Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nigella sativa extract may prevent pancreatic cancer


Middle Eastern herbal seed called Nigella sativa may be used to prevent development or recurrence of pancreatic cancer a new study presented at the AACR 100th Annual Meeting 2009 in Denver suggests. The study showed that thymoquinone a major ingredient found in the oil extract from Nigella sativa inhibited expression of a number of inflammatory factors that are associated with development of pancreatic cancer.

Nigella sativa has already been found to kill pancreatic cancer cells and early studies showed it has anti cancer effects on prostate and colon cancers according to a press release by Thomas Jefferson University. The seed and oil of the herb have been used in traditional medicine by many Middle Eastern and Asian countries for thousands of years to treat a number of diseases including immune and inflammatory diseases.

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Historical Evidence

Black cumin seeds were found in the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt from 1333 BC to 1324 BC. The Egyptians supposedly put the seeds in his tomb so that he may have excellent health in the afterlife.

 The historical references to these seeds are also found in some of the oldest religious and medical texts. For example, it is referred to as ‘Melanthion’ by Hippocrates and Dioscorides, while the Bible describes it as the ‘curative black cumin’. It is, therefore, no wonder that they were thought to be worthy accompaniments in the ‘From Life here to Eternity’ by the pharaoh as described earlier.

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The black cumin herb goes by many different names. For example, in old Latin it is called as ‘Panacea’ meaning ‘cure all’ while in Arabic it is termed as ‘Habbah Sawda’ or ‘Habbat el Baraka’ translated as ‘Seeds of blessing’. In India it is called as Kalonji while in China it is referred as Hak Jung Chou.

Several sources claim that Cleopatra used black cumin preparations for maintaining her health, beauty and vitality.

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The most often quoted historical references come from ancient Islamic literature, wherein the black cumin is regarded the greatest medicinal plant to ever exist. Prophet Muhammad has once mentioned that the black cumin seed is capable of curing every disease except death. He said:

“Hold on to the use of the black seed, for it has the cure for every illness except death.”

Ancient Greek records say that the great physician Dioskorides used black cumin to treat and cure a variety of illnesses including intestinal parasites, toothaches, headaches, respiratory congestion and amenorrhea. He also used it as a diuretic and to promote milk production.

Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC) used Black Cumin for the treatment of liver and digestive disorders.

The Cannon of Medicine by Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980 – 1037), considered by many as the greatest book in the history of ancient medicine refers to black cumin seed as “that which stimulates the body’s energy and helps recover from fatigue or dispiritedness.”

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Modern Use

Nigella sativa has a rich composition of proteins, minerals, carbohydrates and fats. Almost all of its fat content is in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids - which are very important for good overall health and a sound immune system. It also has around 15 amino acids, the building blocks of protein, 9 of which are the essential amino acids. It is most recognizably in Naan Bread.

The nigella sativa seed is known by various names, including kalo jira, kalo jeera, kali jeera.
  • Black cumin
  • Black caraway
  • Black onion seed
  • Black seed
  • Fennel flower
  • Roman coriander
  • Kalonji

Other names mistakenly used are onion seed and black sesame, and although these look similar to nigella sativa, they are not the same seed.

Black seed (Nigella sativa) is an annual flowering plant, native to southwest Asia, which has been used primarily in candies and liquors, as well as medicinally. Multiple studies suggest that black seed may decrease allergies. Black seed has also been studied for use in cancer, immune disorders, inflammation, stomach and respiratory conditions, and for women's health.

Nigella sativa and Pancreatic Cancer

For the study Dr. Hwyda Arafat at the Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and the Jefferson Pancreatic Biliary Related Cancers Center and colleagues compared thymoquinone and trichostatin A which is an inhibitor of histone deacetylases that are implicated in inflammatory associated cancers for their anti inflammatory properties. In pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma PDA cells thymoquinone was found to almost completely knock out the expression of several inflammatory cytokines including TNF alpha interleukin 1beta interleukin 8 Cox 2 and MCP 1 an effect that was superior to that of trichostatin A.

The researchers found thymoquinone also inhibited the activation and synthesis of NF kappaB a factor that has been implicated in inflammation associated cancer. NF kappaB is activated in pancreatic cancer cells and may contribute to pancreatic cancer s resistance to chemotherapy. Additionally animal models of pancreatic cancer treated with thymoquinone had 67 percent of their tumors significantly shrunken and the levels of pro inflammatory cytokines in the tumors significantly reduced. Inflammation is implicated in several solid tumor malignancies. Pancreatic cancer killing 32 000 people in the United States each year has some association with chronic pancreatitis.

The researchers suggested that Nigella sativa may help people with chronic pancreatitis and those who are at high risk of devolvement or recurrence of pancreatic cancer.


There are no scientific recommendations developed yet to advice on the dosage to maximize the positive effects of pancreatic cancer prevention, therefore the general guidelines for the other health issues treatment could be applied:
  • Black seed capsules at a dose of 40 to 80 milligrams/kilogram have been used daily for the treatment of allergies.
  • Black seed oil has been taken by mouth and used on the skin for the treatment of allergies, arthritis, anxiety, bruises, cold symptoms, diarrhea, headache, high blood pressure, flu, muscle soreness, rheumatic disease, sinus infection, and stomach disorders.
  • Black seed oil has been used on the scalp for hair loss, on the skin for the treatment of fungal infections, rubbed on the back and chest for asthma and cough, massaged on the abdomen for colic, dripped in the ear for earache, and rubbed on the forehead and surrounding facial areas for treatment of headache.
  • The vapor of black seed oil has been inhaled for the treatment of acne, asthma, cough, and sinusitis.


  • Avoid with a known allergy or sensitivity to black seed. Skin irritation may occur after use of black seed or black seed oil applied to the skin.

Side Effects and Warnings
  • Black seed is generally safe when taken by mouth in amounts found in foods.
  • Use cautiously in patients with immune disorders due to its effects on the immune system.
  • Avoid in patients who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant as black seed may prevent uterine contractions and conception.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • Avoid in patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding or trying to conceive.

Interactions with Drugs
  • Black seed may inhibit conception and uterine contractions. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs used for fertility or to induce labor.
  • Black seed may have additive effects with antibiotics, drugs used to reduce inflammation, drugs used for parasites, drugs used for asthma, lipid lowering drugs, anti-cancer drugs, and drugs that affect the immune system.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
  • Black seed may inhibit conception and uterine contractions. Caution is advised in patients taking herbs or supplements used for fertility or to induce labor.
  • Black seed may have additive effects with antioxidants, antibiotics, herbs and supplements used to reduce inflammation, herbs and supplements used for parasites, herbs and supplements used for asthma, lipid lowering herbs and supplements, anti-cancer herbs and supplements, and herbs and supplements that affect the immune system.

Sources and Additional Information:

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