Does Black Seed Oil Have Health Benefits?
Traditional Uses & Research Limitations
Nigella sativa, commonly known as black seed, is a flowering plant native to South Asia
Although the black seed is also sometimes called black cumin (or black cumin seed), it shouldn’t be confused with regular cumin (Cuminum cyminum) belongs to an entirely different plant family.
Any mention of black seed or black cumin in this post refers specifically to Nigella sativa.
Black seed has been traditionally used for various health conditions, but most of its purported benefits lack scientific evidence and rely only on findings from cell culture or lab animal
Additionally, black seed supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, dietary supplements lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Benefits of Black Seed Oil
Possibly Effective for:
A boiled extract of the seeds improved asthmatic symptoms in one study (15 mL/kg of 0.1 g% boiled extract daily) of 29 asthmatic patients. It reduced the frequency of asthma symptoms, wheezing, and improved lung function over 3 months. The patients who took black cumin seed extract also had a reduced need for additional medications and inhalers.
Another placebo-controlled study of 80 asthmatics had similar results. In the study, black seed oil taken by mouth for 4 weeks improved asthma control. Scientists also observed a trend in lung function improvement.
Some traditional medicine practitioners use black seeds for reducing diabetic symptoms, such as high blood sugar and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.
Limited evidence backs up the benefits of diabetes. However, sudden drops in blood sugar can be dangerous for people with diabetes. If you are already on diabetes medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before supplementing with black cumin.
Several large analyses on thousands of people suggested that black seed may be a good complementary strategy for keeping glucose levels in check, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. It helped lower both blood glucose and blood lipids, possibly with long-term benefits (by also reducing HBA1C).
In a study (prospective) of 60 patients with insulin resistance, black seed oil (5 ml daily) improved fasting blood glucose levels. However, here it was only given as an add-on to glucose and lipid-lowering medications (metformin and atorvastatin).
In patients with type 2 diabetes on oral anti-diabetes drugs, black seed supplementation helped to reduce heart complications. In a study of 114 patients, 2 g of black cumin seeds daily over one year reduced lipids, blood pressure, and BMI .
In rats, black cumin seed extract helped sensitize the muscles to insulin and activated energy balance pathways–both important in type 2 diabetes (AMPK) .
However, the current evidence is limited and inconclusive. Additional clinical studies are needed to determine whether the black seed is beneficial for all people with diabetes.
3) High Blood Pressure
Daily use of black seed extract for 2 months lowered blood pressure in patients with mildly elevated blood pressure (systolic BP 140 – 159 mmHg). The test group received either 100 mg or 200 mg of the extract 2 times per day. Aside from reducing blood pressure, the extract also lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol, which may clog blood vessels.
In a different study of 70 healthy volunteers, the oil lowered blood pressure after 2 months. No adverse effects were reported. The treated group took 2.5 ml of black seed oil twice daily.
However, in another study (64 participants), the effects of powdered black seed capsules on blood pressure, lipids, and BMI were not statistically significant.
Similarly, in elderly patients with moderately high blood pressure (systolic BP 160 mmHg), black cumin seed extract had a statistically insignificant effect. In this study (76 participants), 300 mg of the extract was given 2 times per day for a month.
Finally, a large review of over 800 patients concluded that black seed may lower mildly elevated blood pressure, with black cumin seed powder having a stronger effect than the oil. The authors emphasized that it may help lower blood pressure in only mild cases and may take 2 months to achieve any effect.
All in all, the evidence to support the blood-pressure-lowering effects of black seed is weak and needs to be confirmed in larger studies.
Animal studies also looked into additional potential effects of black seed on the heart. For example, black cumin seeds improved the recovery of damaged heart tissue in rats (in response to heart surgery or post-heart attack treatment).
In another rat study, both exercise and black seed increased heart blood flow and new blood vessels, potentially helping to prevent heart problems. These effects remain unexplored in humans.
4) Male Infertility
In a single, small study of 68 infertile men, daily intake of 5 ml (1 tsp) of black seed oil for two months improved semen quality without any adverse effects. We can’t draw any solid conclusions from this study, whose findings have not been replicated by other researchers.
In diabetic rats, black seed increased testosterone. It also improved sperm quality and motility in another rat study, probably due to its antioxidant activity. Additional research is needed.
5) Breast Pain
Mastalgia is breast pain that may or may not be connected to the menstrual cycle in women.
In one clinical study of 52 women, a gel containing 30% black seed oil applied at the site of pain twice daily for two menstrual cycles reduced breast pain by about 82%. This was significantly greater than seen with a placebo gel, which reduced pain by 18%.
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of black seed for any of the below-listed uses.
Remember to speak with a doctor before taking black seed oil supplements. Black seed should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
6) Allergies and Hayfever
A couple of small-scale human studies suggest that black seed may help reduce allergic symptoms, especially in people with breathing difficulties.
One review (of 4 studies, a total of 152 patients with allergic diseases) concluded that black cumin seed oil may help with allergies. When used as an add-on to conventional therapy, it reduced subjective allergy symptoms, including asthma, eczema, and stuffy nose.
