Elevated platelets may signal increased cancer risk

Platelets as cancer predictorPlatelets (thrombocytes) are active for more than just adhesion and cohesion in the formation of a ‘hemostatic plug’ (blood clot), along with activation of coagulation mechanisms. Platelets also have important secretory functions that release growth factors and communicate with white blood cells and cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells). Through this they promote inflammation and tissue proliferation (as in wound healing). Now an important study published in the British Journal of General Practice that an increase in platelet count is clinical risk marker for cancer. The authors note:

“The commonest route to cancer diagnosis follows the development of symptoms, and definitive diagnosis by biopsy and access to specialist care often rely on a primary care physician to recognise the possibility of cancer. It is generally accepted that delay in symptomatic diagnosis is harmful. One feature of possible cancer has only recently been recognised to have diagnostic potential: a raised platelet count, or thrombocytosis.”

Platelets as predictors

Earlier studies have shown the predictive value of thrombocytosis for certain cancers, but none have looked at cancer in general.

“Revised UK national guidance for suspected cancer incorporates thrombocytosis in some of its recommendations for lung, oesophagogastric, and uterine cancers. However, no study has examined thrombocytosis in primary care for all cancers. This study aimed to address that gap.”

The authors examined 1-year data for two groups of subjects: 40,000 patients aged ≥40 years with a platelet count of more than 400 × 109/L (109/L = 10³/uL) and 10,000 matched patients with a normal platelet count. Clinicians, note the reference range: >400 x 10³/uL = thrombocytosisTheir data did show that elevated platelets should be regarded as a cancer risk factor, especially for lung and colorectal cancer.

“A total of 1098 out of 9435 males with thrombocytosis were diagnosed with cancer (11.6%), compared with 106 of 2599 males without thrombocytosis (4.1%). A total of 1355 out of 21 826 females with thrombocytosis developed cancer (6.2%). The risk of cancer increased to 18.1% for males and 10.1% for females, when a second raised platelet count was recorded within 6 months. Lung and colorectal cancer were more commonly diagnosed with thrombocytosis.”

Very importantly:

One-third of patients with thrombocytosis and lung or colorectal cancer had no other symptoms indicative of malignancy.”

The authors summarize their findings:

“This large-scale cohort study is the first from primary care to report the overall risk of cancer in patients with thrombocytosis, compared with those with normal platelet counts. Males with thrombocytosis had an 11.6% incidence of cancer in the following year, and females had an incidence of 6.2%: this compares with 4.1% of males with normal platelet counts. The incidence of cancer rose with age and with a higher platelet count, and at least one-third of patients with lung and colorectal cancer with pre-diagnosis thrombocytosis had no other symptoms indicative of malignancy.”

Commenting in Medscape Family Medicine

“Lead author, Sarah Bailey, MPH, PhD, research fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School, United Kingdom, said in a statement:  “We know that early diagnosis is absolutely key in whether people survive cancer. Our research suggests that substantial numbers of people could have their cancer diagnosed up to three months earlier if thrombocytosis prompted investigation for cancer. This time could make a vital difference in achieving earlier diagnosis.”

Metastasis reduced by low carb diet plus anti-inflammatory

CarcinogenesisMetastasis is what makes cancer lethal. Inflammation promotes cancer stem cell proliferation and a metabolic milieu of elevated insulin and glucose also favors malignancy. In keeping with this are two papers just published in the journal Carcinogenesis presenting evidence that a low carbohydrate/high protein diet plus anti-inflammatory agent markedly reduces cancer metastasis.

Low carbohydrate, high protein plus anti-inflammatory

The authors of the first paper earlier demonstrated that human and murine carcinomas grow much slower in mice on a low carb, high protein diet plus an anti-inflammatory agent:

“We recently demonstrated that both murine and human carcinomas grow significantly slower in mice on low carbohydrate (CHO), high protein diets than on isocaloric Western diets and that a further reduction in tumor growth rates occur when the low CHO diets are combined with the cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor, celecoxib. Following upon these studies, we asked herein what effect low CHO, high protein diets, with or without celecoxib, might have on tumor metastasis.”

Metastasis reduced in models of breast, lung and prostate cancer

A diet with between 15% and 25% carbohydrate performed best:

“In the highly metastatic 4T1 mouse mammary tumor model, a 15% CHO, high protein diet supplemented with celecoxib (1 g/kg chow) markedly reduced lung metastases. Moreover, in longer-term studies using male Transgenic Adenocarcinoma of the Mouse Prostate mice, which are predisposed to metastatic prostate cancer, the 15% CHO diet, with and without celecoxib (0.3 g/kg chow), gave the lowest incidence of metastases, but a more moderate 25% CHO diet containing celecoxib led to the best survival. Metabolic studies with 4T1 tumors suggested that the low CHO, high protein diets may be forcing tumors to become dependent on amino acid catabolism for survival/growth.”

The authors conclude:

“Taken together, our results suggest that a combination of a low CHO, high protein diet with celecoxib substantially reduces metastasis.”

Curcumin inhibits metastasis in prostate cancer

Lung metastasis reduced by curcumin

Lung metastasis of prostate cancer reduced by curcumin

Since COX-2 inhibitors like celecoxib have some drawbacks, the second paper in the latest Carcinogenesis offering evidence that the natural anti-inflammatory agent curcumin (derived from turmeric) also reduces metastasis is very welcome. The authors note:

“In America and Western Europe, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in men. Emerging evidence suggests that chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for the development and metastatic progression of prostate cancer. We previously reported that the chemopreventive polyphenol curcumin inhibits the expression of the proinflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and -2 leading to diminished formation of breast cancer metastases. In this study, we analyze the effects of curcumin on prostate carcinoma growth, apoptosis and metastasis.”

Curcumin inhibits the key inflammation promoter NFκB

NFκB (nuclear factor kappa beta) is a pivotal pro-inflammatory agent and a key player in autoimmune inflammation.

Curcumin is a plant-derived compound that is particularly suited for prevention of prostate cancer formation and progression because it is known to act on the central activator of inflammation, NFκB, and prostate hyperplasia and cancer are known to be driven by inflammation…We show that curcumin inhibits translocation of NFκB to the nucleus through the inhibition of the IκB-kinase (IKKβ, leading to stabilization of the inhibitor of NFκB, IκBα, in PC-3 prostate carcinoma cells. Inhibition of NFκB activity reduces expression of CXCL1 and -2 and abolishes the autocrine/paracrine loop that links the two chemokines to NFκB…Treatment of the cells with curcumin and siRNA-based knockdown of CXCL1 and -2 induce apoptosis, inhibit proliferation and downregulate several important metastasis-promoting factors like COX2, SPARC and EFEMP. In an orthotopic mouse model of hematogenous metastasis, treatment with curcumin inhibits statistically significantly formation of lung metastases.”

The authors’ conclusion is of great clinical significance for cancer treatment and prevention:

“In conclusion, chronic inflammation can induce a metastasis prone phenotype in prostate cancer cells by maintaining a positive proinflammatory and prometastatic feedback loop between NFκB and CXCL1/-2. Curcumin disrupts this feedback loop by the inhibition of NFκB signaling leading to reduced metastasis formation in vivo. Taken together, these data delineate the molecular mechanisms by which curcumin reduces survival and growth of prostate cancer cells on the one hand, and the ability of the cells to form metastases on the other hand. Curcumin interrupts an important positive feedback loop between the cytokines and NFκB that is responsible for the activation of several mediators of metastasis. This is particularly important in prostate cancer because inflammation plays a crucial role in its progression toward more aggressive growth and metastasis. “

More than just ‘watchful waiting’

Regarding the use of curcumin in clinical practice the authors state:

“Curcumin, therefore, appears particularly suited for prostate cancer prevention in healthy elder men, in patients with benign prostate hyperplasia and eventually low-grade prostate cancers in elder patients where ‘watchful waiting’ might remain an option.”

