Black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Thymoquinone, the major bioactive compound in black cumin seeds, has been shown to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, radioprotective and chemopreventive properties. In addition to its role as a spice, black cumin has traditionally been used to treat various diseases, including fever, intestinal problems, diabetes, asthma and cancer.
Breast cancer-related effects of eating black cumin
Numerous studies have reported that thymoquinone and black cumin seed extracts have anti-cancer activity in animal models of triple negative (ER-/PR-/HER2-) breast cancer, as well as in triple negative breast cancer cells. Thymoquinone has anti-proliferative effects and promotes programmed cell death. The picture is less clear in hormone receptor positive (ER+/PR+) breast cancer—some studies have reported only a modest reduction in growth or proliferation as a result of treatment with thymoquinone.
Thymoquinone has been shown to increases the effectiveness of Taxol, Taxotere, Adriamycin and cisplatin in both ER+/PR+ and ER-/PR-/HER2- breast cancer models. For example, one study using tumor-bearing mice reported that the combination of thymoquinone plus Adriamycin suppressed tumor growth more than treatment with Adriamycin alone. Moreover, thymoquinone appears to reduce Adriamycin-induced heart damage. Thymoquinone also potentates the cytotoxic effects of tamoxifen in ER+/PR+ breast cancer. In addition, thymoquinone has been shown to radiosensitize ER+/PR+ breast cancer cells, thereby increasing the treatment effects of radiotherapy.
Black cumin is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It is also known as black seed, Roman coriander, fennel flower, nutmeg flower and black caraway. Hence, it is important to verify that you are purchasing Nigella sativa. Organic is best since it reduces the likelihood of contamination or admixture of other spices. Black cumin can be ground and used similarly to black pepper in cooking. Black cumin is not related to cumin (Cuminum cyminum), which a member of the parsley family.
Although black cumin seed oil is available as a supplement, we do not recommend it. The safety of this more concentrated source of thymoquinone has not been established. Like other compounds with anti-cancer effects found in food, we favor using thymoquinone at the relatively low dose available in black cumin seeds rather than attempting to obtain pharmacological effects from a higher dose.