According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), 88% of all countries are estimated to use traditional medicine, such as herbal medicines, acupuncture, yoga, indigenous therapies and others. According to WHO, these traditional medicines would be a game changer for health when founded on evidence, innovation and sustainability. 

Among a variety of functional food materials, there are some household ingredients, such as herbs and spices, mostly used as flavoring additives and preservatives, which also contain an abundance of bio-functional molecules. Most of these culinary herbs and spices, although primarily used in cooking, are also known for their nutraceutical values, as they have enormous health-promoting potentials. 

One such medicinal herb is Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds), which belongs to the Ranunculacea family and is an annual herb with many pharmacological properties. Greeks call it ‘melanthion’, which literally means little seeds and is widely used in ancient Greek medicine. It was used in many ‘Hippocratic’ remedies and has long been used in the folk medicine system of the Arabian Gulf region, Asia (including India), and Europe.

Black seeds and their oil have a long history of folklore usage in the Indian and the Arabian civilizations as food and medicine and have been commonly used as treatment for a variety of health conditions. Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) contains many biologically active components, such as thymoquinone (TQ), thymohydroquinone (THQ), alkaloids (nigellicines and nigelledine), saponins (alpha-hederin), and flavonoids. It contains oils, carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids and fiber.  Additionally, myristic acid, vitamins and some trace metals are also reported in the seeds of this plant which add value to its medicinal properties. 

TQ is, however, the most abundant and the most biologically active constituent of volatile oil found in Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds). It has a variety of pharmacological properties, such as antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, wound healing effect and also for acne vulgaris, skin cancer, pigmentation and many other cosmeceutical properties. 

Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) and its oil are both widely used in traditional systems of medicine for the prevention and treatment of a number of diseases including asthma, fever, bronchitis, cough, chest congestion, dizziness, paralysis, chronic headache, back pain and inflammation.

The health benefits and clinical uses of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) are enumerated as under:

    1. Respiratory System: Improvement of the symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis have been seen with drops of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil.
    2. Cardiovascular Effects: Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. It helps to modulate the cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure (BP), obesity, blood cholesterol and lipid levels.
    3. Antihypertensive: In a study conducted in 2012, it was seen that intake of 2.5 ml of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil, twice daily for 2 months helps to reduce both the systolic and the diastolic blood pressure significantly.
  • Weight Loss: In one study, Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil (3g/day for 3 months) along with a low calorie diet has been shown to help in weight reduction in obese individuals.  
  • Decrease in Blood Lipid Levels: Intake of 5 ml Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil per day for 2 months has been proven to reduce blood cholesterol and Triglyceride levels significantly.
      1. Hypoglycemic Effects: Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil has been shown to be beneficial also in reducing fasting blood glucose levels along with improvement in insulin resistance. Hypoglycemic drugs when consumed along with a teaspoon (5 ml) of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil have been shown to be more effective in controlling blood glucose and insulin levels as compared to medicines alone.
  • Anti-epileptic Effects: Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil has been shown to reduce the mean frequency of seizure attacks in epilepsy patients. This can be used as an adjuvant or helper therapy to anti-epileptic drugs.
    1. Anti-Analgesic effects: As compared to the local application of most anti-analgesic gels, local application of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil has been shown to be quite effective in reducing pain, without any adverse effects. 
    2. Hepatoprotective Effects: Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil is beneficial in reducing the viral load and improving liver function when 10 ml is consumed twice daily for about 6 months.
    3. Gastric Effects:  Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium can cause many diseases, such as peptic ulcers and gastric infections. Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil along with antacids has been shown to be effective in eradicating H. pylori infection.
    4. Reproductive System: Some studies have shown that oral consumption of 2.5 ml of Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil two times a day is effective in the treatment of infertility in men and helps to increase sperm count, motility and semen volume.

    TQ, the active agent in Nigella Sativa (Kalonji or black seeds) oil has been shown to have multiple health benefits. Pharmacological studies on N. sativa have confirmed its anti-diabetic, antitussive, anticancer, antioxidant, hepato-protective, neuro-protective, gastro-protective, immune-modulator, analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, and bronchodilator activity.

    There are no reportedly serious side effects of this herbal medicine and most studies have shown positive health effects. It is, therefore, safe to say that consumption of N. Sativa (oil) does not require any prescription from a physician or any health expert.

    Ms Sunita Roy Chowdhury, Senior Nutritionist, Dietician and Nutrition Educator 
    Healthynudgez and Guiding Stars Open Learning Academy,
    Under the banner of SS Guiding Stars Pvt. Ltd.


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