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Black cumin seed extract, also known as nigella sativa, is a well-known plant that is native to Asia and Europe where it has been used for decades to boost overall health¹. Black seed is often called black cumin seed or black cumin, but it should not be confused with cumin (cuminum cyminum) which is a completely different botanical.
People around the world have traditionally used black cumin seed extract to target allergies, illness-causing agents, inflammation, a weakened immune system, weight management problems, asthma, chronic coughing, frequent headaches, fever, skin issues, influenza-related health issues, and joint problems, to name a few¹⁻⁴. One of the main reasons that this herb is so powerful is because the seeds from the black cumin plant contain proteins and additional active components that have antibacterial, immune-stimulating, and antioxidant properties that are responsible for its health-enhancing activity¹. Now that we’ve briefly discussed the active components in black cumin, let’s take a closer look at how this potent herb affords these benefits.
Supports Healthier Stress and Immune System Responses
Stress can weaken the immune system and when this happens the body may struggle to ward off harmful invaders or fight illnesses. There are a number of cells that become activated when the immune system responds to foreign invaders, which include different types of white blood cells (e.g., T cells, B cells) as well as cells that engulf and destroy illness-causing microorganisms⁶. During a healthy immune system response, these cells quickly address the substances or microorganisms that caused an internal disturbance and the body typically recovers in a short period of time. However, if the immune system is not strong, abnormal cell activity can prevent rapid healing and even cause symptoms to worsen.
For instance, microorganisms that stimulate an immune response such as bacteria or viruses that cause an infection lead to the activation of T cells. When the immune system is strong, T cells signal the release of additional immunity-related agents (e.g., proteins, enzymes, other cells) that help destroy and promote the removal of the infectious invader. However, a weakened immune system responds in an abnormal manner to infectious agents and extended T cell activation along with the buildup of other immunity-related agents can cause an illness (e.g., infection, cold, influenza) to become chronic. This can also make it harder for an individual to recover. Black cumin seed extract enhances immunity by influencing T cell activity and it also targets abnormal increases of other immunity-related agents⁷.
More specifically, black cumin seed extract helps lowers T cell activity when a hypersensitive (over active) immune system causes an abnormal stress response in the body⁷. This extract also reduces the levels of other agents (e.g., proteins, enzymes) that become pro-inflammatory when they remain at the sight of an illness for too long. This means that black cumin seed extract promotes healthy immune system activity, but it also helps restores abnormal stress and immune responses that can contribute to chronic illnesses (e.g., infection, influenza).
Accordingly, research shows that black cumin seed extract supports immunity and improves the body’s stress response to staphylococcus bacteria that cause skin infections⁸. The use of this particular extract has even demonstrated effectiveness that is similar to a commonly prescribed anti-bacterial ointment that is used for skin infections. A number of infectious agents develop a resistance to various anti-microbial drugs, but black cumin seed extract has been used for centuries to target various types of infections (e.g., influenza, E. coli, Candida yeast, staph infections)⁷⁻⁹. Furthermore, in comparison to black cumin seed oil, the extract targets a wider range of infectious microorganisms and demonstrates anti-microbial activity that is comparable to several different drugs (e.g., clotrimazole, gentamicin, cloxacillin)⁸‘⁹.
In doing so, black cumin seed extract demonstrates the ability to improve the body’s capacity to target conditions that are linked to stress, a weakened immune system, and an abnormal inflammatory response. Furthermore, the extract’s antioxidant, immune-stimulating, anti-stress, anti-microbial, anti-influenza, and anti-inflammatory properties have proven beneficial in targeting and boosting long-term health¹⁻⁴‘ ⁷⁻⁹.
Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
A number of healthcare professionals who support homeopathic approaches to addressing certain health issues, recommend black cumin seed to improve blood sugar regulation in people with diabetes, especially those who have type 2 diabetes¹⁰. In particular, black cumin helps restore high blood sugar back to normal levels and targets insulin resistance, which refers to an abnormal response to insulin.