According to the review, patients received black seed oil capsules 40 to 80 mg/kg daily, which would be about 2 – 4 g of oil daily for someone who weighs about 110 lbs.
In another study of 66 patients with allergic rhinitis, black seed oil reduced symptoms such as itching, runny nose, sneezing, and congestion after 2 weeks. And in 39 patients with similar symptoms, 2 g daily of black seed cumin seeds after immunotherapy reduced symptoms and increased neutrophils.
Despite these promising findings, large-scale, high-quality studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of various black cumin seed oil preparations on allergic symptoms.
Some scientists believe that black seeds may also help with breathing problems that are not caused directly by allergies. The boiled extract of the seeds improved breathing and lung function, reducing the need for inhalers, in a study of 40 chemical war victims who had breathing difficulties.
7) High Blood Lipids
Some scientists hypothesize that black seed may protect the heart by reducing blood lipids, which may help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.
A review of clinical studies (SR-MA, 17 RCTs) concluded that black seed supplementation may help lower:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
However, scientists emphasize that further high-quality, randomized controlled trials are needed to explore the effects of back cumin on lipid and cardiovascular health .
Black seed oil had a stronger effect on lowering lipids than the powder, but only the powder was able to also increase HDL cholesterol..
For example, in a small study of 10 patients with high cholesterol, 1 g of black seed powder before breakfast for 2 months also reduced the above-mentioned blood lipids . In a study of 88 similar patients (RCT), 2 g of black seed capsules lowered cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides after a month.
How It Works
Based on the available scientific evidence, black seeds may protect the heart:
- Flushing excessive fluids from the body (diuretic)
- Reducing the fight-or-flight (sympathetic) response
- Increasing blood vessel-relaxing nitric oxide
- Lowering blood lipids
- Acting as an antioxidant
However, the above-mentioned mechanisms were mostly drawn from animal or cell-based studies and remain clinically unproven.
Black cumin seed (Thymoquinone) has promising anti-inflammatory properties. Some people think it is good for both Th1 and Th2 dominance, though the evidence is lacking.
Only several extremely small studies (with 4 and 1 patients) suggested that black seed oil may help with inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Much larger studies are needed. Black cumin’s anti-inflammatory potential was attributed to the active ingredient, thymoquinone, in animal studies.
Black cumin seed essential oil reduced inflammation and pain in mice. It also reduced autoimmune brain inflammation in rats with Multiple Sclerosis. These effects remain unproven in humans.
Insufficient evidence supports the purported benefits of the black seed for anxiety. Despite some promising findings, additional clinical trials are needed.
Black cumin seeds decreased anxiety and improved mood and cognition in a study of 48 adolescent male volunteers after 4 weeks. The treated group took 1 g of black seed daily in capsule form.
Black seed extract reduced anxiety in mice , possibly by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. It also reduced anxiety and fatigue and increased thyroid function in mice. Such mechanisms remain to be researched in humans.
Black cumin seed calmed and protected the developing brain in rats, even those who were under stress.
Some scientists think black seed might reduce anxiety thanks to its active ingredient, thymoquinone, which increased GABA in mice.
10) Poor Cognition
In a study of 20 elderly volunteers, 1 g of black seed daily improved cognition, attention, and memory after nine weeks. These findings remain to be replicated. We can’t draw any conclusions from a single, small, low-quality clinical study .
Thymoquinone and other components of black cumin seeds protected the brain from damage in several animal studies and cell studies. It prevented brain damage from lead in growing mice, as well as from arsenic. In growing rats with poor thyroid function, it helped prevent learning difficulties and brain damage. These effects remain to be researched in humans.
11) Indigestion from H. Pylori
A tincture prepared from the seeds is traditionally used for indigestion, loss of appetite, and diarrhea, while black seeds are traditionally used to stop vomiting. So far, there is very limited evidence to support its use in those with indigestion due to Helicobacter pylori infection.
In a study of 88 patients with indigestion positive for Helicobacter pylori, black seed helped eradicate the bacteria and symptoms. A minimal dose of 2 g of the seeds (in combination with omeprazole) was effective and comparable to standard triple antibiotic therapy, while both lower and higher doses were less efficient.
Some reviews suggest that it may also help protect the stomach lining from damage and ulcers, mostly based on findings from animal studies and clinical experience. Therefore, such claims remain unproven.
Black cumin seed protected the stomach lining from the harmful effects of alcohol in rats. The oils also prevented gut damage in rats. Clinical studies are needed [49, 50].
12) Weight Loss
The evidence is limited and mixed when it comes to black seed and weight loss, a traditional “indication”.
In one study of overweight men, the black seed did improve weight loss and reduced appetite after 3 months. In another study of 64 patients, the seeds had no significant effect on BMI and waist-hip ratio.
In fact, several studies found that black seed doesn’t help with weight loss.
Therefore, the current evidence suggests that black cumin seed is likely ineffective for weight loss.
13) Hepatitis C
Black cumin seed improved symptoms and reduced viral load in patients with Hepatitis C in a study of 30 people.