Curcumin inhibits breast cancer metastasis

Cellular Physiology and BiochemistryMention should also be made of an earlier study published in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry showing reduction of hematogenous (blood-borne) spread of breast cancer by curcumin by inhibiting NFκB (NFkappa B):

“Dissemination of metastatic cells probably occurs long before diagnosis of the primary tumor. Metastasis during early phases of carcinogenesis in high risk patients is therefore a potential prevention target. The plant polyphenol Curcumin has been proposed for dietary prevention of cancer. We therefore examined its effects on the human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 in vitro and in a mouse metastasis model. Curcumin strongly induces apoptosis in MDA-MB-231 cells in correlation with reduced activation of the survival pathway NFkappaB, as a consequence of diminished IotakappaB and p65 phosphorylation. Curcumin also reduces the expression of major matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) due to reduced NFkappa B activity and transcriptional downregulation of AP-1. NFkappa B/p65 silencing is sufficient to downregulate c-jun and MMP expression. Reduced NFkappa B/AP-1 activity and MMP expression lead to diminished invasion through a reconstituted basement membrane and to a significantly lower number of lung metastases in immunodeficient mice after intercardiac injection of 231 cells (p=0.0035). 68% of Curcumin treated but only 17% of untreated animals showed no or very few lung metastases, most likely as a consequence of down-regulation of NFkappa B/AP-1 dependent MMP expression and direct apoptotic effects on circulating tumor cells but not on established metastases. Dietary chemoprevention of metastases appears therefore feasible.”

Lung cancer, inflammation, and tumor microenvironment

PLOS ONELung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. As with all other cancers, untangling the role of systemic inflammation (cancer promoting) versus inflammation in the tumor microenvironment (cancer fighting) is of fundamental clinical importance. A welcome study just published in PLOS One (Public Library of Science) sheds light on this critical conundrum while including the aspect of nutritional status. The authors state:

“The interactions between systemic inflammation and tumoral immune microenvironment are increasingly investigated in cancer patients. Pro-inflammatory cytokines and associated growth factors are involved in carcinogenesis through their effects on tumor cell growth, survival, proliferation and migration. It has been shown that slight elevations of inflammatory markers are associated with an increased risk of non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) occurrence, and serum C-reactive protein (CRP) has been identified as a prognostic factor in both advanced and resectable NSCLC. The tumoral immune microenvironment has been also shown to be an important determinant of long-term outcome in primary and metastatic tumors: particularly in NSCLC, high levels of mature dendritic cells (mDC) and of CD8+ lymphocytes have been both identified as robust prognostic factors …Hypothesizing that nutritional status, systemic inflammation and tumoral immune microenvironment play a role as determinants of lung cancer evolution, the purpose of this study was to assess their respective impact on long-term survival in resected non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC).”

They acquired data for 303 patients surgically treated for NSCLC that included C-reactive protein (CRP) for systemic inflammation, prealbumin levels for nutritional status, and tumoral infiltration by CD8+ lymphocytes and mature dendritic cells in correlation with relevant clinical-pathological parameters. The significance was striking:

“In multivariate analysis, prealbumin levels (Relative Risk (RR): 0.34, CD8+ cell count in tumor tissue (RR = 0.37), and disease stage (RR 1.73 – stage I vs II vs III-IV) were independent prognostic markers. When taken together, parameters related to systemic inflammation, nutrition and tumoral immune microenvironment allowed robust prognostic discrimination; indeed patients with undetectable CRP, high (>285 mg/L) prealbumin levels and high (>96/mm2) CD8+ cell count had a 5-year survival rate of 80% as compared to 18%] in patients with an opposite pattern of values. When stages I-II were considered alone, the prognostic significance of these factors was even more pronounced.”

 Role of systemic inflammation

Commenting on the crucial role of systemic inflammation the authors note:

CRP is secreted by hepatocytes following stimulation by circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular IL-1, TNF-α, and mainly IL-6. Experimental studies have suggested that NSCLC cells are able to release IL-6 and TNF-α. In spite of this, the exact role of systemic inflammation and tumor burden in determining progression and outcome is still controversial. This relationship is even more questionable in “pre-clinical disease”: a study on a large cohort showed that increased CRP levels in cancer-free subjects were associated with a higher risk of lung cancer occurrence. This finding has been recently confirmed by a nested case-control study: among 77 evaluated inflammatory biomarkers, 11 were found to be associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer, even after adjustment for smoking. Among these 11 markers, CRP was the most robust predictor of lung cancer risk.”

Of particular importance for all cancers:

“Moreover, increased baseline CRP levels were associated with early death after diagnosis of any cancer in patients without metastatic disease at diagnosis. These findings strongly suggest a possible role of pre-existing systemic inflammation in determining the occurrence and prognosis of lung cancer…Similarly, systemic inflammation has been reported to be an independent negative prognostic marker in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.”

Nutritional status and adequate nutrition

Prealbumin, a plasma protein made by the liver, reflects nutritional status (over a 2 day period) and is valued as a marker for malnutrition. The authors state:

“…we found that CRP levels were strongly and independently correlated (in an inverse manner) with prealbumin levels. Prealbumin levels were in turn correlated with pT parameter, vascular embols, and, as for CRP levels, intra-tumoral density of mDC. Such correlations underline the complex interplay between systemic inflammation, malnutrition, and tumoral immune microenvironment; we may theorize that malnutrition is the first cause of immunodeficiency, and in lung cancer patients this could result in poor infiltration of anti-tumoral immune cells. Therefore, this would explain the strong negative impact of low prealbumin levels on long-term survival. Furthermore, inflammatory status (pre-existent or concomitant with lung cancer) with subsequent increased energy consumption might contribute to malnutrition.”

Inflammatory immune response in the tumor microenvironment

In the tumor microenvironment, more inflammation characterized by higher levels of mature dendritic and CD8+ ‘killer’ cells is favorable:

“…high intra-tumoral densities of mDC and CD8+ T lymphocytes were associated with improved outcome. Interestingly, mDC density in lung cancer reflects the immune response organization within tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS) adjacent to the tumor nests, where CD8+ T cells are supposed to be educated for an efficient antitumor immune response…

And a key point that helps resolve the conundrum of balancing treament of systemic inflammation with the important intra-tumoral inflammatory response:

“In our study, intratumoral mDC density was associated with relevant clinical and biological parameters including not only nutritional ones but also (in an inverse manner) those associated with systemic (CRP levels) and local (smoking, COPD) inflammation…Overall, our results suggest that preexisting systemic inflammation/poor nutritional status could impact the intra-tumoral immune contexture and the patient survival.”

In other words, lower systemic inflammation correlated with a better inflammatory response to the tumor. This certainly makes sense considering the pivotal role of systemic inflammation in promoting the development and spread of cancer stem cells, a major determinant of metastasis.

Biomarkers in clinical practice

“Our data show that nutrition, systemic inflammation and tumoral immune contexture are prognostic determinants that, taken together, may predict outcome…The best discrimination was achieved when taking into account simultaneously biomarkers related to inflammation with nutritional status and intra-tumoral immune infiltration. With this model, the differences in survival were remarkable when comparing, in the whole population as in stage I-II disease, patients with high CD8+ T cells density, low CRP levels and high prealbumin levels to those with low CD8+ T cells density, high CRP levels and low prealbumin levels. Interestingly, groups with intermediate biological characteristics had intermediate long-term outcomes.”

This speaks volumes for the importance of structuring treatment plans to ensure well-regulated immune function.

IL-10 regulates both systemic and intra-tumoral inflammation

Cancer Immunology ResearchHere we can appreciate a fascinating study published recently in Cancer Immunology Research that demonstrates how the cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) both calms systemic inflammation and stimulates anti-tumor immunity:

“Human cancer is characterized by deficits in antigen-specific immunity and intratumoral CD8+ T cells. On the other hand, inflammatory macrophages and mediators of chronic inflammation are highly prevalent in patients with late-stage cancer. Intratumoral T-cell deficiency and chronic inflammation have been linked independently to a poor prognosis in patients with cancer, and therapeutic approaches to overcome either pathology separately are in clinical testing. The anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-10 suppresses macrophage and proinflammatory Th17 T-cell responses by inhibiting the inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-12/23. Corroborating the anti-inflammatory action of IL-10, deficiency in IL-10 leads to a stimulation of inflammatory responses and inflammatory bowel disease.”

