Thymoquinone is an active compound found in black seeds of the plant Nigella sativa belonging to the family Ranunculaceae, containing medicinal properties. 

A bowl and spoon containing small black seeds and a blue flower

The Nigella sativa plant has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. This plant species has been utilized to treat multiple diseases such as; hypertension, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, fever, influenza, inflammation, etc. Research experimentation has determined that the main ingredient, thymoquinone, a volatile oil, contains anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, antitumor, and antioxidant properties. Black seeds are extracted from the plant Nigella sativa. These black seeds constitute thymoquinone as the active ingredient; hence black seeds or black seed oil can be consumed orally, and the black seed oil can be used externally. Other names known for black seed are black cumin seed, black caraway, etc. There are multiple benefits associated with using black seeds. However, there are side effects if consumed by allergic people. 

Overview of Thymoquinone

The chemical name of thymoquinone is 2-methyl-5-isopropyl-1,4-benzoquinone, first isolated by El-Dakhakhny in 1963. Thymoquinone is the major component present in Nigella sativa plants from which black seeds are obtained and black seed oil extracted from these black seeds. Nigella sativa is commonly found in the Middle East, southern Europe, and southwest Asia. This component is studied to have various pharmacological properties. The primary benefits of thymoquinone are its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that underline the prevention of multiple diseases. Some Middle Eastern countries use black seeds for dietary purposes known as black cumin. Thymoquinone has been FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) as a “Generally Recognized as Safe” compound for consumption. 

 Structure of a chemical formula

Thymoquinone is used in solvents like water and is observed to be stable at low pH, but the component becomes unstable at high pH. Thymoquinone is observed to have a wide range of benefits and therefore is utilized for various medical conditions. In this pandemic of COVID-19, the virus causes major respiratory problems. It has been studied that consumption of thymoquinone in black seed has anti-viral properties, thus possibly inhibiting the COVID-19 virus from affecting the body. This is caused due to blocking the receptor where the COVID-19 virus could interact, thereby hindering the entry of the virus into the host cell to form the ion channel causing activity. 


Studies have shown that Nigella sativa has been included in dietary supplements for cancer patients and chemotherapy as complementary alternative medicine. Other benefits include hepatoprotective, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, etc. Thymoquinone is capable of protecting the liver from any damage and diseases. Consumption of the black seed will reduce hepatotoxicity, which, when at high levels, will cause severe damage to the liver. Thymoquinone contains antioxidant properties when this component is in reduced form, called thymohydroquinone, while its oxidized form is known as thymoquinone. Research has shown that thymoquinone displayed antibacterial properties against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, thus protecting the body from primary infections and diseases. Additionally, thymoquinone is found to have anti-inflammatory properties. This component prevents the biosynthesis of intermediary compounds responsible for causing inflammation. Hence, thymoquinone is effective for immune-related diseases. 

 Different branches of thymoquinone

Black seed oil is also used in cosmetics and aids in improving acne. Consuming black seeds and asthma medications has improved lung functions before treatment. Similarly, consuming black seed oil and prescribed inhalers has improved lung functions in individuals suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Thymoquinone has been shown to protect the digestive tract from Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that causes infections leading to gastric ulcers. Diabetic patients also consume black seed oil to regulate their blood sugar levels. 

Side effects

Black seeds and black seed oils are mostly consumed orally through various food combinations. However, allergic people should not consume black seeds and black seed oil as they can cause rashes in these individuals. Additionally, vomiting, stomach upset, or constipation are commonly observed in these people. Moreover, black seed oil is safe when used temporarily due to allergic reactions. 

Furthermore, precautions should be taken when consuming thymoquinone. Pregnant women are suggested to consume foods, only a recommended dose as when consumed in high amounts will lower contractions in the uterus. Children can also consume black seeds for a short term in the recommended amount. Additionally, thymoquinone can slow blood clotting and therefore is recommended not to consume black seeds as it decreases blood sugar level and increase drowsiness in a few people. They can also interfere with other drugs taken during and after surgery and may cause dangerous consequences. Few medications that interact with black seed are anti-diabetic drugs, immunosuppressants, anti-coagulant, anti-hypertensive, and CNS depressants, to name a few. 

Tags: life science

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