Black seeds and black seed oil can reduce side-effects of chemotherapy treatments for various types of cancer. Black seeds contain different active nutritional ingredients like Thymoquinone. The anticancer benefits of black seed and Thymoquinone have been tested in patients and lab studies. Few examples of the benefits of thymoquinone, as highlighted by these studies include reduced fever and infections from low neutrophil count in pediatric brain cancers, reduced methotrexate (chemotherapy) related side-effect of toxicity in leukemia and better response in breast cancer patients treated with tamoxifen therapy. Because black seed oil is bitter – it is often taken with honey. Based on which cancer and treatment, some food and nutritional supplements may not be safe. So, if a breast cancer patient is being treated with tamoxifen and consuming black seed oil – then it is important to avoid Parsley, Spinach and Green Tea, and dietary supplements like Quercetin. Thus, it is especially important to personalize nutrition to the specific cancer and treatment for getting the benefits from nutrition and being safe.
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Only those hit with the unexpected diagnosis of cancer and their loved ones are well aware of how frantic it gets trying to figure out the path ahead, in figuring out the best doctors, best treatment options, and any other lifestyle, dietary and additional alternative options they can avail, for a fighting chance to become cancer-free. Also, many are overwhelmed with the chemotherapy treatments they have to undergo despite the very severe side-effects and look for ways to enhance their chemotherapy with natural supplement options to alleviate the side-effects and improve their general well being. One of the natural supplements that has ample preclinical data in cancer cell lines and animal models is black seed oil.
Black Seed Oil and Thymoquinone
Black seed oil is obtained from black seeds, the seeds of a plant named Nigella sativa with pale purple, blue or white flowers, commonly known as fennel flowers. Black seeds are commonly used in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Black seeds are also known as black cumin, kalonji, black caraway and black onion seeds.
Black seeds have been used to make medicines for thousands of years. One of the main bioactive ingredients of black seed oil with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties is Thymoquinone.
General Health Benefits of Black Seed Oil/Thymoquinone
Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Black seed oil/Thymoquinone is considered to have many health benefits. Some of the conditions for which Black seed oil may be possibly effective are:
- Asthma : Black seed may reduce coughing, wheezing, and lung function in some people with asthma.
- Diabetes: Black seed may improve blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels in people with diabetes.
- High blood pressure: Taking black seed may reduce blood pressure by a small amount.
- Male infertility : Taking black seed oil may increase the number of sperm and how quickly they move in men with infertility.
- Breast pain (mastalgia): Applying a gel containing black seed oil to the breasts during the menstrual cycle may reduce pain in women with breast pain.
Side-Effects of Black Seed Oil/Thymoquinone
When consumed in small amounts as a spice in the diet, black seeds and black seed oil are likely to be safe for most people. However, using black seed oil or supplements in the following conditions may be unsafe.
- Pregnancy : Avoid high intake of black seed oil or extracts during pregnancy as it may slow down the uterus from contracting.
- Bleeding Disorders : Black seed oil intake might impact blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. Hence, there is a possibility that black seed intake might make bleeding disorders worse.
- Hypoglycemia : Since black seed oil might lower blood sugar levels, diabetic patients who are taking medications should watch out for signs of low blood sugar.
- Low blood pressure: Avoid black seed oil if you have low blood pressure since black seed might lower the blood pressure further.
Due to these potential risks and side-effects, one should avoid using black seed oil if scheduled for a surgery.
Thymoquinone/Black Seed Oil Use for improving Chemotherapy Efficacy or Reducing Side-Effects in Cancers
Recent reviews in peer reviewed scientific journals summarized a large number of experimental studies on cells or animal models for various cancers that showed the multiple anticancer properties of Thymoquinone from Black seed oil, including how it can sensitize tumors to some of the conventional chemotherapy and radiation treatments (Mostafa AGM et al, Front Pharmacol, 2017; Khan MA et al, Oncotarget 2017).
However, there is only limited research and studies in humans available which evaluated the effects of thymoquinone or black seed oil in different cancers when treated with or without specific chemotherapies. With many cancers, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is given post surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. But these adjuvant therapies are not always successful and can deteriorate the quality of life of a patient. In this blog, we will examine the different clinical studies of black seed oil or thymoquinone in cancer and find out whether its consumption is beneficial for cancer patients and could be used to optimize the cancer patients’ diet.
Black Seeds/Thymoquinone along with Chemotherapy may Reduce the Side-Effect of Febrile Neutropenia in Children with Brain Tumors
What is Febrile Neutropenia?