However, many of us have had a serious concern that IL-10 might suppress the anti-tumor immune response. The authors present data which happily support the opposite conclusion:

“The anti-inflammatory role of IL-10 fostered the assumption that IL-10 undermines the immune response to cancer. However, mice and humans deficient in IL-10 signaling develop tumors spontaneously and at high rates. Overexpression of IL-10 in models of human cancer or treatment with a pegylated IL-10 (PEG-IL-10) led to tumor rejection and long-lasting tumor immunity. IL-10 stimulates cytotoxicity of CD8+ T cells and the expression of IFN-γ in CD8+ T cells. IL-10–induced tumor rejections are dependent on the expression of IFN-γ and granzymes in tumor-resident CD8+ T cells and the upregulation of MHC molecules. These findings reconcile earlier clinical data, which showed that recombinant IL-10 increased IFN-γ and granzymes in the blood of treated individuals. PEG-IL-10 is therefore a unique therapeutic agent, which simultaneously stimulates antitumor immunity and inhibits tumor-associated inflammation.”

This is particularly welcome information for clinicians who use low dose cytokine therapy including recombinant IL-10.

Nigella sativa, a true ‘wonder medicine’?

Nigella sativa flower and seedsNigella sativa, also known as black cumin, produces seeds with a mind-boggling wealth of medicinal virtues. For colleagues and others who may not be familiar with the abundance of scientific evidence for the use of Nigella sativa seed extract in clinical practice, this selection of citations serves as an introduction to its wide range of indications.

An illustrious history

Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical MedicineTraditional uses of Nigella sativa are surveyed in a paper published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine:

Nigella sativa (N. sativa) (Family Ranunculaceae) is a widely used medicinal plant throughout the world. It is very popular in various traditional systems of medicine like Unani and Tibb, Ayurveda and Siddha. Seeds and oil have a long history of folklore usage in various systems of medicines and food. The seeds of N. sativa have been widely used in the treatment of different diseases and ailments. In Islamic literature, it is considered as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine. It has been recommended for using on regular basis in Tibb-e-Nabwi (Prophetic Medicine). It has been widely used as antihypertensive, liver tonics, diuretics, digestive, anti-diarrheal, appetite stimulant, analgesics, anti-bacterial and in skin disorders. Extensive studies on N. sativa have been carried out by various researchers and a wide spectrum of its pharmacological actions have been explored which may include antidiabetic, anticancer, immunomodulator, analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, bronchodilator, hepato-protective, renal protective, gastro-protective, antioxidant properties, etc. Due to its miraculous power of healing, N. sativa has got the place among the top ranked evidence based herbal medicines. This is also revealed that most of the therapeutic properties of this plant are due to the presence of thymoquinone which is major bioactive component of the essential oil. The present review is an effort to provide a detailed survey of the literature on scientific researches of pharmacognostical characteristics, chemical composition and pharmacological activities of the seeds of this plant.”

Critical Reviews in Food Science and NutritionA paper published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition also suggests Nigella sativa’s wide scope of use:

“…It possesses a nutritional dense profile as its fixed oil (lipid fraction), is rich in unsaturated fatty acids while essential oil contains thymoquinone and carvacrol as antioxidants. N. sativa seeds also contain proteins, alkaloids (nigellicines and nigelledine), and saponins (α-hederin) in substantial amounts. Recent pharmacological investigations suggested its potential role, especially for the amelioration of oxidative stress through free radical scavenging activity, the induction of apoptosis to cure various cancer lines, the reduction of blood glucose, and the prevention of complications from diabetes. It regulates hematological and serological aspects and can be effective in dyslipidemia and respiratory disorders. Moreover, its immunopotentiating and immunomodulating role brings balance in the immune system. Evidence is available supporting the utilization of Nigella sativa and its bioactive components in a daily diet for health improvement. This review is intended to focus on the composition of Nigella sativa and to elaborate its possible therapeutic roles as a functional food to prevent an array of maladies.”

Anti-inflammatory activity

Molecular Biology ReportsChronic inflammation is a hallmark of most chronic degenerative diseases. A study published in Molecular Biology Reports demonstrates that Nigella sativa reduces inflammation triggered by LPS (lipopolysaccharide), of particular relevance for autoimmunity.

“Inflammation has an important role in many diseases such as cystic fibrosis, allergies and cancer. The free radicals produced during inflammation, can induce gene mutations and posttranslational modifications of cancer related proteins. Nigella sativa L. (N. sativa) is herbaceous plant and commonly used as a natural food. It has many pharmacological effects including antibacterial, antifungal, antitumor, analgesic, antipyretic activity. The aim of this study was to investigate the anti-inflammatuar and anti-oxidant activity of N. sativa in acute inflammation. Thus we used the experimental lipopolysaccharides (LPS)-induced model. Intraperitoneal LPS 1 mg/kg was administered to groups. N. sativa (500 mg/kg) and essential oil (5 ml/kg) were given orally to treatment groups, after 24-h of intraperitoneal LPS-injection. To determine the lung inflammation, 18F-fluoro-deoxy-d-glucose (0.8 ml/kg) was administrated under the anesthesia before the 1 h of PET-scanning. After the FDG-PET, samples were collected. Lung and liver18F-FDG-uptake was calculated. Serum AST, ALT, LDH and hcCRP levels were determined and liver, lung and erythrocyte SOD, MDA and CAT levels were measured. Liver and lung NO and DNA fragmentation levels were determined. MDA levels were decreased in treated inflammation groups whereas increased in untreated inflammation group. SOD and CAT activities in untreated inflammation group were significantly lower. According to the control group, increased AST and ALT levels were found in untreated inflammation group. 18F-FDG uptake of inflammation groups were increased when compare the control group… We conclude that, in LPS-induced inflammation, N. sativa have therapeutic and anti-oxidant effects.”

Immunomodulatory effects of Nigella sativa

Chinese Journal of Integrative MedicineA fascinating study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine offers evidence that Nigella sativa, beyond having simply an anti-inflammatory effect, is an immunomodulator that may help to restore healthier immune regulation:

“Cells isolated from human PBMCs which were treated with methanolic extract of NS for 48 h into two separate environments (PHA and non-PHA stimulated). Flow cytometry (for T helper/inducer cells and natural killer cells) and real time-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays for a few selected proinflammatory gene expressions were performed. Extracts from NS had an immunostimulating effect on non-PHA-stimulated proliferation of human PBMCs. In contrast, immunosuppressive activity was observed on PHA-stimulated proliferation of human PBMCs.”

Antimicrobial activity

BioMed Research InternationalNigella sativa has also shown good effect in the treatment of infections. A study recently published in Biomed Research International validates its antibacterial and antifungal properties:

“…major components in black cumin essential oils which were thymoquinone (37.6%) followed by p-cymene (31.2%), α-thujene (5.6%), thymohydroquinone (3.4%), and longifolene (2.0%), whereas the oleoresins extracted in different solvents contain linoleic acid as a major component….The essential oil showed up to 90% zone inhibition against Fusarium moniliforme in inverted petri plate method. Using agar well diffusion method for evaluating antibacterial activity, the essential oil was found to be highly effective against Gram-positive bacteria.”

The authors summarize their findings by concluding:

“The results obtained in antimicrobial investigations of black cumin oil and oleoresins were in good agreement with the previous reported work…Seeds of black cumin seem to possess magical properties and have been worked out extensively. This study revealed that black cumin essential oil and its oleoresins constitute a good alternative source of essential fatty acids compared with common vegetable oil. The present results showed that essential oil and oleoresins of black cumin exhibited higher antioxidant activity than synthetic antioxidants. These findings could be used to prepare multipurpose products for pharmaceutical applications and its usage as dietary source of antioxidant should be considered largely for alleviating and ameliorating diseases.”

World Journal of GastroenterologyPotent antiviral effects of Nigella sativa are in evidence in a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology on hepatitis C:

“Thirty patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, who were not eligible for IFN/ribavirin therapy, were included in the present study…Various parameters, including clinical parameters, complete blood count, liver function, renal function, plasma glucose, total antioxidant capacity (TAC), and polymerase chain reaction, were all assessed at baseline and at the end of the study. Clinical assessment included: hepato and/or splenomegaly, jaundice, palmar erythema, flapping tremors, spider naevi, lower-limb edema, and ascites. N. sativa was administered for three successive months at a dose of (450 mg three times daily). Clinical response and incidence of adverse drug reactions were assessed initially, periodically, and at the end of the study.”

