Cancer is the greatest problem facing medical science today. It is rare to find somebody who has not lost friends or relatives to this awful disease. It appears to be getting worse, with one in three people now having it at some point in their lifetimes.
Everybody knows about the devastating side-effects that cancer treatments have. Chemotherapy drugs often work by preventing cells from dividing (cell division is how new cells are created). However, they are not able to specifically target cancer cells so all types of cells are affected. This is why people lose their hair, new cells need to be created for hair to be maintained That is just an outward side-effect, but having your cell multiplication paralysed in this way leads to problems throughout the entire body. This is why people feel so terrible during treatment, and many die from the treatment alone. There is a desperate need to find new treatments.
What if there was a substance that worked on a genetic level? Reprograming the DNA of cancer cells so that they self-destruct while leaving normal cells intact? That may sound like something from a science fiction movie, or at least the cutting edge of scientific research, but it already exists right now in the natural world. The substance Thymoquinone (TQ) found in black cumin seed (Nigella Sativa) has this property. It seems truly remarkable that something like this exists, almost like it was put there just to heal us. In fact, this is just one of the incredible effects of this substance, said by ancient people to “cure everything but death”.
So what does the science say about black cumin seed and cancer? There have been many experiments where TQ has been extracted from black cumin seed to investigate its cancer-fighting properties. There have been numerous “in vitro” studies, where cancer cells have been exposed to TQ in a laboratory environment. Study after study shows that it kills cancer cells without harming normal cells, apparently working on a genetic level. There have also been “in vivo” studies where TQ has been shown to prevent cancer forming and growing in rats and mice. What is missing are human studies, but we did find one where TQ was shown to kill cancer cells in humans who were also treated with standard chemotherapy.
Details of these studies can be found in this paper, published by researches in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. In all, they found 18 different studies showing black cumin seed and its extracts ability to destroy various types of cancer cells (including breast cancer, bladder cancer, renal cancer, colon cancer and liver cancer).
Given all of this evidence, you would expect more human trials to be taking place. Unfortunately, medicine is increasingly driven by profit, and the pharmaceutical companies are looking for the next blockbuster cancer drug. For this reason, they will study substances like black cumin seed, but only to find active ingredients that can be synthesised, patented and sold for billions of dollars.
Researches are starting to recognise the desperate need for alternative treatments
Another issue is that, to carry out the type of study needed to prove that black cumin seed was effective against cancer in humans, hundreds of millions of dollars would be needed. For a natural substance, no huge profits can be made, so such studies may never be funded.
There is some hope though. Researches are starting to recognise the desperate need for alternative treatments due to the price and side effect profile of pharmaceuticals. In Arab and north African countries where black cumin seed has been used for centuries, scientists are now starting to take its potential healing power more seriously.
While TQ does appear to have remarkable abilities, especially when it comes to cancer, we should bear in mind this is just one of the many substances in black cumin seed. It has hundreds of active ingredients, working together in ways we do not understand. New compounds are even be discovered in it. Black cumin seed is packed with vitamins. It contains vitamins A, B1, B2, C and niacin. It also contains the minerals calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. It has 15 amino acids (including 8 of 9 essential amino acids). Black cumin seed oil also contains the antioxidants beta-sitosterol and nigellone.
The anti-oxidant property of black cumin seed very significant. One of the causes of cancer is a type of DNA damage known as oxidative stress. Pollution, radiation, and even processed foods give rise to “free-radicals”, these are oxygen molecules that have split, losing an electron. Thus becoming highly reactive as they attempt to “steal” an electron from the cells in your body, causing DNA damage. Anti-oxidants are substances that neutralise these free radicals before they can cause damage. They do this by adding an electron to the free radical, thus stabilising it so it cannot react with your cells. Black cumin seed is very rich in anti-oxidants.
Black seed oil is also rich in melanin, the natural pigment which is most commonly known for protecting our skin from the sun, preventing DNA damage which can cause cancer and other problems. However, new research has shown that it plays many other roles in the body, including boosting the immune system. Melanin extracted from black seed oil has been shown to have an immune-boosting role in animal studies.
So while we welcome the studies into TQ and cancer, it seems that black cumin seeds power comes from many different ingredients. Given the urgent need for new treatments, particularly for cancer, we would love to see more human studies involving black cumin seed and its extracts.