Scientific research has shown that black seed oil (Nigella sativa) is an effective treatment for cancer in animal studies, and can be as effective as anti-cancer drugs for some types of cancer. Black cumin seed oil and its extract thymoquinone have powerful benefits for various inflammatory diseases including liver cancer, melanoma skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, bone cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and brain cancer.
Despite several decades of very positive research on using black seed oil against cancer, researchers have rarely advanced their work into human clinical testing, even though the benefits are strong and the risks of negative side effects are extremely small.
As you will learn from the research findings that I will discuss, the use of black seed oil for cancer prevention and treatment has proven to be a powerful strategy for many forms of cancer. Yet black cumin seed oil still has not been recognized as beneficial by mainstream medicine. I will examine some of the political pressures that might be holding back clinical research with human cancer patients, and will consider why drug companies may wish to suppress the use of black seed oil.
Black Seeds have been used to Treat Cancer for Thousands of Years
In two separate 2011 studies, Chinese researchers and Saudi Arabian researchers reviewed the scientific literature for the use of black seed oil (also called black cumin seed or Nigella sativa), with cancer. They reconfirmed the anti-cancer property of this safe and natural seed oil. They noted that black seed oil has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. The oil and the extracted component called thymoquinone are both effective against many diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular complications, diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, etc. It is a safe and effective agent against cancer in the blood system, lungs, kidneys, liver, prostate, breast, cervix, and skin.
These researchers noted that the molecular mechanisms behind its anti-cancer role are still not clearly understood. However, some studies showed that thymoquinone plays an antioxidant role and improves the body’s defense system. Black seed oil induces apoptosis, which means that it helps the body to systematically eliminate old cells, unneeded cells, and unhealthy cells (such as cancer cells) without releasing toxins into the body. It also controls the Akt pathway, which means it controls the process that manages cell survival for both normal and cancer cells. Although the anti-cancer activity of Nigella sativa was recognized thousands of years ago, it was not until the past two or three decades that modern scientific research has been undertaken to study this important traditional medicine.
Black Seeds and Honey Work Together – Folk Medicine is Correct
Egyptian researchers studied the protective effect of bee honey and Nigella grains on the oxidative stress and the cancer that was created by exposing rats to a strong carcinogen. After the four groups of rats were exposed to the carcinogen, some groups were fed black seeds or honey, and one group was fed both black seeds and honey. The rats were evaluated after 6 months. The rats that ate black seeds received an 80% protection against oxidative stress and cancer formation. Whereas the rats that ate a daily dose of both honey and black seeds were protected 100% against oxidative stress, inflammatory responses, and cancer formation.
Black Seed Oil is An Important Aid to Radiation Treatments
In a 2014 study, Turkish researchers reported how black seed oil could potentially be helpful to people receiving radiation treatment for cancer. They indicated that many cancer patients treated with radiation therapy suffer severe side effects during and after their treatment. This study investigated the effects of irradiation and the addition of black seed oil on the oxidant/antioxidant system in the liver tissue of irradiated rats. They exposed some of the rats to a single dose of gamma radiation. One group of rats received one gram of black seed oil per kilogram of body weight one hour before the radiation and received a daily dose afterward for 10 days. Another group received the radiation treatment and was given a saline solution instead of black seed oil. The control group was not irradiated. The analysis of the data shows that black seed oil reduces oxidative stress markers and has antioxidant effects, which also augments the antioxidant capacity in the liver tissue of rats. Thus, the use of black seed oil before radiation treatment, and for 10 days afterward, protected the rats from some of the harmful effects of radiation.
In a 2012 study in India, scientists investigated the effect of using an extract of black seeds on mice exposed to gamma radiation. A group of normal mice and a group of tumor bearing mice were tested. This experiment was done to mimic the human clinical setting where normal tissues of cancer patients are exposed to the harmful effects of radiation therapy. The mice were given black seed extract before being exposed to the gamma radiation. They were given 100 mg of black seed extract per 1 kg of body weight. The results showed that the extract of black seed protected the liver, spleen, brain and intestines from gamma radiation damage for both the normal mice and the mice with tumors. Researchers concluded that the liquid extract of black seeds has protective effects against radiation-induced damage and biochemical alterations. They attributed this protective effect to the ability of the extract to scavenge free radicals and to its antioxidant properties. Thus, the liquid extracted from black seeds could be used with human cancer patients who receive radiation to protect against oxidative stress in normal tissues, and to mitigate other unwanted side effects of radiation. This could improve the quality of life for cancer patients.