The improvements noted were outstanding:

“N. sativa administration significantly improved HCV viral load. After N. sativa administration, the following laboratory parameters improved: total protein, albumin, red blood cell count, and platelet count. Fasting blood glucose and postprandial blood glucose were significantly decreased in both diabetic and non-diabetic HCV patients. Patients with lower-limb edema decreased significantly from baseline compared with after treatment. Adverse drug reactions were unremarkable except for a few cases of epigastric pain and hypoglycemia that did not affect patient compliance.”

Clinicians involved in case management of HCV should note their conclusion:

N. sativa administration in patients with HCV was tolerable, safe, decreased viral load, and improved oxidative stress, clinical condition and glycemic control in diabetic patients.”

 Amelioration of metabolic disorders

Plant Foods for Human NutritionNigella sativa possesses remarkable properties that improve metabolic disorders ranging including insulin resistance and diabetes, obesity, and liver fibrosis. From a paper in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition:

“Obesity is closely associated with increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, insulin resistance, and immune dysfunction, and thus obesity-mitigation strategies should take into account these secondary pathologies in addition to promoting weight loss. Recent studies indicate that black cumin (Nigella sativa) has cardio-protective, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, and immune-modulatory properties.”

 Diabetes

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative MedicineEvidence for its benefit in diabetes is offered in a study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

“The main objective of this instant study was to explore the antidiabetic potential of Nigella sativa fixed oil (NSFO) and essential oil (NSEO). Three experimental groups of rats received diets during the entire study duration, that is, D1 (control), D2 (NSFO: 4.0%), and D3 (NSEO: 0.30%). Experimental diets (NSFO & NSEO) modulated the lipid profile, while decreasing the antioxidant damage. However, production of free radicals, that is, MDA, and conjugated dienes increased by 59.00 and 33.63%, respectively, in control. On the contrary, NSFO and NSEO reduced the MDA levels by 11.54 and 26.86% and the conjugated dienes levels by 32.53 and 38.39%, respectively. N. sativa oils improved the health and showed some promising anti-diabetic results.”

BMC Complementary & Alternative MedicineAnother study on Nigella sativa and diabetes was recently published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Nigella sativa fixed (NSFO) and essential (NSEO) oils have been used to treat diabetes mellitus and its complications. Present study was undertaken to explore and validate these folkloric uses…Sprague dawley rats having streptozotocin (STZ) induced diabetes mellitus were used to assess the role of NSFO and NSEO in the management of diabetes complications.”

Of note is its ability to increase levels of glutathione:

“The results indicated that STZ decreased the glutathione contents (25.72%), while NSFO and NSEO increased the trait significantly. Experimental diets increased the tocopherol contents and enhanced the expression of hepatic enzymes. Correlation matrix further indicated that antioxidant potential is positively associated responsible for the modulation of hepatic enzymes and the decrease of the nitric oxide production thus controlling the diabetes complications.”

Nigella sativa lowers cholesterol

Advanced Pharmaceutical BulletinCholesterol along with blood glucose was lowered in a study on Nigella sative for metabolic syndrome in menopausal women published in the Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin:

“Thirty subjects who were menopausal women within the age limit of 45-60 were participated in this study and randomly allotted into two experimental groups. The treatment group was orally administered with N. sativa seeds powder in the form of capsules at a dose of 1g per day after breakfast for period of two months and compared to control group given placebo…significant improvement was observed in total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG), low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and blood glucose…These results suggested that treatment with N. sativa exert a protective effect by improving lipid profile and blood glucose which are in higher risk to be elevated during menopausal period.”

Journal of Translational MedicineImprovements in hypercholesterolemia in menopause were also documented in a study recently published in the Journal of Translational Medicine:

“In this study, Nigella sativa was evaluated for its hypolipidemic effects among menopausal women. In a randomised trial, hyperlipidemic menopausal women were assigned to treatment (n = 19) or placebo groups (n = 18), and given N. sativa or placebo for two months after their informed consents were sought. At baseline, blood samples were taken and at one month intervals thereafter until one month after the end of the study…The results showed that N. sativa significantly improved lipid profiles of menopausal women (decreased total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride, and increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol) more than the placebo treatment over 2 months of intervention.”

These benefits persisted for a month after treatment with Nigella sativa was discontinued:

One month after cessation of treatment, the lipid profiles in the N. sativa-treated group tended to change towards the pretreatment levels.”

The authors conclude:

“N. sativa is thought to have multiple mechanisms of action and is cost-effective. Therefore, it could be used by menopausal women to remedy hypercholesterolemia, with likely more benefits than with single pharmacological agents that may cause side effects. The use of N. sativa as an alternative therapy for hypercholesterolemia could have profound impact on the management of CVD among menopausal women especially in countries where it is readily available.”

International Journal of Preventive MedicineAnd a study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine documented improvements in lipid metabolism and oxygen utilization:

“In this randomized, double-blind, controlled trial…20 sedentary overweight females were divided into two groups and assigned to N. sativa supplementation (N. sativa capsules) or a placebo for the 8 weeks, both groups participated in an aerobic training program (3 times/week)…. Blood lipids and VO2 max were determined at baseline and at the end of 8 weeks…N. sativa supplementation lowered total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and body mass index and increased high density lipoprotein (HDL) and VO2 max.”

It’s worth noting that the diet of the study subjects remained the same:

Since we asked all subjects not to change their usual daily diet, it seems that this changes may be due to the result of consuming black seeds and regular aerobic training.”

Interestingly in regard to lowering cholesterol:

“The hypotriglyceridemic effect of N. sativa is possibly due to its choleretic activity. The choleretic function of N. sativa is either by reducing the synthesis of cholesterol by hepatocytes or by decreasing its fractional reabsorption from the small intestine.”

Nigella sativa’s thymoquinone ameliorates liver fibrosis

International ImmunopharmacologyWith the proliferation of NAFLD and NASH medicines that sustainably alleviate hepatic fibrosis are in urgent need. A study published in International Immunopharmacology offers evidence that thymoquinone, a principal compound in Nigella sativa, has potent hepatic anti-fibrotic effects:

Thymoquinone (TQ) is the major active compound derived from the medicinal Nigella sativa. In the present study, we investigated the anti-fibrotic mechanism of TQ in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-activated rat hepatic stellate cells line, T-HSC/Cl-6. T-HSC/Cl-6 cells were treated with TQ (3.125, 6.25 and 12.5 μM) prior to LPS (1 μg/ml). Our data demonstrated that TQ effectively decreased activated T-HSC/Cl-6 cell viability. TQ significantly attenuated the expression of CD14 and Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). TQ also significantly inhibited phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and serine/threonine kinase-protein kinase B (Akt) phosphorylation. The expression of α-SMA and collagen-I were significantly decreased by TQ. Furthermore, TQ decreased X linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) and cellular FLIP (c-FLIPL) expression, which are related with the regulation of apoptosis. Furthermore, TQ significantly increased the survival against LPS challenge in d-galactosamine (d-GlaN)-sensitized mice, and decreased the levels of serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), which were in line with in vitro results. Our data demonstrated that TQ attenuates liver fibrosis partially via blocking TLR4 expression and PI3K phosphorylation on the activated HSCs. Therefore, TQ may be a potential candidate for the therapy of hepatic fibrosis.

