Black cumin: The Oil of the Pharaohs
Black cumin, Nigella Sativa, is a plant native to ancient Egypt with several historical references and applications in traditional medicine.
Black cumin is known as the oil of the Pharaohs as black cumin seeds supposedly appeared in the tomb of Tutankhamun so that its properties would accompany him in the afterlife. Similarly, Cleopatra and Nefertiti used black cumin oil for their beauty care.
What do seeds of Nigella sativa contain?
Nigella sativa, commonly known as black seed or black cumin, is a plant belonging to the botanical family Ranunculaceae. Although the plant originated in South and Southwest Asia, it is widely cultivated in the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe.
Nigella sativa seeds contain a high concentration of Omega 3, 6, 7 and 9 (oleic, palmitoleic, linolenic and linoleic acids), amino acids (arginine, leucine), carbohydrates (glucose, arabinose), minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron), sterols (ß-sitosterol, avanesterol), tocopherols (α, ß, ɣ), thymoquinone, retinol (vitamin A) and carotenoids (ß-carotenes).
Polyphenols (such as thymoquinone) and fatty acids (such as linoleic, oleic) modulate inflammatory processes and oxidation reactions, which occur during immune reactions.
Black Cumin Oil Properties and Benefits
The effects of Nigella sativa oil are diverse; however, its immunomodulatory activity stands out. It stimulates several areas and processes of the immune system.
The “immuno-nutrition” term, linked to many plants and food supplements that has emerged during the last decade, describes diets that have certain chemicals in the form of fatty acids, amino acids and organic acids alone or in combination1,2,3.
The immunomodulatory activity of black cumin is carried out by the following facts:
- The combined action of Omegas and Thymoquinone regulates the production of inflammatory factors like prostaglandins, among others, decreasing the inflammatory response4.
- Black cumin modulates the activity of the defense system, contributing to the effective removal of the “foreign agent” as well as to the control of histamine (the main product in allergic processes), favoring the relief of respiratory and skin allergies3,4.
- Black cumin stimulates the action of antioxidant enzymes and captures free radicals, contributing to the preservation of tissues against oxidative damage2,3.
Black Cumin Oil Uses
This plant was traditionally used by the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. In traditional medicine, Nigella sativa seeds and oil have often been used as a natural remedy for a wide range of conditions such as fever, cough, nasal congestion, bronchitis, asthma, dyspnea, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation, eczema, dizziness and gastrointestinal disorders.
Black cumin has also been recommended for headache, toothache, and back pain.
Black cumin in respiratory allergies
Clinical studies have proven the usefulness of black cumin oil in reducing histamine (in values greater than3 50%) and inflammation in allergic rhinitis, significantly relieving4 nasal mucosal congestion, nasal itching, sneezing, hypertrophy (enlargement) of turbinate bones, among others.
These studies have also confirmed that the activity of thymoquinone along with the omegas contained in the Black Cumin Oil, favor the relief of these respiratory allergies.
Black cumin for Asthma
In the case of asthma, the inflammatory component along with the release of histamine result in a constriction of the bronchi that does not allow asthma sufferers to breathe properly.
The oil from the seeds of Nigella sativa has proven to be very useful for people with asthma because it acts on these two components thanks to the combination of thymoquinone and essential fatty acids (oleic, palmitoleic, linolenic and linoleic).
A very recent study conducted in 2016 at King Abdulaziz University Hospital (KAUH) in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), proved that Nigella sativa oil significantly improved the control of asthma, with tendency toward improved lung function and with an acceptable safety and tolerability profile among adult asthma patients.
Moreover, according to the results of the study5, whose ethical approval was granted by the ethics committees of University College of London and King Abdulaziz University, Nigella sativa oil demonstrated a reduction in eosinophilia (type of white blood cells) in blood.
Eosinophil white blood cells play an important role in asthma inflammation, and their blood count is considered an important marker in asthma trials.
More and more people with asthma need to improve their treatment. Specifically, the 2005 GAPP Study (Global Asthma Physicians and Patients) reported that 39% of individuals with asthma modified or discontinued their medications due to adverse events, and 76% of individuals and 81% of physicians believe that new treatment options are needed.
The introduction of novel treatment strategies (such as “complementary” treatments) is a key step toward better asthma control5.