Black Seeds Interfere with Uncontrolled Cell Growth and Kill Liver Cancer Cells
In 2013, researchers in India investigated the use of thymoquinone, which is a compound derived from black seeds. Two groups of rats with liver cancer were studied. One group was given water to drink that contained 0.01% thymoquinone, and the other group was given plain water. After 16 weeks, the liver cancer nodules, liver injury markers and tumor markers were measured in both groups. The rats that did not receive the thymoquinone had substantial increases in liver tumor size. However, the rats that received 20 mg of thymoquinone per kilogram for body weight had greatly reduced liver injury markers and decreased tumor markers. The group treated with thymoquinone from black seed oil did not develop liver cancer nodules, and the amount of new tumor formation was much less than the untreated group of rats.They concluded that thymoquinone had a beneficial role in the treatment of liver cancer, because of its potent ability to prevent cancer cells from proliferating.
A 2012 study from Egypt evaluated anti-tumor effects of bee honey and black seed oil on human liver cancer cells in laboratory experiments. They examined the antioxidant capacity of honey and black seed extract, and the ability of these substances to eliminate unhealthy cells such as cancer. They found that both honey and black seed extract were effective in reducing the viability of liver cancer cells. Honey and black seed extract also improved the antioxidant status of cells and induced cancer cell death by apoptosis.
Black Seed Oil Kills Lung Cancer Cells
Saudi Arabian researchers reported in 2014 that black seeds have been used in traditional medicine to treat many diseases. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial activities of black seed oil are well known. This study investigated the anti-cancer activity of black seed oil and black seed extract when used against human lung cancer cells in the laboratory. Scientists exposed lung cancer cells to black seed oil or to black seed extract for 24 hours. They used 0.01 mg/ml to 1 mg/ml of the oil or the extract in this experiment. After the exposure, the cancer cell viability was assessed.
The results showed that both the black seed oil and the black seed extract significantly reduce the population of living cancer cells and altered the cellular morphology. They found that the greater the concentration of the oil or the extract that was used to treat the cancer cells, the greater the level of cell death. Also, both the black seed oil and the black seed extract caused the cancer cells to lose their typical appearance and to appear smaller in size.Researchers concluded that their data revealed that black seed extract and black seed oil significantly reduce viability of human lung cancer cells.
Black Seed Components Kill Malignant Brain Cancer Cells
Researchers from Ohio State University published a study in 2013 indicating that glioblastoma is the most aggressive and common type of malignant brain tumor in humans, with a median survival of 15 months. These researchers emphasized that there is a great need for additional therapies for the treatment of glioblastoma. Naturally occurring phytochemicals have received much scientific attention because many exhibit potent tumor killing action. Thymoquinone is one of the bioactive compounds of black seed oil. Thymoquinone has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer actions. It has selective cytotoxic properties for human cells, which means that it kills human cancer cells while not being harmful to normal cells.
This specific study examined how thymoquinone selectively inhibits the ability of glioblastoma cancer cells of the brain and spinal cord from making clones of themselves. Thymoquinone, however, does not inhibit normal cell activity in the human brain and spinal cord. Another important ability of thymoquinone is the inhibition of autophagy genes in cancer cells. Autophagy in cancer cells enables continued growth of tumor cells by maintaining cellular energy production. If autophagy is inhibited, then cellular energy production for cancer cells will also be inhibited. This will result in a regression of tumor activity, and will extend the survival of organs affected by tumors. Thus, thymoquinone’s ability to inhibit cancer cells from making clones of themselves and its ability to inhibit cancer cells from reusing cellular materials from other cells by means of autophagy, provide an exciting and emerging strategy for cancer therapy.
Black Seeds Inhibit Breast Cancer
A 2013 study, conducted in Malaysia, addressed the anti-cancer efficiency of thymoquinone when it was used for long-term treatment of human breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory.Thymoquinone showed a sustained ability to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation with long-term treatment. The length of inhibition was determined by the size of the thymoquinone dose. Larger doses produced greater inhibition.
Black Seeds Kill Leukemia Cells
Malaysian researchers noted in a 2013 study that there is a growing interest in the use of naturally occurring compounds from traditional medicine which have anti-cancer potential. Nigella sativa (black seed) is one of the most widely studied plants. This annual herb grows in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and India. Thymoquinone is one active ingredient isolated from Nigella sativa. The anti-cancer effect of thymoquinone, via the induction of apoptosis resulting from mitochondrial dysfunction, was assessed in an acute leukemia cell line. Researchers found that treatment of leukemia cells with thymoquinone encouraged apoptosis resulting in cell death. These results indicate that thymoquinone from black seeds could be a promising agent for the treatment of leukemia.