A follow-up study published recently in the same journal added more evidence to Nigella sativa’s benefits for hepatic fibrosis:Hepatic fibrosis attenuated by thymoquinone

“The current study was conducted to investigate the anti-fibrotic effect and its possible underlying mechanisms of thymoquinone (TQ) against hepatic fibrosis in vivo. TQ is the major active compound derived from the medicinal Nigella sativa. Liver fibrosis was induced in male Kunming mice by intraperitoneal injections of thioacetamide (TAA, 200 mg/kg). Mice were treated concurrently with TAA alone or TAA plus TQ (20 mg/kg or 40 mg/kg) given daily by oral gavage. Our data demonstrated that TQ treatment obviously reversed liver tissue damage compared with TAA alone group, characterized by less inflammatory infiltration and accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. TQ significantly attenuated TAA-induced liver fibrosis, accompanied by reduced protein and mRNA expression of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), collagen-І and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1). TQ downregulated the expression of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and remarkably decreased proinflammatory cytokine levels as well. TQ also significantly inhibited phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) phosphorylation. Furthermore, TQ enhanced the phosphorylation adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and liver kinase B (LKB)-1. In conclusion, TQ may reduce ECM accumulation, and it may be at least regulated by phosphorylation of AMPK signaling pathways, suggesting that TQ may be a potential candidate for the therapy of hepatic fibrosis.

 Protection against diabetic kidney damage

Ultrastructural PathologyThymoquinone in Nigella sativa also reduced experimentally induced kidney damage in models of diabetes as reported in a study published in Ultrastructural Pathology:

“Diabetic rats exhibited morphological changes in both renal glomeruli and tubules with immunohistochemical expression of the mesenchymal markers Fsp1, desmin, and MMP-17 and disappearance of the epithelial marker ZO-1 largely in the glomeruli of diabetic kidneys. Treatment with TQ significantly attenuated renal morphological and immunohistochemical changes in STZ-induced diabetic ratsThymoquinone has protective effects on experimental diabetic nephropathy. Both mesenchymal and epithelial markers serve as excellent predictors of early kidney damage and indicators of TQ responsiveness in STZ-induced diabetic nephropathy.”

Hypertension and Oxidative Stress

Regarding the anti-hypertensive effects of Nigella sativa, from a paperEvidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine:

Excessive production of reactive oxygen species reduces nitric oxide bioavailability leading to an endothelial dysfunction and a subsequent increase in total peripheral resistance…Nigella sativa (NS) and its active constituents have been documented to exhibit antioxidant, hypotensive, calcium channel blockade and diuretic properties which may contribute to reduce blood pressure. This suggests a potential role of NS in the management of hypertension…”

Protection Against Heart Damage

Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical SciencesNot surprisingly, thymoquinone in Nigella sativa appears to exert protective effects against heart damage associated with coronary insufficiency and stress as documented by a study in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Here again the beneficial effects include support for glutathione:

“Myocardial injury constitutes a major cause of morbidity and mortality in humans. Present study aimed to investigate protective role of thymoquinone, which is an active principle of Nigella sativa (N. sativa) seed (Commonly called as black seed), in isoproterenol induced myocardial injury, a classical example of excess catecholamines related coronary insufficiency and stress cardiomyopathy. Thymoquinone, in olive oil, was administered orally (12.5, 25 and 50mg/kg) to three groups of Wistar albino rats for 7 days, while two control groups were given plain olive oil. Thereafter, thymoquinone receiving groups and one control group were injected, subcutaneously, with isoproterenol (125mg/kg) for 2 days. Myocardial injury was assessed by biochemical markers (plasma LDH, TBARS, GR & SOD and myocardial GSH/GSSG ratio) and cardiac histopathology. Plasma LDH, TBARS and GR increased in control groups receiving isoproterenol, while there was a dose related decrease in these markers in thymoquinone treated groups, down to levels in controls given olive oil only. Decrease in plasma SOD and myocardial GSH/GSSG ratio and histological changes produced with isoproternol were also reversed in thymoquinone treated rats. Results of our study revealed that thymoquinone protects the heart from injury induced by isoproterenol.”

Anti-cancer effects of Nigella sativa

Drug Discovery TodayThere is a wealth of evidence supporting the use Nigella sativa and its active compound thymoquinone as an adjunctive treatment in numerous malignancies as noted in a paper published earlier this year in Drug Discovery Today:

“Thymoquinone (TQ), the main active constituent of black seed essential oil, exhibits promising effects against inflammatory diseases and cancer. TQ, modulates signaling pathways that are key to cancer progression, and enhances the anticancer potential of clinical drugs while reducing their toxic side effects. Considering that TQ was isolated 50 years ago, this review focuses on TQ’s chemical and pharmacological properties and the latest advances in TQ analog design and nanoformulation. We discuss our current state of knowledge of TQ’s adjuvant potential and in vivo antitumor activity and highlight its ability to modulate the hallmarks of cancer.

  • This year marks 50 years since thymoquinone was isolated from black seed.
  • Thymoquinone has had a long history of battling cancer in vitro and in vivo.
  • Thymoquinone modulates nine of the ten hallmarks of cancer.”

American Journal of Chinese MedicineA paper in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine reviews Nigella sativa’s anticancer activities:

“…quite a few pharmacological effects of N. sativa seed, its oil, various extracts and active components have been identified to include immune stimulation, anti-inflammation, hypoglycemic, antihypertensive, antiasthmatic, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antioxidant and anticancer effects…A literature search has revealed that a lot more studies have been recently carried out related to the anticancer activities of N. sativa and some of its active compounds, such as thymoquinone and alpha-hederin. Acute and chronic toxicity studies have recently confirmed the safety of N. sativa oil and its most abundant active component, thymoquinone, particularly when given orally. The present work is aimed at summarizing the extremely valuable work done by various investigators on the effects of N. sativa seed, its extracts and active principles against cancer. Those related to the underlying mechanism of action, derivatives of thymoquinone, nano thymoquinone and combinations of thymoquinone with the currently used cytotoxic drugs are of particular interest.”

Thymoquinone mechanisms of actionA paper in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines describes its activity against a number of malignancies and the molecular mechanisms involved:

“Nigella sativa has been used as traditional medicine for centuries. The crude oil and thymoquinone (TQ) extracted from its seeds and oil are effective against many diseases like cancer, cardiovascular complications, diabetes, asthma, kidney disease etc. It is effective against cancer in blood system, lung, kidney, liver, prostate, breast, cervix, skin with much safety. The molecular mechanisms behind its anticancer role is still not clearly understood, however, some studies showed that TQ has antioxidant role and improves body’s defense system, induces apoptosis and controls Akt pathway. Although the anti-cancer activity of N. sativa components was recognized thousands of years ago but proper scientific research with this important traditional medicine is a history of last 2∼3 decades…In this article, we have summarized the actions of TQ and crude oil of N. sativa against different cancers with their molecular mechanisms.”

Pharmacognosy ReviewsA review article in Pharmacognosy Review notes the anti-cancer potential implied by numerous investigations:

“Thymoquinone (TQ) is the bioactive phytochemical constituent of the seeds oil of Nigella sativa. In vitro and in vivo research has thoroughly investigated the anticancer effects of TQ against several cancer cell lines and animal models. As a result, a considerable amount of information has been generated from research thus providing a better understanding of the anti-proliferating activity of this compound. Therefore, it is appropriate that TQ should move from testing on the bench to clinical experiments. The purpose of this review is to highlight the potential of TQ as an anticancer agent and the chances of this compound in the clinical treatment of cancer, with special attention on breast cancer treatment.”

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative MedicineA paper in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine outlines mechanisms by which thymoquinone in Nigella sativa can act to prevent cancer:

Earlier studies have shown that N. sativa and its constituent thymoquinone (TQ) have important roles in the prevention and treatment of cancer by modulating cell signaling pathways. In this review, we summarize the role of N. sativa and its constituents TQ in the prevention of cancer through the activation or inactivation of molecular cell signaling pathways.”

