Curing Pancreatic Cancer with Thymoquinone

As is often the case, when researching one thing I run into another. I was looking into cannabis and cancer for that overdue posting on cannabinoids and ran into this.

The site itself is fascinating. It claims to look for things that are under reported and will change the world. From their “why this site” page:

The Articles Selected for this Site are based upon an ambiguous classification of weight. The articles chosen are not based upon popularity but how forcefully a variety of factors in an event may influence future outcomes. Often this will result in a 50/50 mix of research and current events. Many heavily weighted events we post, are past events yet to be evident in future outcomes. You will find this in many of the older post of DNA, and Genetic mutation articles etc……

We are not a conspiracy site, or a site attempting to influence a reader towards any particular frame of mind. This site unfortunately cannot escape that there will always be some element of personal prejudice involved in article selection. If you as a reader see this occurring please do not hesitate to ask for an explanation.

So, as of now, I’ve spent several hours there and could spend a few days… But back on this particular topic.

Nigella Sativa and Cancer

Thymoquinone, an extract of nigella sativa seed oil, blocked pancreatic cancer cell growth and killed the cells by enhancing the process of programmed cell death.

Public release date: 18-May-2008

Contact: Steve Benowitz
[contact info deleted – EMS]
Thomas Jefferson University

Traditional herbal medicine kills pancreatic cancer cells, Jefferson researchers report

(PHILADELPHIA) An herb used in traditional medicine by many Middle Eastern countries may help in the fight against pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult cancers to treat. Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer at Jefferson in Philadelphia have found that thymoquinone, an extract of nigella sativa seed oil, blocked pancreatic cancer cell growth and killed the cells by enhancing the process of programmed cell death.
According to Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, nigella sativa helps treat a broad array of diseases, including some immune and inflammatory disorders. Previous studies also have shown anticancer activity in prostate and colon cancers, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Using a human pancreatic cancer cell line, she and her team found that adding thymoquinone killed approximately 80 percent of the cancer cells. They demonstrated that thymoquinone triggered programmed cell death in the cells, and that a number of important genes, including p53, Bax, bcl-2 and p21, were affected. The researchers found that expression of p53, a tumor suppressor gene, and Bax, a gene that promotes programmed cell death, was increased, while bcl-2, which blocks such cell death, was decreased. The p21 gene, which is involved in the regulation of different phases of the cell cycle, was substantially increased. She presents her findings May 18 at the Digestive Disease Week in San Diego.

Dr. Arafat and her co-workers also found that thymoquinone caused “epigenetic” changes in pancreatic cancer cells, modifying the cells’ DNA. She explains that these changes involve adding acetyl groups to the DNA structure, specifically to blocks of proteins called histones. This “acetylation” process can be important for genes to be read and translated into proteins. In this case, it could involve the genes that are key to initiating programmed cell death.

At the same time, adding thymoquinone to pancreatic cancer cells reduced the production and activity of enzymes called histone deacetylases (HDACs), which remove the acetyl groups from the histone proteins, halting the gene transcription process. Dr. Arafat notes that HDAC inhibitors are a “hot” new class of drugs that interfere with the function of histone deacetylases, and is being studied as a treatment for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Finding that thymoquinone functions as an HDAC inhibitor, she says, “was very remarkable and really exciting.”

Pancreatic cancer, the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in this country, takes some 34,000 lives a year. The disease frequently is detected after it has spread and only 4 percent of individuals with pancreatic cancer live for five years after diagnosis

That has “wow factor” for sure. Pancreatic cancer is considered essentially incurable. And a traditional herbal kills the cells… That kind of thing is why I have an interest in traditional / herbal medicine, why I have 3 books on how to “DIY” with plants, and why I’m fond of the pharmacopoeia of 1897 that has a long list of such traditional treatments from before doctors decided not to use them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favor of modern medicine. Just don’t see any reason to throw out the old ways and see them as usable in an “After The Fall” environment.

So what is this nigella sativa? Well, the first part is ‘black’ and the last part is ‘cultivated’ (I think), so not very helpful.