In another study of 75 patients with hepatitis C, black seed alone (500 mg) or combined with ginger (500 mg) had similar beneficial effects.
These studies were small and potentially biased. Large-scale, multi-centre clinical trials are needed to explore the effects of black seed preparations on hepatitis C and other viral infections.
Black cumin seeds (Thymoquinone) reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in a study of 40 female patients, at a dose of 500 mg of the oil 2X day. It reduced overall symptoms, joint stiffness, and swelling.
Aside from this study, no clinical data are available. Therefore, we don’t know if black seed affects arthritis. Additional research should be encouraged.
A black seed oil compound called thymoquinone reduced seizures in children with epilepsy in a pilot study of 22 children .
Thymoquinone also had an anti-seizure effect in mice. Scientists speculate it may reduce seizures by boosting GABA in the brain.
Without additional clinical studies, this purported health benefit remains unproven.
16) Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal
Black Seed helped reduce the symptoms of opioid dependence and withdrawal in a study of 35 opioid-dependant patients. It also helped reduce weakness, infections, and improve appetite. Additional research is needed .
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
17) Antioxidant Defense
Animal and cell studies suggest that black seed acts on the following antioxidant pathways.
- Increasing liver antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione
- Protecting various tissues from oxidative injuries, such as the stomach, liver, kidneys, and blood vessels
- Lowering homocysteine
- The effects of black seed on these pathways in humans have not been investigated.
There are a couple of other animal studies we can’t draw any conclusions from. In one, black seed extract restored antioxidant enzymes (in red blood cells) in mice with malaria, which helped clear the parasite infection. In another study, the oil neutralized harmful Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and brain injury in mice.
The exact benefits of its antioxidant activity in humans still remain to be researched.
Traditionally, people apply black seed oil to the skin to prevent infections and relieve pain.
Black seed has been researched for fighting various bacteria, viruses, and parasites, but the majority of studies were in animals, microorganisms, or cells. Therefore, this purported benefit remains unproven.
Some scientists found that black cumin seeds act against:
- Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of skin infections.
- MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), is a big problem when it comes to hospital-acquired infections that are hard to treat.
- H.pylori, is a common cause of stomach ulcers (see benefit #7).
- The formation of “Biofilms”.
The effects of black cumin seeds on fungal infections are being researched. Some extracts were active against Candida albicans in dishes, but animal and human studies are lacking.
The black seed oil also protected against mould (aflatoxicosis) in rats. Some researchers think that, with additional research, black seed may have the potential for helping people with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.
Black seed helped fight the herpes-causing cytomegalovirus virus (CMV) in mice.
Black seed helped clear a malaria-causing parasite in mice.
The oil may protect against a parasite that damages the liver in mice.
In test tubes, black seed protected against several parasites that can cause serious gut issues in humans.
More research is needed.
19) Immune Enhancement
Cell studies suggest that the potential immune-boosting effects of black seed may be due to its active ingredient, thymoquinone. In cell studies, it increased immune cell activity and antibody levels.
Black cumin seed was able to increase the immune response in cells (IL-3 from lymphocytes).
We can’t draw any conclusions from cell-based studies, though.
20) Kidney Health
Despite the lack of evidence, black cumin seeds have been traditionally used for the treatment and prevention of kidney stones.
It helped fight kidney stones in rats and protected the kidneys from damage and injury.
Clinical studies are lacking.
21) Milk Production While Breastfeeding
Traditionally, black seed was used to help increase milk production during breastfeeding in nursing mothers. Human studies have not tested this claim, which remains unsupported by modern science. Black cumin seeds could stimulate milk production in rats.
22) Muscle Relaxation
The effects of black seed on muscle relaxation in humans are unknown.
Black Seed reduced spasms in muscle tissues in various studies.
It has an effect only on smooth muscles, such as the heart, gut, and airways. This is the reason black seed is used for asthma, breathing difficulties, gut issues, high blood pressure, and potentially urinary tract issues.
It acts by blocking the effects of calcium on the tissues and blocking histamine and cholinergic pathways.
Does black seed help with cancer prevention? The simple answer is: we don’t really know yet.
There is no evidence to suggest that black seed prevents cancer since it has mostly been studied in animals and cells.
The research we bring up is experimental and in the early stages. Keep in mind that human studies are needed before we can speak of any cancer-preventive effects.
Black seed oil blocked tumor growth and spreading in rats. It seems to activate phase I and II detox genes.
Thymoquinone from black seed reduced liver and bladder cancer in rats.
Black seed oil protected against the immune-suppressing and damaging effects of radiation in rats.
In cells, it could kill cervical cancer, bone cancer, breast cancer, and stomach, On the other hand, many substances can kill cancer in a dish. The majority of them fail further animal studies and human trials due to a lack of efficacy or safety [88, 89, 2, 90].
Some evidence suggests that black seed oil may be beneficial in people with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, male infertility, and breast pain. Most other traditional uses of black seed–such as for enhancing digestion and immunity–have yet to be investigated in proper clinical trials.