Upregulation of tumor suppressor gene and inhibition of VEGF, Akt/PI3K pathways:

Upregulation of tumor suppresor geneThymoquinone role in prevention of cancer via modulation of phase I and phase II enzymes:

Thymoquinone's role in cancer prevention

Osteosarcoma, angiogenesis and NF-κB

Oncology ReportsEvidence for thymoquinone’s benefit in osteosarcoma through inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and tumor growth by suppressing NF-κB is offered by a study published in Oncology Reports:

“Recent studies reported that thymoquinone exhibited inhibitory effects on the cell proliferation of several cancer cell lines. This study was performed to investigate the antitumor and anti-angiogenic effects of thymoquinone on osteosarcoma in vitro and in vivo. Our results showed that thymoquinone induced a higher percentage of growth inhibition and apoptosis in the human osteosarcoma cell line SaOS-2 compared to that of control, and thymoquinone significantly blocked human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) tube formation in a dose-dependent manner. To investigate the possible mechanisms involved in these events, we performed electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) and western blot analysis, and found that thymoquinone significantly downregulated NF-κB DNA-binding activity, XIAP, survivin and VEGF in SaOS-2 cells. Moreover, the expression of cleaved caspase-3 and Smac were upregulated in SaOS-2 cells after treatment with thymoquinone. In addition to these in vitro results, we also found that thymoquinone inhibits tumor angiogenesis and tumor growth through suppressing NF-κB and its regulated molecules. Collectively, our results demonstrate that thymoquinone effectively inhibits tumor growth and angiogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, inhibition of NF-κB and downstream effector molecules is a possible underlying mechanism of the antitumor and anti-angiogenic activity of thymoquinone in osteosarcoma.”

Cytotoxic prooxidant effects of thymoquinone in copper rich malignant tissues

Cell Death & DiseaseUsing prostate cancer cells, a fascinating study published in Cell Death & Disease demonstrates that thymoquinone has a beneficial prooxidant cytoxic effect in copper-rich malignant tissue:

“Thymoquinone (TQ) is the major bioactive constituent of volatile oil of Nigella sativa and has been shown to exert various pharmacological properties, such as anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular, analgesic, anti-neoplastic, anticancer and chemopreventive…TQ is a known antioxidant at lower concentrations and most of the studies elucidating the mechanism have centered on the antioxidant property. However, recent publications have shown that TQ may act as a prooxidant at higher Nigella sativa flower 2concentrations. It is well known that plant-derived antioxidants can switch to prooxidants even at low concentrations in the presence of transition metal ions such as copper. It is well established that tissue, cellular and serum copper levels are considerably elevated in various malignancies. Copper is an important metal ion present in the chromatin and is closely associated with DNA bases, particularly guanine. Using human peripheral lymphocytes and comet assay, we first show that TQ is able to cause oxidative cellular DNA breakage. Such a DNA breakage can be inhibited by copper-chelating agents, neocuproine and bathocuproine, and scavengers of reactive oxygen species. Further, it is seen that TQ targets cellular copper in prostate cancer cell lines leading to a prooxidant cell death.”

Interestingly…

“We believe that such a prooxidant cytotoxic mechanism better explains the anticancer activity of plant-derived antioxidants.”

Inhibition of cell proliferation in liver cancer

Toxicology LettersMarked inhibition of tumor multiplicity in hepatocellular carcinoma was shown in a study published in Toxicology Letters:

“…agents that inhibit cell proliferation and restrain hepatic tumorigenesis through cell cycle regulation have a beneficial effect in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinogenesis. The present study was aimed to investigate the efficacy of thymoquinone (TQ), an active compound derived from the medicinal plant Nigella sativa, on N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA) [0.01% in drinking water for 16 weeks]-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in experimental rats. After experimental period, the hepatic nodules, liver injury markers and tumor markers levels were substantially increased in NDEA induced liver tumors in rats. However, TQ (20 mg/kg body weight) treatment greatly reduced liver injury markers and decreased tumor markers and prevented hepatic nodule formation and reduced tumor multiplicity in NDEA induced hepatic cancer bearing rats and this was evident from argyrophilic nucleolar organizer region (AgNORs) staining. Moreover…TQ significantly reduced the detrimental alterations by abrogating cell proliferation, which strongly induced G1/S arrest in cell cycle transition. In conclusion, our results suggest that TQ has a potent anti proliferative activity by regulating the G1/S phase cell cycle transition and exhibits a beneficial role in the treatment of HCC.”

Thymoquinone induces glioblastoma cell death

PLOS ONEA fascinating study in PLoS One demonstrates that thymoquinone is a rare agent that can inhibit autophagy (the cellular ‘housecleaning’ process by which degraded cellular components are removed) to promote malignant cell death in the brain cancer gliosblastoma:

“Glioblastoma is the most aggressive and common type of malignant brain tumor in humans, with a median survival of 15 months. There is a great need for more therapies for the treatment of glioblastoma…TQ has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-neoplastic actions with selective cytotoxicity for human cancer cells compared to normal cells. Here, we show that TQ selectively inhibits the clonogenicity of glioblastoma cells as compared to normal human astrocytes. Also, glioblastoma cell proliferation could be impaired by chloroquine, an autophagy inhibitor, suggesting that glioblastoma cells may be dependent on the autophagic pathway for survival…TQ also caused an accumulation of the LC3-associated protein p62, confirming the inhibition of autophagy. Furthermore, the levels of Beclin-1 protein expression were unchanged, indicating that TQ interferes with a later stage of autophagy. Finally, treatment with TQ induces lysosome membrane permeabilization…which mediates caspase-independent cell death… TQ induced apoptosis…”

Inhibition of autophagy by thymoquinoneThe authors note an important difference between the action of thymoquinone and other cytotoxic therapies:

Ionizing radiation and temozolomide have both been shown to increase a cytoprotective autophagy response in glioblastoma cells, leading to resistant tumors. In addition, many other chemotherapeutics, such as rapamycin, tamoxifen, and etoposide, induce a protective autophagic response in cancer cells. Therefore, inhibitors of autophagy, both alone and in combination with standard therapies, may provide a viable and promising new strategy in cancer treatment…To the best of our knowledge, this report represents the first finding of TQ as an autophagy inhibitor, and provides a platform for which to extend studies in the treatment of glioblastoma with TQ.”

The authors conclude:

“Inhibition of autophagy is an exciting and emerging strategy in cancer therapy. In this vein, our results describe a novel mechanism of action for TQ as an autophagy inhibitor selectively targeting glioblastoma cells.

Nigella sativa induces apoptosis in cervical cancer

Natural Product CommunicationsAccording to a study published in Natural Product Communications, Nigella sativa inhibits proliferation of cervical cancer cells by inducing apoptosis:

“Nigella sativa (NS) showed an 88.3% inhibition of proliferation of SiHa human cervical cancer cells at a concentration of 125 microL/mL methanolic extract at 24 h, and an IC50 value 93.2 microL/mL. NS exposure increased the expression of caspase-3, -8 and -9 several-fold. The analysis of apoptosis by Dead End terminal transferase-mediated dUTP-digoxigenin end labeling (TUNEL) assay was used to further confirm that NS induced apoptosis. Thus, NS was concluded to induce apoptosis in SiHa cell through both p53 and caspases activation. NS could potentially be an alternative source of medicine for cervical cancer therapy.”

Suppression of melanoma metastasis by inhibition of the NLRP3 inflammasome

Toxicology and Applied PharmacologyIn an exciting study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology that has implications for a wide range of conditions, investigators report suppression of metastasis in melanoma inhibiting the proinflammatory activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome:

“The inflammasome is a multi-protein complex which when activated regulates caspase-1 activation and IL-1β and IL-18 secretion. The NLRP3 (NACHT, LRR, and pyrin domain-containing protein 3) inflammasome is constitutively assembled and activated in human melanoma cells. We have examined the inhibitory effect of thymoquinone (2-isopropyl-5-methylbenzo-1,4-quinone), a major ingredient of black seed obtained from the plant Nigella sativa on metastatic human (A375) and mouse (B16F10) melanoma cell lines. We have assessed whether thymoquinone inhibits metastasis of melanoma cells by targeting NLRP3 subunit of inflammasomes. Using an in vitro cell migration assay, we found that thymoquinone inhibited the migration of both human and mouse melanoma cells…The inhibition of migration of melanoma cells by thymoquinone was accompanied by a decrease in expression of NLRP3 inflammasome resulting in decrease in proteolytic cleavage of caspase-1. Inactivation of caspase-1 by thymoquinone resulted in inhibition of IL-1β and IL-18. Treatment of mouse melanoma cells with thymoquinone also inhibited NF-κB activity. Furthermore, inhibition of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by thymoquinone resulted in partial inactivation of NLRP3 inflammasome. Thus, thymoquinone exerts its inhibitory effect on migration of human and mouse melanoma cells by inhibition of NLRP3 inflammasome. Thus, our results indicate that thymoquinone can be a potential immunotherapeutic agent not only as an adjuvant therapy for melanoma, but also, in the control and prevention of metastatic melanoma.”