The Plant

Lifting things from the wiki:

Flower of NIgella Sativa from wiki by AndreHolz

Nigella sativa (Kalonji or simply Nigella) is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia. It grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for original black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).

What gets me is the large number of common names. Trying to find this at the local Indian Food Store could be interesting…

Common names

In English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called kalonji, fennel flower, nutmeg flower, black caraway, and Roman coriander. Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are black cumin, onion seed and black sesame. Synonymously, it may be referred to as thymoquinone after its principal extract under preliminary research for several possible effects in humans.

Blackseed and black caraway may also refer to Bunium persicum.

Nigella is used as part of the spice mixture paanch phoran or panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan bread.

OK, put “learn to make naan bread” and visit Indian Food Store on the ToDo list… I knew there was a reason I liked Indian food, other than the obvious spice, flavor, texture, aroma, presentation, … but I digress ;-)

It has been around for a while, and with an interesting history:


According to Zohary and Hopf, archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa “is still scanty”, but they report supposed N. sativa seeds have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun’s tomb. Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, it is known that items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.

The earliest written reference to N. sativa is thought to be in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted (Isaiah 28: 25, 27). Easton’s Bible dictionary states the Hebrew word ketsah refers to N. sativa without doubt (although not all translations are in agreement). According to Zohary and Hopf, N. sativa was another traditional condiment of the Old World during classical times, and its black seeds were extensively used to flavor food.

Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.

Some of my favorite places, folks, and times… Hittites and Egyptians.

The wiki goes on into other interesting bits.


Seeds of Nigella sativa have a pungent bitter taste and smell. It is used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Peshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.

So in the “bitter medicinal” category. And add ‘find Armenian food store’ to the ToDo list…

And what is that part about “liquors”? Hmmmm…. “It’s my medicinal herbs, dear”… (Hick!)…


Nigella sativa oil contains conjugated linoleic (18:2) acid, thymoquinone, nigellone (dithymoquinone), melanthin, nigilline, damascenine, and trans-anethole.

In 2010, Nestlé filed a patent application for use of extracted thymoquinone from N. sativa as a food allergy treatment. Nestlé states that the patent would cover “the specific way that thymoquinone – a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower – interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food”.

Preliminary human research

Mainly for its seed oil extract, thymoquinone, Nigella sativa is under research for its potential to affect human diseases, such as cancer or metabolic syndrome.

As a person with food allergies, that use is particularly interesting. Nestlé may try to patent the use of the chemical, but the spice is up for grabs. I see some cooking experiments in my future…

Then we have a reference to an effect on ‘metabolic syndrome’ as well. That’s the “pre-diabetes and fat with low energy” cluster. So might have a bit of pick me up and slenderizing in it too. Things that make you want to find some Armenian String Cheese ;-)

These folks have a nice picture of the pod and seeds. Claim all sorts of health benefits from asthma to high blood pressure to rheumatoid arthritis.

They also have a useful ‘what might be bad’ section and claim to site studies, but I’ve not followed those links:


Tests on animals indicate that high doses of nigella sativa may damage the kidney and/or liver. What’s more, taking nigella sativa during chemotherapy may hamper the effects of chemotherapy drugs.

Supplements haven’t been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you’re considering the use of nigella sativa supplements, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Using Nigella Sativa for Health

Due to a lack of scientific support for its health effects, it’s too soon to recommend nigella sativa as a principal standard treatment for any condition. If you’re considering the use of nigella sativa for treatment or prevention of a specific health problem, make sure to consult your doctor before you start your supplement regimen.

Nothing to say I can’t just add some to my jelly doughnut and see if my food allergies get lessened or my morning stiffness and sporadic creaky joints goes away…

These folks also find some benefits, but being mostly traditional doctor oriented, have a more tepid approach (that is likely warranted this early in the game of extract and enhance chemical processing):

BOTTOM LINE: Black cumin seed has not been shown to treat cancer in humans.
Black cumin seed is used for cooking and in medicine in India, Arabia, and Europe. Laboratory studies have shown that some components have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, there is some speculation that black cumin seed may be useful in the treatment of cancer and protect against the side effects of radiation therapy, but these have been proven in humans. Early phase studies suggest that black cumin seed may help to control high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

I think they left out a “not” in the “proven in humans” sentence… but I find the blood pressure and arthritis points as interesting (or maybe more so, as I don’t know anyone with pancreatic cancer…)

At this point, given the multiple folks interested in it, the historical and long standing uses, and the recent extract trials showing some real effects on many cells, it is a plant “of interest”.

