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Can Black Cumin Help With Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s?

Over the last year I’ve had a few patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis ask me about the benefits of black cumin.  This is based off of a study which demonstrated that black cumin had a positive effect on the TSH and TPO antibodies [1] in Hashimoto’s patients.  And so based on these requests I decided to do some research on black cumin and put together my own blog post on this topic.  However, unlike a few other articles written by healthcare practitioners, I’m not just going to focus on the study related to Hashimoto’s, as I’ll dive deeper and discuss some of the other health benefits of black cumin.

Black cumin is also known as Nigella sativa (N. sativa), which is a medicinal plant and belongs to the Ranunculaceae family (1) [2].  The seeds of black cumin are the main source of its active ingredients (2) [3] (3) [4].  It’s most prominent constituent that has well-known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties is thymoquinone (4) [5].  Although I’ll discuss how black cumin might help those people with Hashimoto’s, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I’ll also discuss some of the other health benefits of this herb.

Black Cumin and the Hashimoto’s Study

So let’s go ahead and talk about the study.  This involved forty patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, aged between 22 and 50 years old (5) [6].  They were split into two groups, where one group consumed 2 grams of black cumin per day in powder form for 8 weeks, while the other group consumed a placebo (2 grams of starches).

These are the markers that were evaluated:

Many people reading this are familiar with the first three markers I listed above, but some aren’t familiar with the fourth and fifth ones.  VEGF is a glycoprotein, and it has been proposed that VEGF is present in epithelial cells of the thyroid gland and contribute to the development and function of thyroid epithelial cells (6) [7].  One of the typical characteristics of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is high TSH levels, and this promotes VEGF secretion.  In other words, VEGF levels are usually high in Hashimoto’s patients.  As for Nesfatin-1, this is a peptide, and some studies have demonstrated a role of Nesfatin-1 in thyroid conditions (7) [8] (8) [9].

It’s also worth mentioning that anthropometric markers were measured, including weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

So what happened to those people with Hashimoto’s who supplemented with black cumin?  Well, their TSH and TPO antibodies decreased, the serum T3 increased, and there was also a reduction in serum VEGF.  Changes in Nesfatin-1 were not significant.  In addition, those who took black cumin experienced a significant reduction of weight, BMI, and waist circumference.  As a result, the authors concluded that it can be regarded as a useful therapeutic approach in the management of patient’s with Hashimoto’s.

Should Everyone With Hashimoto’s Take Black Cumin?

It’s difficult to recommend black cumin to everyone with Hashimoto’s based on a single human study, especially since it involved only 40 participants.  I should mention that there was a separate animal study which showed that black cumin can benefit those with hypothyroidism.  It’s also important to let you know that there are studies showing that black cumin can benefit those with other autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis (9) [10] and rheumatoid arthritis (10) [11].

While there needs to be more studies done on autoimmune patients before we can conclude that black cumin is something that everyone should take, the research shows that there are many other health benefits of this herb:

Antibacterial activity.  H. pylori is a potential trigger of thyroid autoimmunity, and there is evidence that black cumin seeds have antimicrobial properties against H. pylori that’s comparable to triple therapy (11) [12].  There is also evidence that it can inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus (12) [13].  This study also demonstrated that there can be a difference in the antimicrobial effectiveness of black cumin depending on the source of the black cumin seeds.

Antifungal activity.  Black cumin has demonstrated antifungal activity against most pathogenic fungi (13) [14] (14) [15].  A few studies have shown that black cumin can specifically help with Candida overgrowth (15) [16] (16) [17].

Anti-parasitic activity.  Schistosoma mansoni is one of the parasites causing schistosomiasis, and a few studies demonstrate that black cumin can help with the eradication of these parasites (17) [18] (18) [19].  A couple of in vitro studies showed that it can also be effective against blastocystis hominis [20] (19) [21] (20) [22].  Blastocystis hominis is a parasite that is a potential trigger of thyroid autoimmunity.

Antidiabetic activity.  One study looked at the effect of black cumin seeds on the glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes [23] (21) [24].  The results of the study showed that black cumin at a dose of 2 grams per day caused significant reductions in fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C, while insulin resistance reduced significantly, and beta cell function increased (21) [24].  It’s also worth mentioning that 1 gram per day showed improvement but wasn’t statistically significant, while 3 grams per day provided no further benefit.  A few rat studies have also showed that black cumin has anti-diabetic properties (22) [25] (23) [26].