Black Seed Oil Inhibits and Kills Colon Cancer Cells
Researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center stated in their 2007 study that that the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil continues to be the chemotherapeutic gold-standard for the treatment of colon cancer. However, they noted that the side effects of 5-FU are numerous due to its ability to attack both healthy and cancerous cells. They responded to previous research findings showing that antioxidants have an ability to deter certain disease processes, especially cancer. They studied epigallocatechin-3-gallate, the most abundant catechin found in green tea, and thymoquinone which is considered to be the most important anti-cancer component of black seeds. Black seeds are known for their powerful scavenger abilities. They are an inhibitor of oxidative stress, and have been utilized in the Middle East for centuries because of their capability to heal many different diseases.
The objective of this study was to investigate the role of sustained delivery of thymoquinone from black seeds, catechin from green tea, and the chemotherapy drug 5-FU on the metabolic activity and the structural changes in human colon cancer cells in laboratory cultures. Results of this study showed that green tea catechin and black seed thymoquinone produced significant cancer cell destruction and interfered with cellular metabolic functions, which was comparable to cells exposed to sustained drug delivery of the chemotherapy drug 5-FU. Morphologically, cellular changes occurred after exposure to green tea catechin and thymoquinone for 24 hours, which was comparable to the cellular changes seen in cells exposed to the chemotherapy drug 5-FU. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the natural agents may offer a safe alternative treatment for colon cancer.
In an earlier study in 2004, Lebanese researchers identified the powerful role of black seed oil as a cancer preventative and cancer treatment agent. The researchers noted that black seed and black seed oil have been used in Asia, the Middle East and Africa to promote health and fight disease. “Thymoquinone, the most abundant constituent present in black seed, is a promising dietary agent for preventing cancer. We investigated the effects of thymoquinone against human colon cancer cells. We report that thymoquinone inhibits the growth of colon cancer cells. Our data support the potential for using thymoquinone for the treatment of colon cancer.”
Black Seeds Useful for Helicobacter pylori Infection
In 2010, Saudi Arabian researchers indicated that a large number of diseases are ascribed to Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), particularly chronic active gastritis, peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. Successful treatment of H. pylori infection with antimicrobial agents can lead to regression of H. pylori-associated disorders. H. pylori resistance against antibiotics is increasing, and it is necessary to find new effective agents. Nigella sativa seed (black seeds), a commonly used herb, possesses anti-helicobacter activity.
The present study was undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of black seeds for the eradication of H. pylori infection in 88 human non-ulcer dyspeptic patients. Patients were randomly assigned to four groups. The groups received various combinations of clarithromycin and/or amoxicillin (antibiotics), omeprazole (anti gastric reflex drug), and black seed oil. Researchers found that black seeds possess clinically useful anti-H. pylori activity, comparable to the combined use of all three drugs that were tested.
What is the Future for Black Seed Oil?
Combining Thymoquinone from Black Seeds with Conventional Cancer Treatments
In 2011, German researchers described the drug doxorubicin as being a mainstay of cancer chemotherapy despite its cardiotoxicity and its limited ability to treat multi-drug resistant cancers. Recent studies revealed a protective effect of thymoquinone, a non-toxic constituent of the essential oil of Nigella sativa, against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity.In summary, they found that thymoquinone is a booster for the anti-cancer effect of the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin in certain cancer cell lines.
In 2013, researchers from Singapore reported that there are a limited number of therapeutic agents for cancer, and cancer cells are developing resistance to these agents. Thus, there is a need to discover novel agents to treat breast cancer. The antitumor activities of thymoquinone, a compound isolated from black seed oil, were used to treat mice with breast cancer. Thymoquinone treatment was found to suppress tumor growth, and this effect was further enhanced by combining it with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin.
Clinical Trials with Human Cancer Patients
Researchers from Wayne State University in Michigan found that their review of published reports about black seeds indicate that further in-depth studies are warranted. They specifically point to the need to study its bioavailability and Phase-I toxicity profiling in human subjects. The results from such studies will be instrumental in advancing this field in support of initiating clinical trials for testing the effects of this ancient agent in cancer therapy.
A researcher from Oman describes where future research for black seed oil should be directed. He states the obvious fact that thymoquinone (the bioactive phytochemical constituent of black seed oil) has been extensively studied. The use of thymoquinone in test tube research with human cancer cells and in animal studies with induced forms of cancer has been thoroughly investigated. As a result, a considerable amount of information has been generated from research, thus providing a better understanding of the anti-proliferating activity of this compound. Therefore, it is appropriate that thymoquinone should move from testing on the bench to clinical experiments.
