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Black seed oil, which can be ingested or applied to the skin, has been touted as a remedy for everything from headaches and obesity to insomnia to COVID-19.
Black seed oil is extracted from Nigella sativa, a plant native to the Middle East and Eastern Europe but now cultivated in a much larger area. Nigella sativa was long been used as medicine and food. For instance, in the area that is now Iran, it was traditionally used to help with menstrual cycle problems; in India, it was used for indigestion problems; and in China, it was used to treat insomnia, dizziness, and bronchial disorders.
Nigella sativa has very high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids and phytochemicals, specifically thymoquinone, which is believed to be the driving force behind many of its therapeutic effects.
There are limited large studies on black seed oil, and many studies use a concoction of black seed oil with other natural products such as coconut oil and cocoa butter. The problem with these studies is that it’s difficult to isolate the effects of black seed oil from those of the other ingredients.
But the fact that there are few large studies doesn’t mean there isn’t any quality research or that researchers aren’t interested. In fact, a search for “Nigella sativa” in PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s database of biomedical research and scientific literature, reveals a sharp uptick in research into the plant in the past 20 years. There are nearly 2,000 entries on the plant, and half of those are from the past five years.
Among the existing research looking solely at the effects of black seed oil, one study found that it could aid in weight loss. In the study, approximately 90 obese women aged 25 to 50 on low-fat diets were split into two groups. One received one gram of black seed oil before each meal and the other received only a placebo.
After eight weeks, the black seed oil group showed an average weight loss of 6 percent and a waist circumference reduction of 6.9 percent. Meanwhile, the control group had an average weight loss of only 3.6 percent and a waist circumference reduction of 3.4 percent.
Black seed oil has also demonstrated activity against the SAR-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The thymoquinone and other components of the oil have a high binding affinity for the ACE2 receptor in the lungs and can effectively prevent the virus from binding and entering the cell. It can also bind a toxic uremic byproduct made by the virus, which is known to contribute to kidney failure occasionally seen as a result of infection.
Black seed oil may also treat vitiligo, a skin condition that occurs when cells that increase skin pigmentation called melanocytes die, resulting in patches of very pale skin. These can vary from small inconspicuous patches to a large patch that covers the entire body.
Researchers had 33 people apply a black seed oil cream twice a day for six months. The study showed that the black seed oil cream helped reduce the size of the areas affected by vitiligo.
It was theorized that it helped by spreading the natural pigment produced by melanocytes, known as melanin, more evenly throughout the skin. While putting the black seed oil in cream could have altered its effectiveness, the results clearly demonstrated its effects. This study was replicated with a slightly larger patient population, and the cream showed similar results.
Some have also claimed that black seed oil treats eczema. A study of 60 people with eczema compared the effects of black seed oil, a steroid cream called betamethasone, and a popular moisturizer called Eucerin.
All three test groups were made up of 20 people who applied the treatments twice a day for four weeks. The results were that Eucerin did worse than both black seed oil and betamethasone cream at easing the symptoms and discomforts associated with eczema. Black seed oil was found to have roughly the same effectiveness as betamethasone cream, which has been used as a symptomatic treatment for eczema for decades.
In conclusion, while black seed oil may not be the cure-all purported by some, it’s developing a growing list of acknowledged therapeutic effects. Given the very low levels of toxicity associated with the oil, it’s a potentially valuable addition to any medical practitioner or health-minded individual’s toolbox.
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