Black Cumin: A Food Additive With Potent Chemoprotective Properties

Black Cumin: A Food Additive With Potent Chemoprotective Properties

Herbal medicine is one of the ancient and widespread therapeutic options for healing health-related problems. Over the centuries, people around the world have been utilizing several medicinal herbs to mitigate the signs and symptoms of certain diseases. It is quite enthralling that regardless of huge achievements in conventional medicine and therapeutics. The herbal formulations are still extremely in use.

This field of medicine involves the use of plant or their extracts to tackle every other health concern and to improve the overall state of health.

Spices and herbs are considered to be the major part of this modality. These are known as the primary taste enhancers in many of the known cuisines around the globe. Despite being food additives, these food ingredients also renowned for its wide range of medicinal properties, including anti-cancer and chemoprotective actions.

A vast number of analyses emphasise these naturally-occurring elements and stated a broad range of anti-cancer actions manifested through certain molecular mechanisms. For instance, garlic is known to hinder the carcinogenesis progression via anti-metastatic and anti-invasive actions; Ginger and its active constituents exhibit potential anti-cancer activities to address GI cancer, and phytochemicals present in the cardamom like cineole and limonene possess significant anti-oncogenic role.

There is another spice which also shows a substantial role in cancer prevention and chemo-protection. This is renowned as black cumin, fennel flower, black caraway, or Roman coriander. In India, it is known as kalonji, in Bangladesh, it is known as Kalo jeera, in the Middle East, it is known as Habbat Al-Barakah.

Like other spices, black cumin and its oil is also an essential part of ancient health modalities like Ayurveda, Unani and Arabic due to its potent health benefits. Let's explore how black cumin is beneficial for preventing the number of health problems as well as certain types of cancers:


  1. What are the health benefits of black cumin?
  2. Phytoconstituents of black cumin exhibit anti-cancer actions
  3. Implications of black cumin in cancer prevention
  4. How to take black cumin?
  5. Precautions while taking black cumin

What are the health benefits of black cumin?

Black cumin crude extracts are popular in traditional medicine as liver tonics, appetite stimulants, analgesics, bronchodilator and in managing various other problems, for instance, asthma, hypertension, kidney problems, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, skin concerns, and certain forms of cancer.

These benefits of black cumin are attributed towards the properties black cumin exhibits, such as anti-diarrheal, renal protective, anti-hyperlipidemic, gastro-protective, hepato-protective, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, spasmolytic, immunomodulatory and anti-cancer.

In recent researches, special attention is given to the cellular and molecular mechanisms of black cumin which arbitrate pro-apoptotic, anti-proliferative and anti-oxidant actions in suppressing tumour initiation and progression. These are due to the phytoconstituents present in this spice. Let's explore these phytoconstituents in little depth:

Phytoconstituents of black cumin exhibit anti-cancer actions

Thymoquinone (TQ) is the mainstream phytochemicals which contributes to cancer prevention. This phytochemical known to exhibits pro-apoptotic, anti-proliferative, antioxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-metastatic and anti-angiogenic effects. By exhibiting such actions, TQ is known to target certain cancer cell lines, such as breast, bladder, pancreatic, colon, skin, lung and osteosarcoma.

Other than TQ, alpha-hederin, thymohydroquinone, thymol, nigellimine N-oxide, carvacrol, and dithymoquinone, also known to show a potential role in cancer prevention.

Implications of black cumin in cancer prevention

Early investigations demonstrated that oral intake of thymoquinone showed significant improvement in the actions of glutathione transferase and quinone reductase, which suggested that black cumin is beneficial in managing chemical toxicity and carcinogenesis in liver cancer.

Also, black cumin found to exhibit chemopreventive action, ability to suppress the antineoplastic drugs associated toxicity and to prevent skin carcinogenesis (through two-stage initiation-promotion mechanism).

Undoubtedly, black cumin seeds are the potential anti-cancer agent. Let's take a deeper look at the detailed mechanism of black cumin seeds through which these show anti-cancer actions:

Apoptosis and Necrosis


Any change or modification in the natural process of apoptosis (cell death) may enhance cell survival and stimulate tumour progression.

Black cumin plays a significant role in anticipating cancer progression via down-regulating anti-apoptotic proteins or inducing pro-apoptotic factor without modifying normal cells. Other than this, the spice also is known to inhibit G1 phase of cell cycle and in the regulation of caspase pathways, which play a potential role in programmed cell death.


Necrosis happened as a result of acute cellular dysfunction due to oxidative stress or following the exposure to toxic agents. Oxidative stress is one of the major cause behind certain forms of pathogenesis. Our body defence system has strong ability to combat this stress but, in extreme conditions, an imbalance created between these two might leads to damaged structure and functions of tissues and cells.

It has been seen through various studies that the administration of oral TQ associated with a considerable decrease in oxidative stress via generating free radical scavengers.


Angiogenesis is a complex physiological process in which new blood vessels formed from pre-existing ones. This process is a normal and healthily process, but in tumour progression, this play a significant role. Tumour or cancer cells require a blood supply to grow and live this process provides these uncontrolled cells in a suitable environment to flourish.

Black cumin seeds through suppressing the stimulation of one of the essential motifs of angiogenesis aids in inhibiting the angiogenesis. The TQ present in black cumin helps to inhibit the endothelial cell migration, which otherwise is a critical step in angiogenesis.

Activating Tumor Suppressor Gene :

Alteration or mutation in the tumour suppressor genes provides a potential atmosphere for cancer development. Black cumin and its constituents perform a major role in activating these tumour suppressor genes via enhancing the PTEN, an essential phosphate that exhibited altered expression in cancer.

Along with these, black cumin also shows significant role in modulating other tumour suppressor genes, for instance, p21,p53 and p27.

Other than these, black cumin also exhibits a potential role in lipooxygenase activity and androgen receptors, which also contributes to seizing cancer progression.

Due to these mechanisms, it is beneficial to include this spice in the diet for cancer patients as well as healthy people. Now the next important question is how to include black cumin in the diet?

Let's explore:

How to take black cumin?

There is the number of ways via which you can consume black cumin seeds:

  • Consume by mixing the seeds with oregano and onion or by adding in yoghurt, oatmeal and smoothies.
  • Lightly toast the seeds, ground and use with bread or in curry dishes.
  • Consume raw seeds with water.
  • Take a decoction of black cumin seeds or by adding black cumin powder in black tea.
  • Include black cumin supplements in your diet.

Precautions while taking black cumin

Though black cumin seeds are safe to consume, if you are taking cytochrome p450 substrate drugs like fluoxetine or metronidazole, it is advised to consult your physician first as the seeds can contribute to enhancing drugs associated adverse effects. Also, if you are getting allergic symptoms by having these seeds, it is better to not consume these.

Black cumin seeds have a great potential to lower the risk of cancer and the regular consumption of this spice in the regular diet can be beneficial. Include this spice in your diet and make your health more salubrious and robust.

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