abrahamic faiths spanning Judaic texts, Christian biblical texts, and Islamic texts as a cure-all remedy. In fact, it has been referred to as the seed that can cure any illness except for death. What gives this seemingly random seed so much popularity? Surprisingly, searching Nigella Sativa in PubMed returns over 1,400 scientific research articles of the effects of black cumin seed on countless illnesses ranging from type 2 diabetes, cancer, inflammation, pain, rheumatoid arthritis, neurodegeneration, sepsis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ischemia, hyperlipidemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension, autoimmunity, dermatitis, asthma, kidney stones, and the list goes on. One would have to write a book (or multiple books!) to comprehensively discuss all the benefits and clinical trials around black cumin seed. However, here I focus on three major conditions that affect millions of people in the US: obesity, type 2 diabetes, and chronic inflammation.
Black cumin seed & obesity:
A large systematic review and meta-analysis on black cumin seed’s effects on obesity revealed that across 11 different studies, supplementation with black cumin seeds reduced body weight, body-mass index (BMI), and waist circumference. In another systematic review only examining randomized clinical trials, black cumin seed also significantly reduced body weight and BMI compared to placebo. For example, in a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial, obese women were randomized into a low-calorie diet + 3 grams of black cumin seed oil per day or low-calorie diet + placebo for 8 weeks. Compared with the placebo group, the women supplemented with the black cumin seed oil had almost double the decrease in their weight and waist circumference. Another study by Datau et al supplemented men with 1.5 grams of black cumin seed powder each day without any other dietary or lifestyle interventions. They also found a significant decrease in the body weights of centrally obese men supplemented with black cumin seed.
Black cumin seed & type 2 diabetes:
In another systematic review of black cumin seed, type 2 diabetes management is more effective when supplementing daily with this spice. In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, a capsule of 3 grams of black cumin seed a day supplemented with an oral antidiabetic drug for 12 weeks reduced fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels. On the other hand, the placebo group received a sunflower gel capsule with their diabetes medication and had an increase in their fasting glucose and HbA1c levels at the end of the 12 weeks. Six other studies also reported similar outcomes with significant decreases in fasting glucose and HbA1c. Furthermore, another study reported decreases in fasting insulin and HOMA-IR when supplementing with black cumin seed.
Black cumin seed & chronic inflammation:
Chronic inflammation is the precursor to many diseases ranging from autoimmunity to various metabolic disorders. The active phytochemical compound in black cumin seeds hypothesized to provide its many anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects is thymoquinone. In a placebo-controlled clinical study, patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given a placebo pill for 1 month, then subsequently given a black cumin seed oil capsule for 1 month (500mg twice a day). After supplementation with the black cumin seed oil, the patients’ white blood cell counts and disease activity scores were significantly lower than after the 1 month of placebo. The study also reported a lower number of swollen joints and a shorter duration of morning stiffness post-black cumin seed supplementation. In other studies examining chronic allergic rhinitis (runny nose from allergies) 152 subjects across 4 different studies consumed some form of black cumin seed supplement for 8 weeks. The studies reported decreased discomfort from allergy symptoms, lower circulating IgE levels (antibody released during an allergy response), and decreased eosinophil counts.
Although I barely scratched the surface of the black cumin seed scientific literature, it is clear that we have countless benefits to gain from this simple spice. Incorporating black cumin seed into your daily cooking is a great way to take advantage of its countless benefits. Simply place the black cumin seeds into an old pepper grinder to crush the seeds into a powder and sprinkle the black cumin seed powder on your dinners, salads, or even yogurt! It is helpful to consume black cumin seed as a fresh powder for optimal absorption of its various phytochemicals and nutrients. Consuming just a quarter teaspoon or more a day of this omnipotent spice daily as a natural part of your routine is an excellent way to proactively promote your long-term health and prevent the development of future illness.
Peer-edited by Johanna Bishop