Nigella sativa is a seed used in traditional medicine cultivated across the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia.
It’s recently caught on in the health and fitness space because some evidence suggests it boosts mental and physical health, defends against disease, and aids weight loss.
Should you believe the hype, or is “the industry” embellishing its benefits?
Here’s what science says.
(Or if you just want to know if you should take nigella sativa or a different supplement to reach your goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
What Is Nigella Sativa?
Nigella sativa, also known as black seed or black cumin, is a seed from the nigella sativa plant that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean and Indian subcontinent, northern Africa, and Southwest Asia.
For centuries, people have used nigella sativa seeds and nigella sativa seed oil to treat various conditions, including asthma, headache, back pain, anorexia, amenorrhea, inflammation, eczema, and hypertension.
Recently, nigella sativa has become popular among the health and fitness crowd because it contains a molecule called thymoquinone, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other important biological effects.
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Nigella Sativa: Benefits
The most commonly touted benefits of nigella sativa are that it improves mood and cognition, enhances cardiovascular and kidney health, boosts testosterone levels, reduces inflammation, and aids blood sugar control and weight loss.
How true are these claims, though?
Let’s look at what science says about each.
Nigella Sativa and Mood and Cognition
Scientists have known for some time that inflammation and poor mood are linked.
Nigella sativa is anti-inflammatory, which is likely why animal and human research shows that it may improve mood to a small degree.
For example, in one study conducted by scientists at the University of Dhaka, researchers found that teenagers who supplemented with 500 mg of nigella sativa daily for 4 weeks were slightly more alert, calm, and content than those who took a placebo.
Similarly, animal and human studies show that nigella sativa may modestly improve cognitive ability.
In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, scientists found that elderly people who supplemented with 500 mg of nigella sativa twice daily for 9 weeks performed significantly better on memory and thinking speed tasks than those who took a placebo.
Taken together, these results suggest that nigella sativa has a small but positive effect on your overall happiness and mental ability. That said, we need more high-quality human research before we can draw firm conclusions about nigella sativa’s impact on mood and cognition.
Nigella Sativa and Cardiovascular Health
Having high blood pressure and cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. As such, scientists are always looking for ways to help people maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Several studies show that nigella sativa may be able to help in this regard.
In a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Hypertension, researchers found that on average, people who took nigella sativa for ~8 weeks reduced their systolic blood pressure by ~3.3 mmHG and diastolic blood pressure by 2.8 mmHg more than people who took a placebo over the same period.
Furthermore, studies show that taking nigella sativa can help to reduce total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Thus, there’s good evidence that supplementing with nigella sativa positively affects cardiovascular health.
Nigella Sativa and Kidney Health
Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that stick together in your kidneys. They can be painful, cause kidney damage, and increase your risk of kidney disease.
Preliminary research suggests that nigella sativa may treat kidney stones.
In a study conducted by scientists at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, researchers had 60 people with kidney stones take 500 mg of nigella sativa or a placebo twice daily for 10 weeks.
At the end of the study, ~52% of the people who took nigella sativa reduced the size of their kidney stones, and ~44% excreted their kidney stones entirely. Conversely, ~12% of the people who took a placebo reduced their stone size, ~15% increased their stone size, and ~12% excreted their kidney stones entirely.
Therefore, if you currently have or are susceptible to kidney stones, nigella sativa may be able to help.
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Nigella Sativa and Testosterone
Some research suggests that nigella sativa may increase testosterone, though the evidence is limited and weak.
For example, in a study conducted by scientists at Al al-Bayt University, researchers found that diabetic and healthy rats fed nigella sativa increased their testosterone by ~14% and ~33%, respectively.
In another animal study conducted by scientists at King Faisal University, researchers found that nigella sativa increased testosterone in rats by ~10%, though this wasn’t statistically significant.
Finally, in a study published in Acta Medica Indonesiana, researchers concluded that supplementing with 3 grams of nigella sativa daily for 3 months wasn’t enough to increase testosterone levels in obese men.
That said, around half the men who took nigella sativa experienced an increase in “T” during the study, just not enough to reach statistical significance.
At bottom, evidence that nigella sativa boosts testosterone is lacking. Until scientists conduct more research on humans, we can’t say for sure how nigella sativa affects testosterone levels.