Insulin is a hormone in the body that regulates whether glucose (sugar) is used for energy or stored for later use¹¹. If the body is unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin or if the body simply does not respond to increasing levels of insulin, glucose will begin to accumulate in the blood and this can lead to serious diabetic complications. Consuming black cumin regularly helps reduce insulin resistance, which in turn helps an individual with diabetes experience healthier responses to insulin and more controlled blood sugar readings¹⁰. Black cumin consumption also lowers the level of a diabetes marker called A1c¹². High A1c levels indicate that a person’s blood sugar is too high and may also signal the onset or worsening of diabetes.
However, it is important to continue monitoring blood glucose numbers closely and to work with a healthcare professional as adding black cumin to the diet may be safer than trying to discontinue taking medication for diabetes. Indeed, one clinical study involving individuals with insulin resistance who were taking blood sugar and fat-reducing medications such as atorvastatin and metformin showed that they further benefited from adding black cumin seed extract to their diet because the combination led to lower fasting blood glucose levels¹³. High fasting blood glucose is a common problem for people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes¹³’ ¹⁴.
Similar research involving the administration of black cumin to individuals with type 2 diabetes who were taking anti-diabetes medication showed that consuming this herb improved blood sugar readings, but also reduced heart-related complications, unhealthy levels of fat, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure¹⁴. Therefore, black cumin seed extract may be of great benefit to people with diabetes, especially when it is combined with anti-diabetes medication.
Promotes Healthy Blood Pressure, Cholesterol Levels, And Weight
In addition to its anti-diabetic activity, black cumin supplementation also supports healthy blood pressure levels, which is a topic that was briefly introduced in the discussion regarding blood sugar. Now we will go into a little more detail about this benefit.
A number of studies suggest that taking black cumin seed daily for at least two months promotes normal blood pressure readings¹⁵‘¹⁶. One particular showed that giving a group of individuals whose systolic blood pressure was between 140-159 mmHg either 100 mg or 200 mg of black cumin seed extract powder two times daily for two months experienced lower blood pressure as well as decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol, which is a bad form of fat that can clog blood vessels¹⁵. A similar study involving the administration of 2.5 ml of black seed oil twice a day for two months also demonstrated lower blood pressure levels for participants who took it regularly¹⁶. Furthermore, taking up to 1 gram of black cumin every morning with breakfast for two months is associated with lower total cholesterol, bad (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides (fat)¹⁷. In a number of cases, improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels also help people achieve desired weight loss as the body begins to shed unwanted fat¹⁸.
It is believed that black cumin relaxes the walls of blood vessels which improves blood circulation and subsequently lowers blood pressure by helping the heart pump less hard. It is also harder for LDL (bad) cholesterol to stick to the walls of wide blood vessels. Therefore, black cumin supplementation supports heart health through several different mechanisms. Indeed, the ability of black cumin to help protect blood vessels from damage enhances the body’s capacity to promote the growth of new blood vessels and natural healing of damaged heart tissue¹⁹.
The manner in which black cumin relaxes blood vessels also increases metabolism and energy levels, and both of these processes speed up the rate at which the body burns calories¹⁹. This can subsequently help individuals restore weight control, especially when the supplementation is combined with a healthy diet and regular, vigorous exercise. Therefore, black cumin targets various processes in the body, rejuvenates blood vessels, strengthens the heart, boosts metabolism, and also has the potential to promote optimal weight management for people who may have been struggling with weight issues for years without experiencing any positive outcomes.
Take Home Message
Black cumin seed extract, is a potent herb that has been used for decades to target various issues due to its immunity-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, anti-diabetic properties, among others¹’⁹‘¹⁰. Care must be taken not to confuse black cumin (black cumin seed) with cumin (cuminum cyminum) as although both herbs are similar, black cumin demonstrates certain health benefits that are specific to this particular species of plant. When taking a botanical, the key to experiencing lasting improvement is to ensure that it is taken regularly as this produces the best benefits from dietary supplements. It is also important to remember to speak with a healthcare provider about the optimal way to take herbs if medication has also been prescribed for a pre-existing condition (e.g., diabetes). Long-term health is the goal and adding the right supplement to a proper diet and exercise routine can dramatically enhance overall health.
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