Consumer demand is bringing black seed into the mainstream. Here are some of the studies on its functions driving growth.
Black seed (Nigella sativa) extract’s reputation is growing at an impressive rate, with a variety of new products coming onto the market to meet consumer demand. Mainstream consumer health media outlets are now starting to put the spotlight on black seed-which also goes by the name black cumin-citing its favorable results in clinical trials.
Weight loss, immune function, and blood health are just some of the functional appeals that are driving consumers to adopt black seed. As consumer awareness around black seed grows, expect demand for more convenient and diverse product formats to grow as well. Here are just some of the must-know studies about black seed demonstrating its functional benefits.
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A Modern Nutraceutical Rooted in Ancient Wisdom
Black seed is relatively new to the west, but it has a history as a food ingredient, condiment, and supplement in India and Southeast Asia that dates back to the time of Hippocrates. Shaheen Majeed, worldwide president of Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), says that black seed is cited as a panacea in the Bible, in Islamic writings, and a variety of Asian and ancient Roman texts.
“Black seed has been used since antiquity for a variety of purposes, like cardiovascular support,” Majeed says. “Modern clinical trials have shown that black seed or its extracts, essential oil, and other major components can improve mitochondrial function, lower cholesterol, and improve insulin resistance.”
Until about 25 years ago, black seed was unknown in the west. The growth of scientific literature around black seed has prompted consumers to adopt it for both human and animal health. Black seed is now coming to the fore in the western market, with Global Market Insights predicting that annual domestic sales of black seed oil alone will reach USD $25 million by 2025.1
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Black Seed Extract Modulates Immune System
Mark Mueller, founder and chief innovation officer of Botanic Innovations (Spooner, WI), started investigating black cumin seed oil’s immune-boosting properties in the mid-1990s. Mueller partnered with medical researchers at the University of Minnesota to conduct animal trials on black cumin seed oil and black raspberry seed oil.
“Our findings confirmed and expanded on what others had discovered,” Mueller says. “As we developed relationships with scientists and doctors, we learned more about the properties of black cumin. We have study data showing that our [branded] Organic Black Cumin Seed Nutri-Powder supports heart and immune health.”
One 2015 randomized triple-blind parallel-assignment clinical trial2 examined the effects of black seed oil or a placebo on 80 asthmatic participants between the ages of 18 and 65. Participants were randomized to receive either 1 g per day of black seed oil (n= 40) or a matching placebo (n= 40) for four weeks. The participants were assessed for scores on the Asthma Control Test and testing for blood eosinophils, pulmonary function, and total serum immunoglobulin E at baseline and at conclusion. Ten participants from each group withdrew prior to the study’s conclusion.
After four weeks, the black seed oil group exhibited a statistically significant improvement in Asthma Control Test scores, a statistically significant reduction in blood eosinophils, and a non-significant improvement in forced expiratory volume. The study authors concluded that black seed oil supplementation improves asthma control.
2. Koshak A et al. “Nigella sativa supplementation improves asthma control and biomarkers: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 31, no. 3 (March 2017): 403-409
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Metabolic Effects Proven in Animal Trials
Black seed has long been thought to have beneficial effects on metabolic function, but now, studies are validating its impacts on blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. One 2018 study3 examined the efficacy of black seed oil in regulating metabolic function in mice on a high-fat diet.
The trial followed the mice for 20 weeks, dividing them into 1) a control group on a regular diet (n=5), 2) a second control group on a high-fat diet (n=5), and 3) an experimental group on a high-fat diet that also received TriNutra’s (Ness Ziona, Israel) branded black seed oil standardized to 3% thymoquinone content for the final eight weeks of the trial (n=5). The mice were assessed for fasting blood glucose, glucose tolerance, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, liver inflammation, body weight, antioxidant markers, and protein and fat concentrations.
The researchers found that thymoquinone supplementation regulated mitochondrial function, lowered fasting blood glucose and blood pressure, and increased oxygen consumption in obese mice. If these findings are validated in human participants, it could open up opportunities for black seed extract as a metabolic-regulation and weight-management supplement.
3. Licari M et al. “Beneficial effects of thymoquinone on metabolic function and fatty liver in a murine model of obesity.” Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, vol. 9, no. 2 (2018): 751
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Black Seed Market Set to Grow
The black seed market is staged for significant growth in the coming years, driven by consumer demand for cardiovascular supplements and natural products with long histories in folk medicine. The journal HerbalGram estimates that black seed sales grew by over 200% in 20174, and this trend is expected to continue.
As black seed’s popularity grows, consumers will demand more specialized and diversified products with specific functional claims. Savvy brands can benefit by marketing black seed products for specific functional concerns like blood sugar support or cholesterol maintenance.
4. Smith T et al. “Herbal supplement sales in US increased 8.5% in 2017, topping $8 billion.” HerbalGram. Issue 119 (Fall 2018): 62-71
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