Over the past few years, my mission to help people recover from Hashimoto’s has become increasingly focused on using food as medicine (or food pharmacology) to address many of the root causes and symptoms of thyroid conditions. In addition to incorporating healing foods into my diet, I’ve also discovered many herbs and spices that can have profound benefits for healing. I’m always on the lookout for new research that could point us toward another tool to help us on our healing journeys.
Black seed oil has been on my radar for some time, especially since a clinical trial was published, revealing some possible benefits for those of us with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Some readers and clients in my community have asked about black seed oil, as they have heard about it being used for its medicinal properties and have been curious about it. One Root Cause Reset member recommended it for seasonal allergies. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to look into black seed oil and its effects on the thyroid for this community.
Black seed oil has been touted as a “cure for everything except for death!” I personally had a chance to use it myself twice in 2018, after the birth of my son. The first time I used black seed oil was to help support lactation. Black seed oil is an herb that is safe to use while breastfeeding. It’s actually considered a galactagogue, which means it can help increase milk supply.
Around four months after the birth of my son, I started to experience hair loss and new food sensitivities. I also found that my voice was becoming more hoarse. I tested my thyroid antibodies and they were elevated above 100 IU/mL—my Hashimoto’s was no longer in remission! (Under 100 IU/mL is considered in remission by many professionals.) While the antibodies weren’t as high as when I started my journey (over 2000 IU/ml), I was concerned. I wasn’t sure if the Hashimoto’s was flaring up, or if it was postpartum thyroiditis. Luckily, I knew a thing or two about reducing Hashimoto’s antibodies and getting Hashimoto’s back into remission (the same principles apply to postpartum thyroiditis). 😉
At that point, I tested myself with the GI-MAP test (my favorite gut test) and found that I had H. pylori, a common trigger of Hashimoto’s and food sensitivities. I was excited because I knew that treating this infection usually results in a reduction of thyroid symptoms and thyroid antibodies, but wasn’t sure about which protocol I would use, as many of the herbs I would typically use for H. pylori are not safe to take while breastfeeding. I reached out to my friend and colleague Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, and learned that black seed oil could be used against H. pylori. That did the trick—within a few weeks, my hoarse voice was gone, my hair stopped falling out, and my follow up tests showed no more H. pylori. Even better, my thyroid antibodies were reduced! Since that time, I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into this wonderful herb and get the message out about its many benefits. (I also figured out how to get rid of my food sensitivities with another new, lactation-friendly protocol, that I will be sharing about soon.)
This article will explain how black seed oil, which has grown in popularity in the medical world, may be a game changer and get you one step closer to putting Hashimoto’s into remission. In this article, you will learn:
- What is black seed oil?
- The uses and benefits of black seed oil
- How black seed oil can encourage gut infection eradication, improved blood sugar levels, and cholesterol balance
- Black seed oil supplement recommendations
What is Black Seed Oil?
Black seed oil is derived from a plant that goes by many different names. Aside from its botanical name, Nigella sativa, it is also known as black cumin or black cumin seed. However, be careful not to confuse this plant with true, culinary cumin (Cuminum cyminum), black pepper, black sesame, or black cohosh. The seeds are black on the outside and white in the middle, and produce a bitter taste.
Black seed oil is native to Southern Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia. Over time, it has spread further throughout the Middle East, where it is cultivated and carries with it a long history of religious and medicinal use. The earliest archeological evidence suggesting cultivation dates back to ancient Egypt and the tomb of Tutankhamen. It was also given credit for the beauty secret of Queen Nefertiti, who used black seed oil. Black seed oil is even mentioned in the Bible as the Hebrew “Ketzah,” a spice used in bread. Interestingly, the Arabic phrase for black seed oil, “Hibbatul barakah,” means “the seed of blessing.”
Black seed oil has likely been used as a medicinal herb for 3000 years or more, and its use has been documented in Ayurveda, Unani, Tibb, Siddha, and other systems of medicine.
It has historically been used as a remedy for a variety of health conditions — most notably, for inflammation, cardiovascular health, infections, and skin issues. In addition to being used for vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and the common cold, it was often prescribed as a tonic for general wellness.
