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Does anyone know if the scientific claims about black seed oil talked about here are true:

One of black seed's primary bioactive components is thymolquinone, or TQ, which is found in its essential oil. So far, notes Aggarwal, botanists have established black seed as the only source of TQ. Scientific evidence shows that TQ can protect cells from oxidative damage. Additionally, TQ demonstrated anti-inflammatory action in the laboratory, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, MSKCC. Other constituents of black seed exhibited antihistamine, diuretic and antispasmodic properties. MSKCC also explains that black seed may be utilized for other conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, liver protection and high blood pressure. Seek advice from a health practitioner before ...sing black seed medicinally.

Among black seed's amazing properties is its ability to battle cancer, according to Aggarwal. According to a 2009 article in "Molecular Cancer Therapeutics," Aggarwal and other scientists found that TQ hindered tumor growth in laboratory animals. He also writes that this herb may be effective against ovarian, prostate, breast, colon and pancreatic cancers, to name a few. Moreover, black seed can initiate cancer cell death and halt the process of metastization, or the spreading of cancer cells. Ask your physician which herbal remedies are appropriate for you.

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thymo*l*quinone or thymoquinone ? But yeah, sulphuric acid destroys cancer cells too. A cancer drug needs to be selective, and kill only cancer cells. –  MSalters Jul 19 '11 at 14:46
    
@MSalters, so what you're saying that black seed oil destroys more than cancer sells, it destroys all body cells just like sulphuric acid can? –  oshirowanen Jul 19 '11 at 18:08
    
Cancer (of course it depends on which cancer, but generally) cells are body cells which do not undergo apoptosis and a have a different metabolic rate. It is because of this sped up metabolism that cancer cells take up the chemotherapeutic drugs which kill them before normally functioning cells. The lethality of chemo is highly dose-dependent. Nothing kills "only cancer cells" –  Monkey Tuesday Jul 20 '11 at 4:39
    
@oshirowanen: It would depend on the dose, obviously. If you disregard dose, all cancer drugs are toxic. The hallmark of a cancer drug is the increased toxicity against cancer cells. –  MSalters Jul 21 '11 at 8:30
    
@MonkeyTuesday: cancer cells are not defined as cells that do not undergo apoptosis. They are defined as cells that grow in an unregulated manner. You can induce apoptosis in cancerous cells. –  nico Oct 3 '12 at 19:42
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1 Answer

up vote 21 down vote accepted

There are some kernels of legitimate facts in here, however, upon reading further, it becomes quite clear that they are not understood properly by the author.

The scant amount of real facts can be hard to discern from this site mainly because the author's inability to interpret scientific evidence is surpassed only by her inability to form a coherent (and spell-checked) argument. For this degree of scholarship to be made widely available, I say, thank you, internet....

However it was not so much her misrepresentation of the research (either deliberate or unintentional) which bothered me as much as the truly reprehensible way in which she words her article so as to allow the reader to draw his/her own fantastic conclusions by implication while at the same time DELIBERATELY NEVER MAKING A SINGLE CLAIM ABOUT THE PRODUCT ITSELF, so as to avoid giving those of a dissenting viewpoint any easy ground to stand on.

However she does leave enough blatant errors to more than make up for it.

I'll apologize, because I'll undoubtedly spend more time picking apart her atrocious rhetoric and pointing out egregious errors than providing the simple facts regarding what's currently understood about the main ingredient mentioned in the article. So, scroll down until you see FINALLY! THE FACTS if you want the quick answer.

otherwise, enjoy the rant...

The only way I can think to do this properly is to take the site point by point. So here goes.

Black cumin oil is safe enough to use as a household remedy for almost every ailment from stomach ache, insect stings, allergies, colds, flu, bruises, hair loss, lethargy etc.. This wonder herb is also powerful enough to be used at a Practitioners level with astounding versatility. It is used for serious diseases such as asthma, diabetes, colon cleanse, candida, immune system disorders, hepatitis, AIDS and even cancer.

This Gish gallop of disparate, fantastic, and completely unverified claims comes right from the top of the site, and of course is an immediate skeptical red flag.The author certainly has heaped on the reader quite the list of claims to investigate, lest the reader be chided for dismissing them a priori.

(And of course the colon cleanse fails by all criteria to qualify as a serious disorder. It is only a symptom of a much more serious disorder: an unfounded belief in pseudoscience.)

But, fortunately for us the site has not yet made a single claim about the product or its effectiveness for us to disprove....

"safe enough to use as a household remedy"

while sounding impressive enough to allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusions does not indicate effectiveness.

"powerful enough to use at a Practitioner's level".

First, practitioner of what? Not specified. Second, there is no claim made regarding either efficacy or safety.

"Used for serious diseases".

Again, used by whom? And again there is no claim to effectiveness. or safety.

Moving on, the introduction to this site has said absolutely nothing about the product while encouraging the reader to think very much of it. Next...

Around 1325 B.C., the Pharaoh Tutankhamen's servants entombed him with the precious artifacts he would require in the afterlife. Black seed was found among the selected items, proving that this spice's value extends back to ancient times. Roman, Greek and Arab cultures utilized it as an herbal remedy and a culinary ingredient. Today, medical researchers hypothesize that black seed may have antioxidant, anti-cancer and cardioprotective properties, according to professor of cancer research, Bharat Aggarwal, author of "Healing Spices."

First, the author uses "the argument from antiquity" surreptitiously by allusion in order to suggest that the possibility of ancient knowledge of the compound somehow validates any of the things hinted at in the introduction. But those were not intended to be actual claims anyway, just to sound like them.

I would also contend that the author attempts the worst celebrity endorsement ever; by proposing a link to the world's most famous mummy, King Tut. Although this factoid is not unique to the author, I have run across it in other places. It seems to originate from some interpretation of the information contained in Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley but the $150.00 price tag and limited availability makes this a hard source to check.I would be interested to know.

However, a complete archive of items found in the tomb is kept by the Griffith Institute and can be found and searched here.

The search function failed to yield confirmation, so I looked through the archive item by item ( I had a little time) and this is the best I could find: (5) Small seed of (?): not corn

And of course since the ancient Egyptians clearly had deeper and more profound understanding of medicine than scientists today, as they also included nearly 50 boxes of prepared food (repeatedly proven essential for the growing boy mummy) and a few chariot wheels.

So, not only does that statement seem to be questionable, but at best it would convey only that the Egyptians seemed to view the black seed as being of equal medicinal value to the chariot wheel, and possibly less so, as there is documented presence of more than one chariot wheel, but only one seed..

Bharat Aggarwal is a published, noted, and quite legitimate researcher at the University of Texas, although he seems to have an oddly narrow (but seemingly valid) area of focus.

His group has identified over 50 compounds from dietary sources and traditional medicine that interrupt these cell-signaling pathways; have been tested in various animal models and some are in clinical trials source

His name appears mainly to be listed here as an appeal to authority, and his book "Healing Spices" seems to be slightly more academically rigorous and based in cited research than some others of its ilk, I would call it at best controversial from what I've managed to find of it, as it seems to contain some leaps of logic from preliminary research straight to dietary advice.

Black seed comes from the Nigella sativa plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region, and now grows the Middle East and India as well. An annual herb, it blooms with fragile, pale blue flowers. It is often confused with several other black seed spices. Black seed, Nigella sativa, is commonly known as charnushka in the United States or kalonji in India. Black cumin, Buniun persicum, for example, is an altogether different spice, according to Aggarwal.

However, again she mentions his findings with regard to black seed in a manner that will allow the average reader to draw his/her own conclusions regarding the effect black seed can have on cancer, which as I'll show later is promising, but still very preliminary.

But my absolute favorite implosion of logic so far comes from this very statement:

Black cumin, Buniun persicum, for example, is an altogether different spice, according to Aggarwal.

HUH?

But wait, if Black Seed is not the same as Black Cumin, what did we read at the top of the page?

enter image description here

Which is it, you're talking about? Black seed? which looks like:

enter image description here

or black cumin?

enter image description here

This legitimately reeks of someone who has not thoroughly researched the topic about which she chooses to promote. And the best part is, her inconsistency is pointed out in the the quote from the expert she chose to cite! It couldn't possibly get better!

Ah, but it does.

Do a quick google search for the the word "Buniun persicum". You'll get this:

enter image description here

and for fun, an image search for the incorrect spelling gives us:

enter image description here.

Why, it's none other than the author of the site used in the question, what are the odds?

Of course, this indicates that the misspelling is localized, if not unique to her, and article cited in the original question. So, not only did the author quote an expert who ended serving no purpose other than calling attention to the fact that her claims not only aren't valid, but aren't even claims, but she then goes on to misspell an essential term.

One of black seed's primary bioactive components is thymolquinone, or TQ, which is found in its essential oil. So far, notes Aggarwal, botanists have established black seed as the only source of TQ. Scientific evidence shows that TQ can protect cells from oxidative damage. Additionally, TQ demonstrated anti-inflammatory action in the laboratory, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, MSKCC. Other constituents of black seed exhibited antihistamine, diuretic and antispasmodic properties. MSKCC also explains that black seed may be utilized for other conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, liver protection and high blood pressure. Seek advice from a health practitioner before ...sing black seed medicinally

FINALLY! THE FACTS!

  • Does TQ have anti-inflammatory effects?

    Possibly. Or something similar. At least in mice. According to one study which indicates it may be potentially useful to study for its antinociceptive (painkilling) effects.

The antinociceptive effect of morphine was significantly reduced in thymoquinone- and N. sativa oil-tolerant mice, but not vice versa. These results suggest that N. sativa oil and thymoquinone produce antinociceptive effects through indirect activation of the supraspinal mu(1)- and kappa-opioid receptor subtypes. source

  • Do other constituents of black seed exhibit antihistamine, diuretic and antispasmodic properties?

As long as those "other constituents" remain unnamed I won't dignify this nonsense with a response. This is akin to saying that "other constituents" of a slice of bread (approx 42% water as a conservative estimate, but can be more depending on the type of bread and preferences of the baker) will cure dehydration.

  • Does TQ treat asthma?

    Again. Possibly. In mice. But only if the same anti-inflammatory processes noted above are actually sound, this appears to be only the very earliest preliminary extrapolation of the effects it could have.

Administration of TQ before OVA challenge inhibited 5-lipoxygenase, the main enzyme in leukotriene biosynthesis, expression by lung cells and significantly reduced the levels of LTB4 and LTC4. This was accompanied by a marked decrease in Th2 cytokines and BAL fluid and lung tissue eosinophilia, all of which are characteristics of airway inflammation. These results demonstrate the anti-inflammatory effect of TQ in experimental asthma source

so, there is potential for TQ to operate on the immunologic response which mediates inflammation and asthma. At least in animal models.

  • Does TQ Exhibit antihistamine properties?

Currently being studied here, most likely because it is logical that something which has an effect on the inflammatory asthmatic process may have an effect on the allergic process, as they are similar in some ways.

  • Does TQ exhibit anticonvulsive effects?

A pilot study done on 22 subjects

RESULTS: the reduction of frequency of seizures at the end of first period in comparison with the same period before the study demonstrated a significant difference between two groups (thymoquinone and placebo) (P=0.04). Also reduction of frequency of seizure has shown significant difference between two groups at the end of second period in comparison with end of first period (P=0.02). The parental satisfaction showed significant difference between the two groups at the end of the first period (P=0.03).

CONCLUSION: it can be concluded that thymoquinone has anti-epileptic effects in children with refractory seizures. source

This may seem to clearly indicate promise, until one remembers that this is only a pilot study and involved only a group of 22.

I'm skipping the "liver protection" inference, because it is not a testable claim. Protection from what?

  • Does TQ help to treat diabetes?

Sigh. Again. Possibly. In rats.

Our data demonstrated a significant decrease in the numbers of neonates born to diabetic rats compared with those born to control rats. GD led to macrosomic pups with several postpartum complications, such as a significant increase in plasma levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α (but not of IL-10); a marked decrease in the plasma level of IL-2; a marked reduction in the proliferative capacity of superantigen (SEB)-stimulated T-lymphocytes; and an obvious reduction in the number of circulating and thymus homing T cells. TQ supplementation of diabetic mothers during pregnancy and lactation periods had an obvious and significant effect on the number and mean body weight of neonates. Furthermore, TQ significantly restored the IL-2 level and T cell proliferation and subsequently rescued both circulating and thymus homing T cells in the offspring.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that nutritional supplementation of GD mothers with the natural antioxidant TQ during pregnancy and lactation periods improves diabetic complications and maintains an efficient T cell immune response in their offspring, providing a protective effect in later life. source

  • Regarding cancer

Some preliminary study indicates a possibility for potential as a chemotherapeutic agent in the future, for brain tumors:

Our results indicate that thymoquinone induces DNA damage, telomere attrition by inhibiting telomerase and cell death in glioblastoma cells. Telomere shortening was found to be dependent on the status of DNA-PKcs. Collectively, these data suggest that thymoquinone could be useful as a potential chemotherapeutic agent in the management for brain tumours. source

Concluding...

While the substance may have some potential in treating specific tumors in the future, this in no way should be taken to imply that it is effective against "cancer" or any of the other conditions mentioned, at least not yet, and probably not for many years.

Also, it certainly does not imply that a natural basis for a chemotherapeutic cancer drug is that unusual, and of course to assume that whatever comes of this research would be somehow safer or better than currently used treatment modalities would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy.

In the end, black seed oil may become an interesting avenue for future research, mainly due to its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-neoplastic properties.

At the very least the evidence we currently have indicates it may at the very least be beneficial for rats.

But it's far too early to make any claims as to the medicinal value of compounds extracted from black seed oil and is ludicrous to think that dietary consumption of it will have the same or even similar effects.

This seems to be another case of the journalism getting way ahead of the science, and in this case, it seems to have been delivered very poorly.

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Holy answer, Batman! –  erekalper Jul 21 '11 at 13:18
3  
+1 for getting mad about bad research, bad science, and bad writing. –  Alain Oct 21 '11 at 19:00
1  
+1 I can feel the burning hatred against a bad research radiate from this answer. It'd be hilarious if she happened to read this in the future. We should link it to her. Good job sir. –  Dr. Nobody Jan 31 '13 at 4:22
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