Black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, as well as a medicine. Thymoquinone, the major bioactive compound in black cumin seeds, has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, radioprotective and chemopreventive properties.
Thymoquinone has antiproliferative and antimetastatic effects and promotes programmed cell death in breast cancer cells. 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. The picture is less clear for 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 chemotherapy in both ER+/PR+ and triple negative breast cancer models while reducing toxic side effects. 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. In addition, thymoquinone appeared to reduce Adriamycin-induced heart damage.
Thymoquinone also has been reported to potentiate 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.
In addition to its use as a spice, black cumin has traditionally been used to treat diseases such as fever, intestinal problems, diabetes, asthma and cancer.
Black cumin is not related to cumin (Cuminum cyminum), which a member of the parsley family. Instead, 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 seeds. Buying organic black cumin 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.
Although black cumin seed oil is available as a supplement, 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 concentrated dose.
The information above, which is updated continually as new research becomes available, has been developed based solely on the results of academic studies. Clicking on any of the underlined terms will take you to its tag or webpage, which contain more extensive information.
Below are links to 20 recent studies concerning this food and its components. For a more complete list of studies, please click on black cumin.