After reviewing over 120 scientific research abstracts on the use of black seed oil and thymoquinone with various types of cancers, I began to wonder why there have been so few clinical trials with cancer patients. I couldn’t stop asking myself, “If black seed oil possesses the significant anti-cancer properties that have been shown by all this research, and it has been proven to not be toxic to healthy human cells, then why are scientists still doing laboratory research? Why are human trials not being undertaken yet?”
The history of black seed use is well known. Traditional folk medicine has been safely using black seeds since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Black seed oil was found in the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen, which indicates that the oil probably had an important role in ancient Egyptian practices. Archeologists also found black seeds mixed with honey and bee’s wax in a pilgrim flask from the Old Hittite Period level of Boyalı Höyük (Mound), dating from around 1650 BC, in north-central Turkey.  Black seeds and black seed oil have been used for dozens of diseases with great success ever since that time throughout a large portion of the world.
Yet, when it comes to cancer treatment, this remedy is still stuck in the laboratory as if it were a dangerous unproven toxic substance. Let’s remember black seeds and black seed oil are food! They are completely edible. They have been used for flavoring food and have been used as daily tonics and remedies for thousands of years. We do not need more test tube research or animal studies to prove that black seeds are safe and effective in laboratory experiments. The research that we need involves the development of protocols for using black seed oil in a clinical setting with cancer patients. It is clear from the research that black seed oil and thymoquinone are both effective against cancer and do not have harmful side effects. It’s time for clinical trials.
Why is Clinical Research on Black Seed Oil as a Treatment for Cancer so Rare?
I believe the answer to this question involves the controlling power of pharmaceutical companies. As some of the researchers noted in their abstracts, conventional chemotherapy drugs are becoming less effective. Some of the studies I cited above investigated the use of black seed oil and thymoquinone in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs. When they did these types of experiments, they often found that the combination worked better than chemotherapy drugs by themselves. In some experiments, thymoquinone worked equally as well as chemotherapy drugs, which might mean that toxic chemotherapy agents just might be able to be replaced by a natural seed extract, which has no harmful effects. For people with cancer, this could be great news, but to the pharmaceutical industry, this would be extremely bad news for profitability.
There is a disturbing trend in the pharmaceutical industry where these companies attempt to gain control over a natural substance and prevent it from being available without a prescription. Then they would add the natural substance to an existing drug, which has an expiring patent, and create something that they call a “new drug,” which of course they can then patent. This strategy is being pursued by drug companies with the help of the FDA for the use of folate (vitamin B9). They are trying to take the natural form of vitamin B9, which is essential to human life, and make a SSRI/folate combination to create a new patentable drug. In doing so, health minded consumers would only then have access to the less effective synthetic form of B9, which is called folic acid.
Along the same lines of reasoning, pharmaceutical companies might be interested in reformulating their failing chemotherapy drugs to include thymoquinone, which would improve the performance of the drugs. As some of the preceding research shows, this type of research is already underway. In some of these experiments, thymoquinone performs as well as chemotherapy drugs and has no side effects, but drug companies cannot make billions of dollars selling black seed oil or thymoquinone. It would not be in the financial interest of drug companies to encourage human trials with a natural substance such as black seed oil or thymoquinone, which is not patentable.
Compassion for People with Cancer
It deeply saddens me when I watch people have the healthy parts of their bodies destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy when it is likely that a natural substance could reduce and maybe eliminate damage to healthy tissue. The research that has been cited clearly shows that black seed oil could prevent radiation damage to healthy tissue if it is given before radiation therapy and is continued on a daily basis after each treatment. The fact that there isn’t any published research pointing to human clinical trials (despite the success with using black seed oil with animals) is a true offense against people who receive radiation treatment.
Black seed oil offers a powerful protective effect against radiation and chemotherapy, and is a potent anti-cancer agent, but we can only make guesses about the daily dose that is needed to protect human patients. There are some websites that have information about the use of black seeds and black seed oil for the treatment of cancer. However, I do not have a specific recommendation, because we do not have any research to confirm whether these advertised protocols are effective for all forms of cancer. Based on the research that I have read, the benefit from taking black seed oil is best achieved when taking daily doses.
Black seed oil is not a drug. More is not necessarily better. I have seen suggestions that people take 1 to 3 teaspoons of black seed oil per day for various conditions. One teaspoon seems to be a daily dose to support health. Two or three teaspoons per day are suggested for specific diseases. Sometimes it is taken with honey and sometimes it can be applied to the skin. I recommend researching your specific health concerns to find treatments that will work for your situation.