Readers will recall that activation of the inflammasome is a mechanism shared by many autoimmune and malignant disorders.

Nigella sativa attenuates iNOS pathway inflammation in liver cancer

Environmental Health and Preventive MedicineBecause iNOS activation of inflammation is a key process in a multitude of inflammatory disorders including a host of autoimmune diseases, a study published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine showing value in hepatocellular carcinoma is of is of particular importance:

“Nitric oxide (NO) and inducible nitric oxide synthase enzyme (iNOS) have been implicated in various tumors….Nigella sativa (NS) has been shown to have specific health benefits. The aim of this study was to investigate the in vivo modulation of the iNOS pathway by NS ethanolic extract (NSEE) and the implications of this effect as an antitumor therapeutic approach against diethylnitrosamine (DENA)-induced hepatocarcinogenesis…Serum AFP, NO, TNF-α, and IL-6 levels and iNOS enzyme activity were significantly increased in rats treated with DENA. Significant up-regulation of liver iNOS mRNA and protein expression was also observed. Subsequent treatment with NSEE significantly reversed these effects and improved the histopathological changes in malignant liver tissue which appeared after treatment with DENA, without any toxic effect when given alone.”

This data inspired the authors to conclude:

“These results provide evidence that attenuation of the iNOS pathway and suppression of the inflammatory response mediated by TNF-α, and IL-6 could be implicated in the antitumor effect of NSEE. As such, our findings hold great promise for the utilization of NS as an effective natural therapeutic agent in the treatment of hepatocarcinogenesis.”

Cytotoxic effect against lung cancer

Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer PreventionAuthors of a study just published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention report that Nigella sativa seed extract significantly reduces the viability of lung cancer cells:

Nigella sativa (N sativa), commonly known as black seed, has been used in traditional medicine to treat many diseases. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial activities of N sativa extracts are well known. Therefore, the present study was designed to investigate the anticancer activity of seed extract (NSE) and seed oil (NSO) of N sativa against a human lung cancer cell line…The results showed NSE and NSO significantly reduce the cell viability and alter the cellular morphology of A-549 cells in a concentration dependent manner. The percent cell viability was recorded as 75%, 50%, and 26% at 0.25, 0.5, and 1 mg/ml of NSE by MTT assay and 73%, 48%, and 23% at 0.25, 0.5, and 1 mg/ml of NSE by NRU assay. Exposure to NSO concentrations of 0.1 mg/ml and above for 24 h was also found to be cytotoxic. The decrease in cell viability at 0.1, 0.25, 0.5, and 1 mg/ml of NSO was recorded to be 89%, 52%, 41%, and 13% by MTT assay and 85%, 52%, 38%, and 11% by NRU assay, respectively. A-549 cells exposed to 0.25, 0.5 and 1 mg/ml of NSE and NSO lost their typical morphology and appeared smaller in size. The data revealed that the treatment of seed extract (NSE) and seed oil (NSO) of Nigella sativa significantly reduce viability of human lung cancer cells.

Nigella sativa inhibits breast cancer

PLOS ONEEvidence is mounting for the use of Nigella sativa against breast cancer. Similar to the prooxidant effect described above, a study published in PLoS One describes how thymoquinone inhibits tumor growth and induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells through p38 phosphorylation and ROS production:

“Due to narrow therapeutic window of cancer therapeutic agents and the development of resistance against these agents, there is a need to discover novel agents to treat breast cancer. The antitumor activities of thymoquinone (TQ), a compound isolated from Nigella sativa oil, were investigated in breast carcinoma in vitro and in vivo. Cell responses after TQ treatment were assessed by using different assays including MTT assay, annexin V-propidium iodide staining, Mitosox staining and Western blot. The antitumor effect was studied by breast tumor xenograft mouse model, and the tumor tissues were examined by histology and immunohistochemistry. The level of anti-oxidant enzymes/molecules in mouse liver tissues was measured by commercial kits. Here, we show that TQ induced p38 phosphorylation and ROS production in breast cancer cells. These inductions were found to be responsible for TQ’s anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects. Moreover, TQ-induced ROS production regulated p38 phosphorylation but not vice versa. TQ treatment was found to suppress the tumor growth and this effect was further enhanced by combination with doxorubicin. TQ also inhibited the protein expression of anti-apoptotic genes, such as XIAP, survivin, Bcl-xL and Bcl-2, in breast cancer cells and breast tumor xenograft. Reduced Ki67 and increased TUNEL staining were observed in TQ-treated tumors. TQ was also found to increase the level of catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione in mouse liver tissues.”

Again we see increases in the profoundly important glutatione under the influence of thymoquinone. Note also that the antitumor effect of the conventional chemotherapeutic agent was enhanced.

“In conclusion, our study provides evidence for the mechanism of action of TQ in suppressing human breast carcinoma in both in vitro and in vivo models. We demonstrated that the anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects of TQ are mediated through its induction effect on p38 and ROS signaling. Our results also indicate the anti-tumor effects of TQ in breast tumor xenograft mice and its ability to potentiate the antitumor effect of doxorubicin. TQ serves as a promising anticancer agent and further studies may provide important leads for its clinical application.”

Journal of Medicinal FoodA study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food also reports proapoptotic and antimetastatic effects of Nigella sativa for breast cancer:

“This study investigated the apoptotic, antimetastatic, and anticancer activities of supercritical carbon dioxide (SC-CO2) extracts of the seeds of N. sativa Linn. against estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells (MCF-7)….Of the 12 extracts, 1 extract (A3) that was prepared at 60°C and 2500 psi (~17.24 MPa) showed selective antiproliferative activity against MCF-7 cells with an IC50 of 53.34±2.15 μg/mL. Induction of apoptosis was confirmed by evaluating caspases activities and observing the cells under a scanning electron microscope. In vitro antimetastatic properties of A3 were investigated by colony formation, cell migration, and cell invasion assays. The elevated levels of caspases in A3 treated MCF-7 cells suggest that A3 is proapoptotic. Further nuclear condensation and fragmentation studies confirmed that A3 induces cytotoxicity through the apoptosis pathway. A3 also demonstrated remarkable inhibition in migration and invasion assays of MCF-7 cells at subcytotoxic concentrations. Thus, this study highlights the therapeutic potentials of SC-CO2 extract of N. sativa in targeting breast cancer.”

Pharmacognosy ResearchAnd authors of a study published in Pharmacognosy Research also report activity of thymoquinone against breast cancer:

“The study addressed the anti-cancer efficiency of long-term in vitro treatment with thymoquinone towards human breast cancer cell lines MCF-7...The 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) value determined using the proliferation assay was 25 μM thymoquinone. Late apoptotic cell percentage increased rapidly when treatment duration was increased to 24 h with 25 and 100 μM thymoquinone. Further analysis using cell cycle assay showed thymoquinone inhibition of breast cancer cell proliferation at minimal dose 25 μM and led to S phase arrest significantly at 72 h treatment. It was also noted elevation sub-G1 peak following treatment with 25 μM thymoquinone for 12 h. Increase in thymoquinone to 50 μM caused G2 phase arrest at each time-point studied…In general thymoquinone showed sustained inhibition of breast cancer cell proliferation with long-term treatment. Specificity of phase arrest was determined by thymoquinone dose.”

Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer PreventionAntiproliferative effects against breast cancer cells were also shown in a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention:

“Our data showed that Nigella sativa extracts significantly inhibited human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation at doses of 2.5-5 μg/mL. Apoptotic induction in MDA-MB-231 cells was observed in a dose-dependent manner after exposure to Nigella sativa extracts for 48 h. Real time PCR and flow cytometry analyses suggested that Nigella sativa extracts possess the ability to suppress the proliferation of human breast cancer cells through induction of apoptosis.”

