As Americans grow disenchanted with pharmaceuticals, they have become interested in botanical medicines. Many of these come from different medical traditions. Scientists may not have devoted much time to studying them. Yet there are many claims being made for herbs and spices online. One reader wondered about blackseed oil.
Q. Can you tell me anything about blackseed oil? Is it safe?
What Is Blackseed Oil?
A. Blackseed oil comes from so-called black cumin seeds. They are the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant of southeast Asia and are used to impart a distinctive flavor to certain dishes popular in India or the Middle East.
Nigella sativa contains the compound thymoquinone. In preclinical experiments, this natural chemical shows promise for slowing tumor growth and making certain cancers more vulnerable to treatment (Mostofa et al, Frontiers in Pharmacology, June 12, 2017). That would certainly warrant attention, if it holds up in human studies. Some scientists are excited about its potential for treating certain cancers (Abukhader, Pharmacognosy Reviews, July 2013).
With many of the mechanisms understood, it may be time to devote serious attention to thymoquinone as an anti-cancer agent (Majdalawieh, Fayyad & Nasrallah, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Dec. 12, 2017). Blackseed oil also curbs inflammation and helps modulate the immune system (Dajani, Shahwan & Dajani, Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Dec. 2016).
Safety of Blackseed Oil:
Before any plant-derived medicine can be used clinically, scientists must evaluate its safety. Animal studies suggest that thymoquinone helps protect organs from drug-induced toxicity (Al-Rasheed et al, Pharmacological Reports, online May 6, 2017; El-Sheikh, Morsy & Hamouda, Pharmacognosy Magazine, Jan. 2016, supplement). That suggests that it doesn’t cause serious health problems. We haven’t seen any clinical studies in people showing that it is safe, however.