Given all the damage that it can cause, you would be forgiven for thinking that inflammation is always harmful. The truth is that it is actually a healthy defense against malignant cells, infection and trauma – to a degree. However, when inflammation is systemic and chronic, the true damage can occur as it harms cells and leads to mutations. Nearly a quarter of all cancers can be traced to this inflammatory process.
Having the right balance between healthy inflammation and the more destructive variety is important to avoid disease. Unfortunately, as we age, that natural balance can be disrupted. Enter Nigella sativa, or black cumin seed oil. Also known as Roman coriander or black caraway, the seeds of black cumin have a powerful phytochemical called thymoquinone. This antioxidant is behind the seed oil’s tremendous healing powers. It also contains an anti-microbial and antiseptic known as thymol.
Studies have shown that black cumin seed oil increases the activity of the macrophages that surround and destroy abnormal cells in the body. It also helps to stimulate the helper T-cells that facilitate healing. For example, one study showed that those who took black cumin seed oil had a 30 percent rise in natural killer cell functions and a 55 percent rise in helper T-cell activity.
Its effects on inflammation are quite powerful. A study in the Egyptian Journal of Immunology showed that the oil was just as effective as the steroid dexamethasone in lowering the number of inflammatory cells and cytokines in lung tissue.
A 2011 placebo-controlled study that was published in Phototherapy Research looked into the efficacy of black cumin seed oil on rheumatoid arthritis. During the month that female participants in the study took 500 mg of black cumin seed oil two times a day, 42.5 percent of them noted a reduction in their arthritis symptoms, including less morning stiffness and decreased joint swelling.
Meanwhile, a 2010 Experimental Biology and Medicine animal study showed that thymoquinone can reduce the level of an enzyme known as MMP that destroys the tissue in bones and joints.
Black cumin seed oil can also be useful if you suffer from allergies or asthma because these conditions are related to immune overreactions. People with allergic rhinitis who take the oil have reported significant reductions in symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itching and nasal congestion. Those with asthma have found that it can help relax the airway and trachea.
Perhaps its most exciting power is its ability to combat heart disease. In animal studies, black cumin seed oil has been shown to reduce LDL or bad cholesterol, while increasing good or HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis. In addition, it is believed to decrease ischemia-reperfusion injury, which can cause debilitating organ and tissue damage after a stroke or heart attack.
You might already be familiar with cumin if you cook a lot of Mexican or Indian dishes, but black cumin is slightly different. Its seeds are a lot darker than the brown of the more familiar cumin seeds, and their flavor is more reminiscent of caraway and fennel. It’s used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.
You should proceed with caution before taking high doses of supplements as they could cause side effects like allergic rashes or stomach upset. To get some of the benefits in a safer manner, why not experiment with cooking with black cumin seeds?
Sources for this article include: