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September 4 2007 post, titled “A Cure For Every Disease Except Death.” The title of my post is the translation of an ancient saying [=see note below]* (which I loved!) referring to a common Islamic belief that the black cumin seed plant, or Nigella sativa or blackseed, a member of the buttercup family (the Ranunculaceae family), is a panacea for every ailment except aging and death. And everything that I read online yesterday and this morning on different websites would seem to confirm the extraordinary and wide-ranging healing properties of this plant.
Wikipedia, for instance, informs us that Nigella sativa has been used for centuries, both as a herb and pressed into oil, by people in Asia, Middle East, and Africa for medicinal purposes. It has been traditionally used for a variety of conditions and treatments related to respiratory health, stomach and intestinal health, kidney and liver function, circulatory and immune system support, and for general overall well-being. In Islam, it is regarded as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available.
So here we have a plant extract that was and is used to treat ailments ranging from asthma to diarrhea, from skin diseases to nervous disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, worms and parasites. Nigella sativa has antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial activities, and also allegedly strengthens the immune system, cleanses the body, purifies the blood, improves blood circulation, and helps us live longer. Strengthens the immune system? Purifies the blood? Helps us live longer? Sounds too good to be true. Ahhh, but this is just the beginning.
In the past few decades Nigella sativa has been under scrutiny for its anti-cancer potential. Nope, unfortunately I found no black cumin – myeloma studies. But I am still looking! Here follows a selection of the many studies examining the effects of Nigella sativa and its various extracts on cancer.
A June 2007 study (abstract: http://tinyurl.com/2zksw6), which I was lucky enough to get my hands on, thanks to a good friend (grazie!), informs us that “Nigella sativa has immunopotentiation and antihistaminic, antidiabetic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities. […] Furthermore, blackseed preparations may have a cancer chemopreventive potential and may reduce the toxicity of standard antineoplastic drugs.”
The study looked at the in vitro and in vivo (mice) potential of different extracts of Nigella sativa seeds against several tumour cell lines. The essential oil injected directly into solid tumours inhibited their development, and even decreased their volume after 30 days of treatment. The study concludes: “Our results indicate for the first time that intra-tumor treatment of tumor-bearing mice with essential oil may have led to the inhibition of metastasis development […]. These results demonstrate either that the essential oil has an anti-metastatic activity in mice or that it inhibits or delays metastasis by rapid reduction of primary tumor volume at the site of induction. […] The present study demonstrates that the cytotoxic activity of blackseed extracts is a complex phenomenon depending not only on the nature of the extract and its components, but also on the tumor cell type.”
An August 2007 study published in “Cancer Research” (http://tinyurl.com/266rlg) examines the in vitro and in vivo effects of one of Nigella sativa’s active compounds, thymoquinone, on prostate cancer, concluding that it may prove to be effective in treating hormone-sensitive as well as hormone-refractory prostate cancer. Furthermore, because of its selective effect on cancer cells, we believe that thymoquinone can also be used safely to help prevent the development of prostate cancer. The cytotoxicity of Nigella sativa purified extracts, thymoquinone (TQ) and dithymoquinone (DIM), against a variety of tumour cells had already been examined in 1998 (http://tinyurl.com/33woyf). With very good results, I should add.
A 2005 article (http://tinyurl.com/2u9arx) mentions “the protective effects of TQ and the volatile oil against the nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity induced by either disease or chemicals. The seeds/oil have antiinflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antimicrobial and antineoplastic activity. The oil decreases blood pressure and increases respiration. Treatment of rats with the seed extract for up to 12 weeks has been reported to induce changes in the haemogram that include an increase in both the packed cell volume (PCV) and haemoglobin (Hb), and a decrease in plasma concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose.” Well, all this is truly remarkable, to say the least.
As I do with all the substances on my research list, I checked to see if there was any mention of clinical trials. I was actually not surprised to find only ONE (see: http://tinyurl.com/34kv6e), which tested Nigella sativa on dyslipidemia, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. No cancer trials. Not one! This sounds all too familiar, unfortunately. (Big sigh.)
My own experience with Nigella sativa. My interest in this remarkable plant was sparked at the beginning of 2006, after I read that black cumin seeds had been found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (how about that for a fascinating historical detail?). That reminds me: I have not yet mentioned that the seeds are used in Middle Eastern cooking to flavour breads, cakes, and even alcoholic beverages. And oh, by the way, Nigella sativa should not be confused with the herb and spice known as cumin, which is a member of the parsley family (I made that mistake until I looked it up). In April, I took black cumin oil capsules, a total of two grams a day, then I ran out of them and didn’t place another order since by then I had flaxseed oil capsules. However, I wonder if the black cumin oil might have had a positive effect on my good IgG increase in June ? And possibly on the improvement in my rosacea? Hard to say, now. I wasn’t paying much attention to these oil capsules at the time, I confess, since I hadn’t done much research at that point and was using them mainly to enhance curcumin bioavailability. Well, after what I have read in the past two days, I will reorder black cumin oil capsules and test them as a holistic remedy. Soon. In fact, I am going to see if I can grow the plant in my back yard with the rest of my herbs. My Nigella sativa story doesn’t end here!
Update. May 20 2008 post: Today’s Science Daily (http://tinyurl.com/42pofz) has an interesting report on Nigella sativa, also known as black cumin. The black cumin seed plant is a member of the buttercup family and is a highly regarded medicinal plant in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
This is not news to me. I wrote a post in September of 2007 about Nigella sativa titled “A cure for every disease except death.” If you need a memory refresher, just click on my black cumin page on the right side of your screen.
Back to Science Daily. Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University recently discovered that an extract of Nigella sativa, called thymoquinone, blocked pancreatic cancer cell growth and killed the cells via apoptosis.
After adding thymoquinone to pancreatic cancer cells, the researchers observed increased levels of p53 and Bax, both cancer cell killers, as well as decreased levels of Bcl-2, a protein that instead blocks apoptosis. For more technical details please go read the article.
So even though I am working on a different topic right now, this article motivated me to have a quick look around to see what else I could find.
An interesting abstract published in 2006 (see: http://tinyurl.com/4srow5) deals with the effects of Nigella sativa on rats who had been injected with cadmium. Well, the rats that were treated also with Nigella sativa fared much better than the others: their red and white blood cell counts and haemoglobin were higher, for instance. This is actually the real reason I decided to mention this study: if your haemoglobin and red and white blood cell counts are low, you might consider taking this supplement. Nigella sativa also increased the lowered insulin levels and neutrophils of the rats, and decreased their elevated heart rate and glucose concentration. So, good stuff!
Since Sherlock and I have been doing our experiments together, I have stopped taking Nigella sativa. But I will resume taking it over the summer as soon as our current experiment ends. My RBC and WBC counts are low, albeit still within the normal range. My haemoglobin is also within the normal range but I would love to bring it up a bit.
Hmmm, I just read that black cumin seeds are a good source of iron, as you can see here: http://tinyurl.com/3vvs5m. Well, well…WELL!
NOTE *A blog reader, Ellinda, informed me that “A cure for every disease except death” is actually not an “ancient Islamic saying” (=that is what I found when I first wrote this post, but I have to confess that I didn’t double-check on the origin of this expression…well, I just checked, and she is right), but a statement by Prophet Muhammad, which can be found in Al-quran. I do sincerely apologize to all my Muslim readers. I certainly didn’t mean to be disrespectful, dear me! Thank you, Ellinda, for correcting me!
IMPORTANT UPDATE. April 6 2011 post: The last post I wrote about Nigella sativa, = a “cure for every disease except death,” dates to May 2008 (see my page on “Black cumin” http://margaret.healthblogs.org/other-alternative-treatments/nigella-sativa-black-cumin/ )…
Back then, there weren’t any scientific studies on Nigella sativa and myeloma…Nonetheless, I was fascinated by, and devoted two posts to, this extraordinary medicinal plant, also known as black cumin, because its main active compound, thymoquinone, had been tested (with very good results) against many types of cancer cells, including pancreatic and super aggressive prostate cancer cells. These tests have shown that thymoquinone blocks many of the signalling pathways that are involved in myeloma. And that is why I was absolutely certain (almost 3 years ago) that it would have an effect on myeloma cells. But I had no proof at the time…
Well. Today. I. Do. Have. Proof.
A blog reader (thanks!!!) recently sent me the link to a study published in October in the “British Journal of Pharmacology” (http://goo.gl/L4kTf), showing that thymoquinone (TQ, from now on) can kill myeloma cells…ruthlessly…
As we can read in the abstract, TQ inhibits STAT3, a crucial signalling pathway that keeps our myeloma cells healthy and alive. Sifting through the rather complicated jargon used in the abstract (and in the full study, I would like to add!), the main point is that TQ has a very strong effect on a lot of the bad stuff in myeloma—cyclin D1, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, Mcl-1, survivin and VEGF…(I have written about all of these bad thingies…You can do a “search” of my blog if you want to know more…the search box is on the right-hand side…just keep scrolling down my Pages…).
The abstract informs us that TQ also significantly potentiated the apoptotic effects of thalidomide and bortezomib in MM cells. But what I found most interesting is that this compound KILLED myeloma cells on its own, without the help of any other substance…In more scientific terms, it “induced apoptosis in myeloma cells.”
Apoptosis is an interesting and important cellular process also known as “programmed cell death.” I have written about it before (again, use the “search” box)…but, essentially, after a cell is born, it floats around for a while and does whatever it is it is supposed to do…then, when its time comes, it dies. That is what happens under normal, healthy circumstances…In fact, I read somewhere that in just ONE year we can lose half our body weight in cells that have died due to apoptosis = a fascinating titbit that stuck in my mind…
But cancer cells don’t like the “dying” part of the equation. They want to live forever…and so they bring into play a variety of “avoid-death-at-all-costs!” mechanisms. The little buggers even become chemoresistant…
Now, getting back to myeloma cells, one of these survival mechanisms includes STAT3…And that gives us an idea of how important it is to block this pathway when treating myeloma…
I have read the full TQ-MM study, and I must say it is impressive…though it is also quite difficult to follow here and there. As you know, I have a new policy of not quoting directly from copyrighted material…but, hmmm, let’s see…in addition to what we know from the abstract, here is a bit more info…
For those who are more technically-inclined: TQ inhibits the IL-6-induced STAT3 and also Akt activation. It also inhibits NF-kappaB activation, which is the Cruella Deville of myeloma…And it also blocks IL-6, which helps myeloma cells proliferate and build resistance against chemo drugs, among other things. Well, let me assure you that these are extremely positive findings…
The authors conclude that TQ merits further study, since it could possibly be used in cancers linked to the infamous STAT3 signalling pathway. Hah. No kidding!!!
I definitely need to order some more Nigella sativa…yup…
P.S. Interesting Science Daily article on thymoquinone and aggressive prostate cancer:http://goo.gl/cghDV