Nigella Sativa and Inflammation
Chronic (long-term) inflammation contributes to the development of various diseases, including diabetes, metabolic and heart disease, neurodegenerative and autoimmune disorders, and cancer.
As such, adopting behaviors that minimize inflammation is paramount for good health.
Three meta-analyses conducted by scientists at the Iran University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, and Kerman University of Medical Sciences show that taking nigella sativa reduces levels of inflammatory markers in your blood, such as C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6), and increases anti-inflammatories and antioxidants.
In other words, there’s strong evidence that supplementing with nigella sativa reduces inflammation, and thus should help to stave off ill health.
Nigella Sativa and Blood Sugar Levels
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important, especially for people with diabetes, as it helps you avoid health complications that can damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, and vascular system.
In a 2020 study published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists found that people with type 2 diabetes who took 1 gram of nigella sativa daily for 8 weeks significantly reduced their fasting blood sugar levels.
Likewise, in a study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, researchers found that taking 1-to-3 grams of nigella sativa daily in addition to regular diabetes medication had a positive effect on people’s fasting blood sugar levels, with 2 grams daily being the optimal dose.
Three reviews that parsed a total of 47 studies found similar results, too, bolstering these findings further.
Nigella sativa seems less able to lower fasting blood sugar in people without diabetes, though.
For example, in studies on people with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, taking 200-to-2000 mg daily for 4-to-8 weeks caused no change in fasting blood sugar levels.
Overall, research suggests that nigella sativa helps people with diabetes keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Thus, if you have diabetes and struggle to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, nigella sativa may be a valuable addition to your supplement regimen.
Nigella Sativa and Weight loss
Traditional medicine practitioners commonly prescribe nigella sativa as a weight-loss aid. As such, scientists have studied how effective it is at boosting fat loss, with some studies reporting positive results.
For instance, in a study conducted by scientists at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, 84 obese women followed a calorie-controlled diet and took 3 grams of nigella sativa or a placebo daily for 8 weeks.
The results showed that the women who took nigella sativa in addition to dieting lost significantly more weight (~13 lb vs. ~8 lb) and decreased their waist circumference (~6.9% vs. ~3.4%) more than those who took a placebo.
Moreover, two meta-analyses that reviewed a total of 24 studies found that people who took nigella sativa for 6-to-13 weeks lost an average of ~4-to-4.7 lb more than people who took a placebo for the same period.
Notably, most studies show that nigella sativa only promotes weight loss when combined with a calorie-controlled diet. That is, nigella sativa won’t help you lose weight if you take it without also eating in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn).
It’s also worth mentioning that not all studies find nigella sativa aids weight loss, and in those that do, the effect is typically small.
Thus, nigella sativa’s potential to aid weight loss probably isn’t a reason in and of itself to include nigella sativa in your supplement regimen, though it might be a nice “perk” if you’re already taking nigella sativa and dieting to lose weight.
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Nigella Sativa: Side Effects
Most research shows that nigella sativa is safe and well-tolerated.
That said, in rare cases, it may cause side effects such as bloating, nausea, and a burning sensation when taken orally and contact dermatitis when applied to the skin as an oil.
Nigella Sativa: Dosage
The clinically effective daily dose of nigella sativa is 1-to-3 grams of raw nigella sativa seeds, 250-to-750 milligrams of nigella sativa extract, or 3-to-5 milliliters of nigella sativa oil.
The Best Nigella Sativa Supplement
As I explain in my fitness books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger, you don’t need supplements to improve your health.
That said, if you want to supplement with nigella sativa, you should buy it from a trusted source.
That’s because it’s common for herbal supplements to be underdosed (contain less of the active ingredients than the label suggests). In some cases, they can also be contaminated with toxins like arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium.
If you’re looking for a safe source of nigella sativa, check out Triumph, Legion’s 100% natural multivitamin supplement for men.
Triumph contains 500 mg of nigella sativa extract per serving, as well as 21 essential vitamins and minerals and 9 other scientifically proven ingredients to boost health. It’s also tested by third-party labs for heavy metals, microbes, allergens, and other contaminants to ensure it meets the strict purity standards set by the FDA.
(And if you aren’t sure if Triumph is right for you or if another supplement might be a better fit for your budget, circumstances, and goals, then take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz! In less than a minute, it’ll tell you exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
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