Aside from spicing up your next batch of beans that jar of cumin in your cupboard may have a lot to offer your health. An annual herb and member of the parsley family, cumin, botanical name Cuminum cyminum, produces highly aromatic seeds that have been used for culinary purposes for thousands of years. Additionally, the seeds of an unrelated plant, Nigella sativa, that goes by the name of black cumin, are also used as a spice and may provide certain health benefits.
Aside from tasting good, cumin may improve your digestion by stimulating the release of digestive enzymes, notes the Medical University of South Carolina. A laboratory animal study published in the December 2002 issue of the journal "Nahrung" found that a combination of spices including cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chilli, and black pepper stimulated bile flow and improved digestive enzyme activity. However, these preliminary results will need to be confirmed in humans before cumin can be recommended as a digestive aid.
Cumin may help you ward off infection, according to the University of Kalyani in West Bengal, India. Components of cumin seed oil provide antimicrobial benefits against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria responsible for skin and respiratory infections; E. coli; and Candida albicans, the pathogen that causes yeast infections. Cumin inhibited an antibiotic resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, in a study published in the September 2011 issue of the "Oman Medical Journal." However, while cumin was effective after 24 hours of incubation with the bacteria, cinnamon and clove -- which were also tested in the study -- showed effectiveness after six hours.
Cumin inhibited breast and liver cancer cells by making them unable to function in low oxygen conditions, according to results from a tissue culture study published in the July 2011 issue of the journal "Strahlentherapie und Onkologie." Cumin also helps prevent cancer by binding to iron, which may increase cancer risk if it accumulates to high levels, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Liver-cleansing effects of cumin were noted in a laboratory animal study published in the January 2012 issue of the "Pakistani Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences." In the study, cumin essential oil extract helped restore levels of liver enzymes to normal values after exposure to a chemical irritant. Cumin showed potential cholesterol-reducing benefits for postmenopausal women in a study published in the April 2009 issue of the "Indian Journal of Pharmacology." Results showed that cumin was more effective than estrogen replacement therapy. However, the study was performed on animals and human clinical trials are needed to confirm these benefits in humans. A laboratory animal study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal "Cellular Oncology" found that a compound in cumin called myrtenal, may inhibit liver cancer by maintaining antioxidant levels in the liver and promoting apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells.
Black cumin is listed by The Rockefeller University as being among the top 10 most potent cancer fighting herbs. Its active component, thymoquinone, may offer immune benefits that contribute to its potential anticancer effects. A tissue culture study on breast cancer published in the August 2012 issue of the journal "Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications" found that thymoquinone was effective against some forms of breast cancer but not others. Further studies will be needed to confirm these preliminary results and to determine black cumin's usefulness for treating and preventing cancer.
- Medical University of South Carolina: Spices May Aid Digestion, Add Nutritional Value to Diet
- Nahrung: Digestive Stimulant Action of Three Indian Spice Mixes in Experimental Rats
- The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael T. Murray, Joseph Pizzorno and Lara Pizzorno
- Oman Medical Journal: In Vitro Antibacterial Activity of three Indian Spices Against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
- The Rockefeller University: Food Choices for Reducing Cancer Risk
- Cellular Oncology: Myrtenal Attenuates Diethylnitrosamine-induced Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Rats by Stabilizing Intrinsic Antioxidants and Modulating Apoptotic and Anti-apoptotic Cascades
- Strahlentherapie und Onkologie: Curcumin Decreases Survival of Hep3b Liver and MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cells: The Role of HIF
- African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines: Anticancer Activities of Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin)
- Indian Journal of Pharmacology: Effect of Chromium Dinicocysteinate Supplementation on Circulating Levels of Insulin, Tnf-α, Oxidative Stress, and Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects: Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
- Spice Crops; E. A. Weiss
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- Pakistani Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Supplementation of Nigella Sativa Fixed and Essential Oil Mediates Potassium Bromate Induced Oxidative Stress and Multiple Organ Toxicity
- Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications: NADPH Quinone Oxidoreductase 1 Mediates Breast Cancer Cell Resistance to Thymoquinone-Induced Apoptosis
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.