Uses and Benefits of Black Seed Oil
Many of the medicinal properties of black seed oil are attributed to the compounds it contains, including thymoquinone (TQ), tymohydroquinone (THQ) and dihydrothymoquinone (DHTQ). The plant also contains many other active components, including thymol, alkaloids, saponins, and terpinenes.
The largest active component, TQ, makes up 30-48 percent of the essential oil of black seed oil, and offers the main biologic and pharmacologic effects. Thymoquinone is an antioxidant and antihistamine. It is also antimicrobial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory, and can modulate the immune system. It has been shown to protect the stomach lining, liver, kidneys and brain. Data shows TQ to have a low level of adverse effects and no serious toxicity.
Black seed oil also contains the antifungal compounds thymol and THQ.
The compounds found in black seed oil, which have been studied in animals and humans extensively, have also been found to protect the liver, kidneys, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal system. Furthermore, it has demonstrated antidiabetic, anticancer, and antiasthmatic properties.
Black Seed Oil Benefits for Hashimoto’s
Black seed oil shows promise for positively influencing thyroid health and lowering thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). It may also play a role in addressing some of the individual root cause issues that contribute to Hashimoto’s, including gut health, blood sugar imbalances, and metabolic health. Let’s explore some of the recent evidence in further detail.
Although there is a lot of data on black seed oil, there has been little study in the Hashimoto’s population until a 2016 Iranian study looked at the therapeutic use of black seed oil in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Participants between the ages of 22 and 50 received either 2 grams per day of black seed oil, or 2 grams per day of placebo, for eight weeks. Participants were also treated with levothyroxine from 6 weeks prior to the study, through the end of the trial.
At the beginning of the trial, there were no significant differences between the two groups. At the end of the eight week trial, the group receiving the black seed oil saw a reduction in weight, as well as in waist and hip circumference, compared to the placebo group.
During the trial, serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels reduced from an average of 6.42, to 4.13 in the group receiving the black seed oil. Serum T3 also improved from an average of 0.92, to an average of 1.06. Both of these changes were statistically significant. (Anti-TPO antibodies were also reduced during the study, though this change was not considered to be statistically significant.)
This study also had a meaningful impact on Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates the formation of blood vessels and plays a specific role in the normal function and development of thyroid cells.
The study’s authors primarily attribute the positive changes to body composition and thyroid function, to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of thymoquinone.
Besides impacting the thyroid directly, black seed oil may play a role in addressing the root causes that contribute to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Often, infections can trigger autoimmune thyroid disease, and treating infections can reverse the condition.
Black seed oil is well demonstrated to have antibacterial properties. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, a cause of potentially life-threatening staph infections that may be present in the imbalanced gut flora of people with autoimmunity. The constituents TQ and melanin found in black seed oil and may show promise in cases where an alternative to antibiotics is desired, or the bacteria has become resistant to antibiotics.
The antibacterial properties of black seed oil may also play a role in the treatment of H. pylori, a bacterial infection in the stomach that is common in those with Hashimoto’s. TQ acts as a biofilm disruptor, meaning that it can break free from the protective coating that H. pylori uses to protect itself, allowing antibacterial components to reach the H. pylori bacteria and eradicate it. What’s more is that black seed oil has been shown to be gastro-protective in both human and rat studies. One rat study specifically looked at gastritis in rats with hypothyroid function and found that low thyroid function can be a trigger for gastritis. It also found that black seed oil can play a therapeutic role by inhibiting free radical generation and increasing levels of antioxidants that protect against oxidative stress in gastric tissue.
Candida is another infection that may play a role in the development of Hashimoto’s. In this case, Candida is a fungus that can overgrow in the digestive system and other areas of the body. (Click here to read more about Candida and Hashimoto’s.) Given that the active constituents in black seed oil of thymol, TQ and THQ are well known for their antifungal effects, black seed oil may be an antifungal option in the treatment of Candida.
Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Balance
Blood sugar imbalance, and even diabetes, are common co-occuring conditions in people with Hashimoto’s. I often recommend stabilizing blood sugar as the first, or one of the first, interventions when addressing your thyroid symptoms.
