There was a time when olive oil and canola oil were the only two oils stocked in the typical pantry. These days, coconut, walnut, avocado and more have made our pantries that much more diverse. A “new” (at least to most) oil that is strutting its stuff on many pantry shelves, is black seed oil. It’s also making appearances in medicine cabinets as a supplement or as an ingredient in your latest beauty find.
Black seed oil 101
Black seed oil, also known as black cumin, comes from the Nigella sativa (N. sativa) L. (Ranunculaceae) plant and has been used in plant medicine for thousands of years. The oil is made by extracting it from the seeds of the plant. Fun fact: it was even found in King Tut’s tomb! Black seed oil is known to be beneficial for a multitude of ailments, and has been used anecdotally, for everything from headaches to toothaches to parasites. It’s nutrient profile (which includes calcium, iron, zinc and more) and long history of being a cure-all, make this herb an interesting study to researchers looking for treatments of varying conditions and diseases.
What are the health benefits of black seed oil?
Black seed oil is high in antioxidants, specifically thymoquinone. As a refresher, antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are the “bad guy” atoms that can damage cells. Since free radicals exist throughout the body, fighting them off with antioxidants can have wide-ranging effects that impact multiple systems. Think lower risk of chronic diseases, slowing the aging process, and more. A meta-analysis of five studies using 293 human subjects suggests that black cumin supplementation may have a beneficial role as an antioxidant. This may be why it’s no surprise that black seed oil is used frequently in the Mediterranean region for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, allthough more research is needed to fully understand the protective functions of black cumin.
Aside from the antioxidant compounds, black seed oil also contains sterols, compounds in plants that may help the body reduce blood cholesterol. The presence of significant levels of sterols may make black cumin a capable natural agent in lowering blood cholesterol and thus, helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Other research has looked at the possibility of black seed oil helping to control blood glucose levels and improve lipid profiles. A small meta-analysis where subjects supplemented with black seed oil significantly improved fasting blood sugar.
If you’re looking for a little brain boost, black seed oil may have neuroprotective potential due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The ability to reduce inflammation specifically in the brain may help prevent conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Research here is limited but also, hopeful.
The anti-inflammatory properties have also shown promise for asthma, as a possible treatment for male infertility and even for weight loss. There are also beauty gurus who believe it to be a valuable treatment for clogged pores, acne and dark spots when used topically. Most of these proposed beauty benefits are likely due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You may just see black cumin listed in the ingredients in the next beauty product you pick up.
More research is needed and not all medicinal uses have been proven, but black seed oil does seem promising. And, it makes sense. Black seed oil has an impressive nutrient profile including powerful antioxidants which we know are important for preventing many conditions and diseases.
Is it safe?
When used in a culinary setting (as in drizzled over grilled veggies) black seed oil is likely to be very safe. When used in supplement form, in a pill or a powder, it’s also likely safe and doses usually range from ½ to 2 grams daily. However, there aren't adequate long term human studies and it is always important to check with your doctor for any possible drug supplement interactions. Most people suffer no reactions but some do report gastrointestinal distress when taken orally and allergic type rashes when used on skin.