Anticancer activity.  As if eradicating infections and helping with type 2 diabetes wasn’t impressive enough, there is also evidence that black cumin has anti-cancer properties.  Experimental findings strongly suggest that black cumin could serve, alone or in combination with known chemotherapeutic drugs, as effective agents to control tumor initiation, growth, and metastasis (24) [27].  Another journal article discussed how the main bioactive component of black cumin (thymoquinone) can be considered as a promising therapy for cancer treatment (25) [28], although the main focus of the review was to demonstrate how thymoquinone can improve the efficacy of conventional cancer treatments, including surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.  Yet another journal article summarized the actions of thymoquinone and crude oil of black cumin against different cancers, and showed that it has positive effects on breast cancer, liver cancer, skin cancer, and renal cancer (26) [29].

Immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.  In the study on Hashimoto’s I mentioned how consuming black cumin led to a decrease in TPO antibodies.  This shouldn’t be surprising when you look at the research, as besides the study on Hashimoto’s, there is additional evidence showing that black cumin has immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.  One review showed that thymoquinone has anti-inflammatory properties that prevent the biosynthesis of proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukins and TNF-alpha (27) [30], which are both associated with autoimmunity.  Another comprehensive review mentioned that black cumin extracts and thymoquinone can potentially be used in the regulation of immune reactions implicated in various infections and non-infectious conditions including different types of allergies, autoimmune conditions, and cancer (28) [31].  A few studies have demonstrated the antioxidant properties of black cumin (29) [32] (30) [33].

Lipid lowering effects.  One study showed that 8-week supplementation of 2 grams of black cumin per day combined with an aerobic exercise program provides significant improvements in LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol (31) [34].  Although regular aerobic exercise is important, it would be interesting to see what the results would have looked like with people taking black cumin alone.  And while it was nice to see LDL decrease and HDL increase, I’d like to see if it positively affects markers such as LDL particle [35]size.

Hepatoprotective effects.  A few studies show that black cumin can protect the liver and cause a decrease in lipid peroxidation and liver enzymes (32) [36] (33) [37].  Although this blog post focuses on how black cumin can help with Hashimoto’s, many of my patients with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease have elevated liver enzymes, and so black cumin might be of benefit in this situation.

Other health conditions.  There are studies showing that black cumin can protect the gastrointestinal tract (34) [38], cardiovascular system (35) [39], and kidneys (36) [40].  It’s important to mention that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of black cumin seem to be the main features of preventing and protecting these and other areas of the body from injury.  So the truth is that black cumin not only can help those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but other autoimmune conditions as well.

Can Black Cumin Be Toxic In High Doses?

There have been a number of animal studies on black cumin seeds evaluating its toxicity, and overall it seems to be very safe.  One study looked to evaluate the toxicity effect of black cumin on the liver function of rats (37) [41].  The results showed that consuming high doses of black cumin resulted in no significant change in the liver enzymes (alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase).  This shouldn’t be surprising, as I mentioned earlier how black cumin can actually protect the liver.

What is the Ideal Dosage of Black Cumin, and Where Can You Purchase It?

According to the research, it seems that 2 grams per day (in divided doses with meals) is ideal.  But of course everyone is different, and for some people it might be wise to start with lower doses.  As for where to purchase it, you can visit your local health food store, do an online search, or click here for a product I recommend [42], which includes one gram of black cumin seed per serving, along with mixed tocotrienols.

Should YOU Take Black Cumin?

While I can’t say with certainty that everyone with Hashimoto’s should take black cumin based on the single study I discussed earlier, it’s easy to see how many people in general can benefit from taking this, let alone those with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s.  After reading through all of the research I’m excited to start recommending black cumin to some of my patients.

What’s Your Experience With Black Cumin?

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has supplemented with black cumin.  And so if you have already have taken black cumin please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.  If you took black cumin and noticed positive benefits please let me know!  If you took black cumin and didn’t notice any benefits please let me know!  And if you took black cumin and felt worse please feel free to share your experience as well!