Black seed oil has demonstrated potential as an anti-diabetic agent and may play a supportive role in increasing insulin sensitivity (decreasing insulin resistance) in both animal and human studies. In a 3-month clinical trial with 94 diabetes patients, the black seed oil group experienced reduced blood sugar, both fasting blood sugar and post-meal blood sugar. A three-month average of the patients’ blood sugar (referred to as Hemoglobin A1C) also showed a significant reduction during the black seed oil trial period. Additionally, insulin resistance was reduced and beta cell function increased. (Beta cells are the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.) The trial used dosages of 1, 2 and 3 grams of black seed oil per day, and the 2 gram per day dose was the most effective.
In a review of seven clinical trials, black seed oil showed promising results in improving glucose and lipids in Type 2 diabetes. Oftentimes, improvements in blood sugar go hand in hand with improvements in lipids, or cholesterol. This seems to be the case in the studies that have looked at metabolic health in relation to black seed oil.
A review of the data from the Iranian study regarding the use of black seed oil for Hashimoto’s uncovered that, not only did the trial group receive the benefits to lowered TSH, antibodies, improved T4 to T3 ratio, weight, and anthropometric measurements (body composition), but they also saw an improvement in serum lipids. LDL cholesterol and triglycerides decreased, and HDL cholesterol significantly increased in the study group compared to the group receiving the placebo over the 8-week trial. The study suggests that there are benefits to using black seed oil as an adjunct therapy in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
The claims for the use of black seed oil are quite widespread and range from improving liver health, to helping with asthma, as my Root Cause Reset participant suggested. Overall, black seed oil seems quite safe to use.
In the clinical trial of black seed oil with Hashimoto’s, nausea and itching were observed, and no other side effects were noted.
Black seed oil is processed through specific enzyme pathways in the liver and therefore, at least theoretically, could interact with medications that use the same pathways. It is always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before beginning a new herbal supplement, to check for the possibility of interactions.
Black Seed Oil Supplements
Black seed oil supplements are available in a variety of forms that may be beneficial for different uses. The most common therapeutic dose in the studies reviewed for this article was 2 grams per day. Human studies of black seed oil range from 8 weeks to 12 months of use. Safe doses go as high as 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. It is recommended to use black seed oil consistently for at least 8 weeks before re-checking thyroid, blood sugar or cholesterol lab work.
I haven’t found too many high quality companies that are making Nigella sativa supplements, and I am thinking of making one myself.
In the meantime, here are a few options to consider:
- Capsule: A capsule might be the easiest way to take black seed oil orally. I like this product from Life Extension that combines black seed oil with curcumin for synergistic anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting effects. (Note: This product is not recommended for those who have gallbladder issues or gallstones. Please also consult with your practitioner before taking this if you are on anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications, or if you have a bleeding disorder.)
- Powder: When possible, I like to take a whole foods approach and use the whole cumin seed. These can be ground fresh into powder and added to smoothies or other foods. Remember that the seeds have a bitter flavor, so you’ll have to experiment with the combinations that taste the best to you. The brand I like for this purpose is Kevala Organic Black Cumin Seeds. A 2 gram dosage can be measured with the scoop that is usually provided.
- Liquid: Black seed oil itself can be taken orally in liquid form, such as this cold-pressed version from Kiva. Approximately ½ teaspoon contains a 2 gram dose. The oil can also be added to a carrier oil and massaged into the scalp for hair benefits, or applied directly to problem areas of the skin.
I find black seed oil to be incredibly interesting, with an intriguing history and science behind it. It seems to hold some promise as one piece of the thyroid health puzzle in its ability to balance thyroid hormones, treat infection, and stabilize blood sugar and cholesterol. Since the studies in people with Hashimoto’s are still quite limited, it would be wonderful to see more research on this topic, in the years to come. If I come across any other important studies, I will be sure to write about them on this blog.
For more information regarding addressing your personal root causes of Hashimoto’s, see my book Hashimoto’s Protocol, and for recipe ideas that are thyroid supportive, check out Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology.
I wish you all the best on your healing journey!
Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried a black seed oil supplement? If so, what has been your experience?
P.S. Be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get a free book chapter, recipes, Thyroid Diet Starter Guide, and notifications about upcoming events and my latest research. You can follow me on Facebook, too, for more updates!
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