Then there are these folks that list all sorts of details on dosing and what-not. Where did it come from? Don’t know. But I’ve not read it all in detail, just a quick skim. They say, though:


This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

Whoever they are…

It is a fairly long detailed article and I don’t see how an extract of it would be useful, so ‘hit the link’ if interested in more.

This one is interesting in that it has a lot of links at the bottom to what look like actual trials.

Black cumin is mentioned in the Bible (Isaiah 28:27 NWT) as well as in the words of the prophet Mohammed (Islam), he said, “Use this seed regularly, because it is a cure for every disease, except death.” Nigella Sativa has been regarded as a true “miracle cure” and was found in King Tut’s tomb, suggesting that even centuries ago, kings thought of it as a valuable plant and herb of blessing. Nigella Sativa seeds were not carefully researched until about forty years ago. Since this time, more than 250 studies have been conducted in universities (see studies/clinical trials below).

According to researchers have evaluated the benefits of black seed oil in the treatment of many medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis, diabetes, liver damage, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, viral infections, asthma / other respiratory illnesses, and diffuses the toxic effects of bees and wasps. It was used historically as a pain reliever and modern research has supported this use, though the mechanism of action is unclear (see “Treating headaches with Nigella Sativa”).

An interesting article and fairly easy read. Detailed and careful, but with a sense of history and aesthetics… rather like most things Japanese, IMHO.


Of course, there’s a web site…


Premium Black Seed Oil/Seeds and Herbs – Available for Worldwide Shipping

Gary Null, PHD and Healer stated, “Black Cumin Oil is probably the most important healing oil you can take in your system!!!!!”

Nigella Sativa – Also Known as Black Cumin, Black Seeds, Kalonji and Haba Al-Barakah

What is Nigella Sativa?

Black seeds, also known as Nigella sativa, black cumin, kalonji seeds and haba al-barakah (Arabic phrase) have been used by people for thousands of years. Some associate black caraway with black seeds and they come from two different plants. Kalonji seeds are found in India and haba al-barakah is an Arabic word and used in the Middle East mainly. Black seeds are commonly used in the kitchen also in many recipes.

Nigella sativa (black seeds), an annual flowering plant that grows to 20-30cm tall, is native to Asia and the Middle East. The flowers of this plant are very delicate and pale colored and white. The seeds are used in Middle Eastern cooking, such as in their local breads. The seeds are also used by thousands for their natural healing abilities.

The use of a half dozen !!!!! makes me wonder about hype level, but they claim to sell the stuff.

I’ve not found a particular source for seeds intended for planting, but it looks like any spice isle with a load of these guys ought to have whole seeds.

In Conclusion

Not really seeing a reason to get too excited about it just yet. Looks like a very useful plant, likely with some real medicinal values. We also see the ‘typical’ cycle of taking apart the plant and finding a chemical in it that can be used and patented, then that becoming the western drug. OTOH, a spoon of the seed is supposed to be about the right dose per the Hishamakl site above. That’s about the amount needed to make a good bagel better, so not a big deal to work into a meal plan. ;-)

One hopes that they can actually make a workable cure for pancreatic cancer out of it. If not, it is still an interesting broad spectrum herbal medicinal worth exploring; and putting in a preparedness seed package.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, Food, Plants - Seeds - Gardening, Science Bits and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Curing Pancreatic Cancer with Thymoquinone

  1. One thing that struck me whilst reading this was that the body must normally produce something like the same chemical. Maybe the cancers are thus caused (or allowed to develop) by some slight imbalance in the normal production of these chemicals in the body. Although it’s nice to know that a plant can give us this product (and I like Naan breads though can’t get them here) it does point to an idea of researching where these are produced in the body normally. Like insulin production, it might be a stress (too much sugar, too fat, lifestyle, bad hormone-like substances in diet…) that could be avoided if we knew what was not working normally.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Simon Derricutt:

