June 4th 2021
Black seed oil: how this ancient anti-inflammatory elixir could boost digestion, weight loss and even hair health
June 1st 2018 / 0 comment
Nicknamed ‘The Oil of the Pharaohs,’ fans of this essential fatty acid and antioxidant-rich plant oil range from King Tut to Cleopatra and Kim Kardashian. Here's why, and what to look for in your products
From turmeric to apple cider vinegar, more and more of us are looking to natural or age-old remedies to help with our modern day aches and pains. And one that’s gaining quite the buzz is black seed oil.
Also known as black cumin seed oil, it’s been used for thousands of years to treat a range of beauty and wellness concerns and can be traced back to Ancient Egypt - a bottle of it was reportedly found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb and Cleopatra was believed to be a fan too.
Its health benefits
Derived from the seeds of the nigella sativa plant grown in Western Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, it boasts a make-up that gives it a distinct point of difference to other natural remedies on the market, with a whole host of health benefits (in fact, an early adopter in our office boldly told us it 'cures everything but death'). Its phytochemical content is especially of note for helping boost immunity and general health.
"These compounds exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant impacts on the body, and are also antimicrobial," explains nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. "Though some research does suggest that black seed oil might help with joint pain, blood sugar balance and diabetes management, much of the research is related to the impacts that black seed oil has on killing harmful bacteria (or pathogens) in the body, namely in the digestive system." This can be particularly beneficial for relieving digestive discomfort.
"Because of its antimicrobial activity in the body, some people might find that taking black seed oil for a short period of time can help with digestive symptoms, such as bloating, cramps or changes to bowel movements."
It could also help with shedding a few extra pounds too. "Because of its impacts on blood sugar balance, some may find it helps with weight loss when incorporated alongside a healthy, balanced diet," says Alice.
How to incorporate it into your diet
The seeds of the nigella sativa plant can found in numerous recipes for breads and curries and are characterised by their bitter flavour. They're a go-to of chef Gurpreet Bains’ in his book, Indian Superspices due to both their culinary and anti-inflammatory effects and he recommends heading to healthysupplies.co.uk or the spice aisles of supermarkets to get your fill of them. One of our Editor Victoria Woodhall’s favourite recipes of his is his ‘No More Headache, Baked Beans on Toast.’ It works (and tastes delicious too).
In its supplement form, pharmacist and Victoria Health co-founder, Shabir Daya, recommends choosing oil over capsules via Viridian Nutrition’s 100% Organic Black Seed Oil, £22.96, which can be taken on its own or added to salads or smoothies: “It’s cold-pressed to preserve its myriad of active components,” he tells us.
In terms of how long you should take black seed oil for, opinions seem to be mixed. There are some risks to bear in mind. "Black seed oil isn’t something to be taken long-term largely because of its powerful anti-microbial properties," highlights Alice. "Though these can be useful short-term to kill off unwanted or harmful bacteria, long-term it can begin to impact on the balance of all-important beneficial bacteria in the digestive system too. Those with severe IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, reflux or ulcers should consult a doctor or report before taking anything like black seed oil, as should anyone on medication or pre-existing conditions. It is also not safe for pregnant women or children."
Its beauty benefits
Beyond the world of wellness, black seed oil provides a variety of beauty benefits too. And, as well as attracting the likes of ol’ Cleo (it carried the nickname of ‘Pharaoh's Oil’ back in the day) it reportedly counts the Kardashian family as fans too.
Due to its antioxidant content, it can increasingly be found in products designed to protect and replenish dry skin such as The Body Shop’s Oils of Life Intensely Revitalising Cream, £26, Oils of Life Intensely Revitalising Bi-Phase Essence Lotion, £16, and Mauli’s free radical-fighting Supreme Skin Face Serum, £62.
However, due to its diverse range of properties, it can also be found in products designed to help aid a clearer complexion - one such example being Sunday Riley’s U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil, £68, which contains black cumin seed oil alongside tea tree oil and salicylic acid to help out the breakout-prone.
“There have been very small studies which show that nigella sativa may have some anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, and with a big push towards natural skincare, I suspect this is why we are seeing it more commonly in products,” notes Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin.
It’s not her top pick for acneic skin types though. “My concern with this use is that there are other ingredients shown to have better and more effective anti-inflammatory and anti-acne effects, so nigella sativa wouldn’t be my first choice to recommend for these issues,” she tells us. “Natural skincare is much more vulnerable to quality variations than its synthetic counterparts, so for those suffering with any long-term skin issues, I would advise seeking help from a certified dermatologist.” She also advises those with psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and sensitive skin to use the ingredient with caution too as it’s been reported to cause contact dermatitis and irritation.
From a hair care perspective though, black seed oil is less problematic. Not only was it the key ingredient used in a collection of hair care products launched by Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian in 2015, but Shu Uemura has dedicated a whole line to it called Shusu Sleek.
Due to the ingredient’s high content of essential fatty acids, it’s both hydrating and a grade-A frizz-fighter to leave hair smoother and softer (the Smoothing Treatment Mask, £31.10, is great for a high dose of hydration when your ends are feeling particularly parched). It can also be found in the brand’s Straightforward Blow-Dry Oil, £18.50, which not only boosts shine, but also reduces hairdrying time. If you have thick, unruly hair, it’s especially handy.