Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD
Black seed oil (botanical name nigella sativa) has been getting a lot of buzz in the health media recently for its benefits. Websites are claiming it can cure cancer, improve skin quality, aid in weight loss efforts and more.
In this article we’ll review the research behind black seed oil and confirm whether it’s truly a miracle cure for various health issues, based on published medical studies.
Black Seed Oil Benefits - Anti-Cancer
Black seed oil is one of the most studied natural compounds for anti-cancer effect. A research review published in 2011 concluded that black seed oil was a “promising anticancer agent”, but most of the medical studies reviewed were in vitro rather than in vivo, meaning they were test tube studies rather than studies on living animals.
It’s very challenging to get alternative cancer research approved, especially in humans, because cancer is immediately life-threatening.
A more recent review published in 2019 in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal highlighted several black seed oil studies performed on animals, all of which showed anticancer activity. Effects ranged from reduced tumor growth to reduced tumor size.
The way that researchers propose black seed oil may be effective against cancer is by promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells, and by upregulating certain antioxidant enzymes in the body which help protect against cancer.
These are remarkable studies because very few natural compounds have been proven to be so consistently effective against cancer. We look forward to more studies on human populations.
We want to be clear that we do not recommend black seed oil as an alternative cancer treatment and none of this is medical advice; we’re just highlighting interesting research. Patients should follow their doctor’s cancer treatment protocol, but may want to ask if black seed oil is worth taking as an adjunctive therapy.
Black Seed Oil Benefits - Weight Loss
Surprisingly, black seed oil has been moderately effective at inducing weight loss in medical studies. One paper reviewed 11 studies on black seed oil and weight loss, and found that supplementation of black seed reduced body weight, BMI and waist circumference all to a statistically significant degree.
A study on black seed oil supplementation in obese women found that the group taking black seed oil lost significantly more weight than the control group. Both groups were on a reduced calorie diet, and black seed oil dosage was 3 g/day.
These results are important since there is so much bad science involved in weight loss products. Companies like Herbalife and Golo make millions selling weight loss supplements with questionable efficacy.
We would consider black seed oil supplementation to be superior to most popular weight loss pills since it’s clinically proven, more cost-effective and has a better safety profile.
Black Seed Oil Benefits - Hair & Skin
Research has found that black seed oil is effective for dermatological conditions as well as health conditions.
Several studies have found black seed oil topically applied to be effective in treating acne. One such study tested a 20% black seed oil lotion against a benzoyl peroxide treatment (which is a common acne treatment) and found the black seed oil was more effective and had fewer side effects.
Another study on black seed oil for acne found that the oil was far more effective than placebo, and caused a 63% drop in Acne Disability Index (ADI), which measures how much acne negatively impacts quality of life.
As far as hair benefits, one study found that black seed oil significantly reduced hair fallout. A second study found that the combination of black seed oil and coconut oil was effective for hair regrowth, but it was published in a journal on Ethics in Engineering which is pretty strange, and the results weren’t replicated, so we’ll take those results with a grain of salt.
Overall we’d say that the benefits of black seed oil for skin are more solid than the benefits for hair, but both are promising.
Black Seed Oil Benefits for Men
Black seed oil has been proven in studies to be effective for male fertility. This is an important area of research since not many natural compounds have been proven to be both safe and effective in this regard.
A study from 2014 which was randomized, placebo-controlled and double-blind (the medical gold standard) found significant improvements to sperm count, motility and volume in the group supplementing 5 ml of black seed oil daily.
An animal study on black seed extract found that it not only improved sperm count but also testosterone levels.
We can’t conclude that black seed oil improves testosterone in human males, because the research is too early, but we can conclude it positively impacts sperm parameters and can be a potential option for infertile men.
Black Seed Oil Side Effects
One of the best things about black seed oil is its fantastic safety and toxicology profile. It should have no side effects if taken according to dosage instructions, though anyone can have an individual response to a plant.
Black seed oil is proven to have a very low level of toxicity based on the linked medical review. This means it should not cause any side effects based on normal (or relatively high) doses.
Another review which analyzed the safety of thymoquinone, which is the active chemical in black seed oil thought to be responsible for most of its medicinal properties, found it to be safe in animal studies even in incredibly high doses. The review authors found it “remarkable” that there was no proven toxicity even at the very high levels given to the rodents.
Overall we can conclude that black seed oil has a favorable safety profile relative to other botanical treatments (and pharmacological ones), and should be safe when ingested in regular dosages.
Which Black Seed Oil Should I Take?
We have no affiliations with any black seed oil companies, and receive no payments for any information, so the recommendation here is unbiased.
We personally recommend the brand Amazing Herbs found on Amazon because it’s standardized for thymoquinone. Black seed oil formulations which are standardized for this chemical should be more effective than generic black seed oil because thymoquinone is thought to be responsible for much of the health benefits of black seed oil.
This brand also contains no harmful additives or other ingredients.
The only issue we have with Amazing Herbs is they don’t publish any test results proving that their product is accurately labeled, and that the amount of thymoquinone claimed on the label is accurate. This is unfortunately common across the supplement industry, which is why we developed our industry leading testing protocol so that consumers can actually know what they’re getting when they purchase Illuminate Labs herbal supplements.
There is no ConsumerLab review of Amazing Herbs either, so we have to assume their product is clean and accurately labeled for now. We haven’t come across a black seed oil product which is both standardized for thymoquinone and provides test results, but if we do we’ll update this section to change our recommendation.
The research is still early, but black seed oil comes as close to a miracle herbal product as we’ve seen in the medical literature. The great thing about black seed oil is it’s a food product and has a fantastic safety profile, so it can make for a good preventative health measure when taken daily.
We recommend that consumers interested in taking this product speak with their doctor first to ensure it won’t interact with any medication they’re taking or be a risk to them based on their individual health background.
Black seed oil has proven anti-cancer, weight loss, skin and male fertility benefits and we’re excited to follow more research that is published in the future about this compound.