    I’m actually about 1/3 of the way through a posting on just that line… but this particular item jumped out at me and wanted “up” quicker ;-)

    As a hint: There is an odd correlation between three different protozoan infections and increased cancers of the infected organ… My “thesis” is that the protozoans are leaking some of their “free living hormone” instructions into the invaded cells and one or two of them “flip” to an older “free living” program (or just use the extant free living program in things like white blood cells, egg and sperm cells, etc.) and end up being “cancer”… That “free living” idea is already floating around, I’m just connecting it to the statistics…

    But back on this topic:

    I’m rather surprised at the low number of comments. I’d have thought the impact on blood pressure and diabetes would have caused more notice. Then again, maybe it was all clear and with no controversy, folks found little to say. Trying to predict what gets comments is hard ;-)

    At a quick stop by Whole Foods, it was impossible to find. Then again, their Indian Spices section was non-existent and their copious “herbal” section was arranged by symptom, not name, so it could have been in front of me and just not where I looked.

    I suspect the local Indian Food Store will be the winner, but I need to write down all the names first ;-)

    I really do think “plants are your friends” and had I the opportunity to “do it all over again” would likely have gone ahead and gotten that Botany degree I thought about once long long ago. I rejected it after looking at the amount of Latin needed (of which I had none, then), the ego driven behaviours in things like naming (and now, renaming everything), and then when I talked to the Teaching Assistant and mentioned the naming thing, he was all excited as “cladistics” was just starting and it was a “great opportunity to discover new things and get published”… I just saw it as spending 4 years to learn a system that was being deprecated, while at the same time needing to learn a second system that was unsettled and constantly changing. He was ‘academic’ oriented and I was “get it done” oriented… so I went elsewhere.

  3. Larry Ledwick says:


    I’m rather surprised at the low number of comments. I’d have thought the impact on blood pressure and diabetes would have caused more notice. Then again, maybe it was all clear and with no controversy, folks found little to say.

    These sorts of articles for me fall in a special category. I typically save them for in depth reading some time later as they tend to provoke a lot of thought, and take some deep reading to fully absorb their content and its inplications. Also I usually file it away for future reference, but seldom venture comments since the subject of self help cures and herbal cures is so very complex, I tend to silently observe this sort of topic and over time try to fit it in with my own experiences. I have books on Chinese herbal medicine and Native American herbal medicine, as well as basic vitamin and mineral supplementation, (ie I keep an open mind on the subject) but seldom get in to discussions on it. Mainly because there is so much snake oil in the supplement field I tend to do lots of double checking sources and checking multiple sources.

    Maybe other folks do the same with similar topics.

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    Could well be. But that is also why I tend to do one of these only when there is clinical evidence for a working active ingredient. That top link for a test of the active agent (or one of them).

    At any rate, yeah, it’s kind of ‘thick’ and takes some time to wade through it…

  5. EM – these days time is somewhat shorter but even when I don’t comment on your posts I do read them and all the comments. I write when I think I have something useful to contribute, though may of course be wrong in my estimation.

    The way the body works is so complex that I find it amazing that we’re as healthy as we are. A while back, my brother tried urine therapy. The basic premise there is that your urine contains the medicine to fix your ailments such as tumours. The book (Water of Life) has miracle cures documented, and my brother says it worked for him. An idea to ponder is whether the factors required are produced as normal and the kidneys have a minor failure and filter too much of it out. Thus either drinking the urine or (as has been done by other doctors) evaporating the water off and making a pill to swallow could recycle those chemicals back into the body to restore the levels. Although Urine Therapy seems to be largely ridiculed there may be a good reason for the cures apart from the placebo effect.

    You’ve mentioned before how DNA can move from one organism into another. This may have something to do with the protozoan/cancer connection.

  6. E.M.Smith says:


    I have a saved bit on genetic material moving… but it’s RNA… More on that in a posting Real Soon Now ;-)

    I think you will find it interesting and very much along the lines you describe…

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