One of the side-effects of chemotherapy is suppression of the bone marrow and immune cells. Febrile neutropenia is a condition where due to a very low number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cells in the body, the patient can develop infections and fever. This is a common side-effect seen in kids with brain tumors who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Study and Key Findings
In a randomized clinical study, done at Alexandria University in Egypt, the researchers assessed the effect of taking black seeds with chemotherapy, on the side-effect of febrile neutropenia in children with brain tumors. 80 children between the ages of 2-18 years with brain tumors, undergoing chemotherapy, were assigned to two groups. One group of 40 kids received 5 g of black seeds daily throughout their chemotherapy treatment while another group of 40 kids only received chemotherapy. (Mousa HFM et al, Child’s Nervous Syst., 2017).
The results of this study indicated that only 2.2% of children in the group taking black seeds had febrile neutropenia while in the control group, 19.2% children had febrile neutropenia side-effects. This means that black seed intake along with chemotherapy reduced the incidence of febrile neutropenia episodes by 88% compared to the control group.
Black Seed Oil/Thymoquinone may Reduce Methotrexate Chemotherapy-induced Side-Effect of Liver/Hepato-toxicity in children with Leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is one of the most common childhood cancers. Methotrexate is a common chemotherapy used to increase the survival rate in children with leukemia. However, methotrexate treatment may result in serious chemotherapy side-effects of hepatotoxicity or liver toxicity, thereby limiting its impact.
Study & Key Findings
A randomized controlled trial done by the researchers from the Tanta University in Egypt evaluated the therapeutic impact of Black seed oil on methotrexate induced hepatotoxicity in 40 Egyptian children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Half of the patients were treated with methotrexate therapy and Black seed oil and rest half were treated with methotrexate therapy and placebo (substance with no therapeutic value). This study also included 20 healthy children matched for age and sex and were used as the control group. (Adel A Hagag et al, Infect Disord Drug Targets., 2015)
The study found that black seed oil/thymoquinone decreased methotrexate chemotherapy induced side-effect of hepatotoxicity and increased the percentage of patients who achieve complete remission by about 30%, reduced relapse by about 33%, and improved disease-free survival by about 60% compared to placebo in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia; however, there was no significant improvement in overall survival. The researchers concluded that black seed oil/thymoquinone may be recommended as an adjuvant drug in children with Leukemia undergoing methotrexate therapy.
Taking Thymoquinone along with Tamoxifen may Improve its Efficacy in Breast Cancer Patients
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in females across the world. Tamoxifen is the standard of care hormonal therapy used in estrogen receptor positive (ER+ve) breast cancers. However, the development of tamoxifen resistance is one of the major drawbacks. Thymoquinone, the key active ingredient of black seed oil, was found to be cytotoxic in several types of multidrug resistant human cancer cell lines.
Study and Key Findings
In a study done by the researchers from the Central University of Gujarat in India, Tanta University in Egypt, Taif University in Saudi Arabia and Benha University in Egypt, they evaluated the effect of using thymoquinone (the key ingredient of black seed oil) along with tamoxifen in patients with breast cancer. The study included a total of 80 female patients with breast cancer who were either untreated, treated with tamoxifen alone, treated with thymoquinone (from black seed) alone or treated with both thymoquinone and tamoxifen. (Ahmed M Kabel et al, J Can Sci Res., 2016)
The study found that taking thymoquinone along with Tamoxifen had a better effect than each of these drugs alone in patients with breast cancer. The researchers concluded that the addition of thymoquinone (from black seed oil) to tamoxifen may represent a new therapeutic modality for the management of breast cancer.
Thymoquinone may be safe for Patients with Advanced Refractory Cancers, but may not have Therapeutic Impact
Study and Key Findings
In a phase I study done in 2009, by researchers from the King Fahd Hospital of the University and King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, they evaluated the safety, toxicities and therapeutic impact of thymoquinone in patients with advanced cancer for which there were no standard curative or palliative measures. In the study, 21 adult patients with solid tumors or hematological malignancies who had failed or relapsed from standard therapy were given thymoquinone orally at a starting dose level of 3, 7, or 10mg/kg/day. After an average time period of 3.71 weeks, no side effects were reported. However, no anti-cancer effects were also observed in this study. Based on the study the researchers concluded that thymoquinone was well tolerated at a dose ranging from 75mg/day to 2600mg/day with no toxicities or therapeutic responses reported. (Ali M. Al-Amri and Abdullah O. Bamosa, Shiraz E-Med J., 2009)
Many preclinical studies on cell lines and various cancer model systems have previously found the multiple anticancer properties of Thymoquinone from black seed oil. A few clinical studies also demonstrated that intake of black seed oil/thymoquinone may reduce chemotherapy induced side-effect of febrile neutropenia in children with brain tumors, Methotrexate induced liver toxicity in children with leukemia and may improve the response to tamoxifen therapy in breast cancer patients. However, black seed oil supplements or thymoquinone supplements should be taken as part of the diet only after consulting with your health care provider to avoid any adverse interactions with the ongoing treatments and side-effects due to other health conditions.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.