Nigella sativa protects against liver damage caused by tamoxifen

Canadian Journal of Physiology and PharmacologyProtection against the harmful toxic effects of chemotherapy is a critical component of cancer case management. A welcome study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology shows that thymoquinone from Nigella sativa protects against the hepatotoxicity of tamoxifen:

“One of the major reasons for terminating a clinical trial is the liver toxicity induced by chemotherapy. Tamoxifen (TAM) is an anti-estrogen used in the treatment and prevention of hormone-dependent breast cancer. Tamoxifen therapy may cause hepatic injury. The seeds of Nigella sativa, which contain the active ingredient thymoquinone (TQ), have been used in folk medicine for diverse ailments. TQ is reported to possess anticancer and hepatoprotective effects. In this study, the protective effects of TQ against TAM-induced hepatotoxicity in female rats were evaluated. Four groups of rats were used: control; TAM; TQ; TAM+TQ. TAM (45 mg·(kg body mass)(-1)·day(-1), by intraperitoneal injection (i.p.), for 10 consecutive days) resulted in elevated serum levels of alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase, lactate dehydrogenase, total bilirubin, and gamma glutamyl transferase, as well as depletion of reduced glutathione in the liver and accumulation of lipid peroxides. Also, TAM treatment inhibited the hepatic activity of superoxide dismutase. Further, it raised the levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha in the liver and induced histopathological changes. Pretreatment with TQ (50 mg·(kg body mass)(-1)·day(-1); orally, for 20 consecutive days, starting 10 days before TAM injection) significantly prevented the elevation in serum activity of the assessed enzymes. TQ significantly inhibited TAM-induced hepatic GSH depletion and LPO accumulation. Consistently, TQ normalized the activity of SOD, inhibited the rise in TNF-α and ameliorated the histopathological changes. In conclusion, TQ protects against TAM-induced hepatotoxicity.”

Again we see beneficial effects on glutatione metabolism.

Protection against kidney toxicity of cisplatin

Iranian Journal of Kidney DiseasesWhile on the topic of protection unwanted against damage done by cytotoxic chemotherapy, we can appreciate a study published in the Iranian Journal of Kidney Diseases reporting evidence that Nigella sativa offers some protection against the nephrotoxic effects of cisplatin:

“Thirty rats were divided into 3 groups to receive distilled water (control group), cisplatin (3 mg/kg per body weight for 3 days), and cisplatin and alcoholic extract of NS (100 mg/kg per body weight). Biochemical and histopathologic parameters were compared between the three groups on days 14 and 42 of the study…Cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity was confirmed in our study…Histology of the kidneys exposed to cisplatin showed significant kidney injury, but the rats treated with NS showed a relatively well-preserved architectureNigella sativa seeds had nonsignificant effects on biochemical parameters, although the histopathologic properties of the kidneys relatively recovered after NS use.”

Nigella sativa benefits for the brain, mood and cognition

Journal of EthnopharmacologyConsidering the immune-regulating and anti-inflammatory virtues of Nigella sativa it stands to reason that there would be benefits for the brain. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports that it helps stabilize mood, reduce anxiety and cognition in adolescent males.

“Previous studies conducted on animals linked consumption of Nigella sativa L. seeds (NS) to decreased anxiety and improved memory. The present study, which was carried out at a boarding school in Bangladesh, was designed to examine probable effect of NS on mood, anxiety and cognition in adolescent human males…Forty-eight healthy adolescent human males aged between 14 to 17 years were randomly recruited as volunteers and were randomly split into two groups: A (n=24) and B (n=24). The treatment procedure for group A and B were one capsule of 500 mg placebo and 500 mg NS respectively once daily for four weeks. All the volunteers were assessed for cognition with modified California verbal learning test-II (CVLT-II), mood with Bond–Lader scale and anxiety with State–Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) at the beginning and after four weeks of either NS or placebo ingestion…Over the 4 weeks study period, the use of NS as a nutritional supplement been observed to- stabilize mood, decrease anxiety and modulate cognition positively.”

Relieving neuroinflammation of depression

Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied SciencesIt’s well known than neuroimmune inflammation plays a fundamental role in depression. Authors of a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences present welcome evidence that Nigella sativa and thymoquinone may relieve depression by reducing neuroinflammation:

Neuroimmune factors have been proposed as contributors to the pathogenesis of depression. Beside other therapeutic effects including neuroprotective, antioxidant, anticonvulsant and analgesic effects, Nigella sativa and its main ingredient, thymoquinone (TQ), have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. In the present study, the effects of Nigella sativa hydro-alcoholic extract and thymoquinone was investigated on lipopolysaccharide- induced depression like behavior in rats…The results of the present study showed that hydro-alcoholic extract of Nigella sativa can prevent LPS-induced depression like behavior in rats. These results support the traditional belief on the beneficial effects of Nigella sativa in the nervous system.”

Thymoquinone ameliorates lead-induced brain damage

Experimental and Toxicologic PathologyEnvironmental toxicity is a concern for brain health; an exciting study published Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology indicates that thymoquinone from Nigella sativa protects against brain damage from lead:

“The present study aims to investigate the protective effects of thymoquinone, the major active ingredient of Nigella sativa seeds, against lead-induced brain damage in Sprague-Dawley rats. In which, 40 rats were divided into four groups (10 rats each). The first group served as control. The second, third and fourth groups received lead acetate, lead acetate and thymoquinone, and thymoquinone only, respectively, for one month. Lead acetate was given in drinking water at a concentration of 0.5 g/l (500 ppm). Thymoquinone was given daily at a dose of 20 mg/kg b.w. in corn oil by gastric tube. Control and thymoquinone-treated rats showed normal brain histology. Treatment of rats with lead acetate was shown to produce degeneration of endothelial lining of brain blood vessels with peri-vascular cuffing of mononuclear cells consistent to lymphocytes, congestion of choroid plexus blood vessels, ischemic brain infarction, chromatolysis and neuronal degeneration, microglial reaction and neuronophagia, degeneration of hippocampal and cerebellar neurons, and axonal demyelination. On the other hand, co-administration of thymoquinone with lead acetate markedly decreased the incidence of lead acetate-induced pathological lesions.”

Protection against Parkinson’s disease α-synuclein-induced synapse damage

Neuroscience LettersAgents that offer protection against α-synuclein toxicity are welcome in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and dementia. A study recently published in Neuroscience Letters presents evidence that thymoquinone from Nigella sativa has this property:

“The present study aimed to determine whether TQ protects against α-synuclein (αSN)-induced synaptic toxicity in rat hippocampal and human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neurons. Here, we report that αSN decreased the level of synaptophysin, a protein used as an indicator of synaptic density, in cultured hippocampal and hiPSC-derived neurons. However, simultaneous treatment with αSN and TQ protected neurons against αSN-induced synapse damage, as revealed by immunostaining. Moreover, administration of TQ efficiently induced protection in these cells against αSN-induced inhibition of synaptic vesicle recycling in hippocampal and hiPSC-derived neurons as well as against mutated P123H β-synuclein (βSN) in hippocampal neurons, as revealed by experiments using the fluorescent dye FM1-43. Using a multielectrode array, we further demonstrated that the treatment of hiPSC-derived neurons with αSN induced a reduction in spontaneous firing activity, and cotreatment with αSN and TQ partially reversed this loss. These results suggest that TQ protects cultured rat primary hippocampal and hiPSC-derived neurons against αSN-induced synaptic toxicity and could be a promising therapeutic agent for patients with Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Thymoquinone prevents β-amyloid neurotoxicity of Alzheimer’s disease

Cellular and Molecular NeurobiologyOf great interest in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease are agents that may protect agains β-amyloid neurotoxicity. Here too thymoquinone has effect as reported in a study published in Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology:

Thymoquinone (TQ), a bioactive constituent of Nigella sativa Linn (N. sativa) has demonstrated several neuropharmacological attributes. In the present study, the neuroprotective properties of TQ were investigated by studying its anti-apoptotic potential to diminish β-amyloid peptide 1-40 sequence (Aβ1-40)-induced neuronal cell death in primary cultured cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs)…Pretreatment of CGNs with TQ (0.1 and 1 μM) and subsequent exposure to 10 μM Aβ1-40 protected the CGNs against the neurotoxic effects of the latter. In addition, the CGNs were better preserved with intact cell bodies, extensive neurite networks, a loss of condensed chromatin and less free radical generation than those exposed to Aβ1-40 alone. TQ pretreatment inhibited Aβ1-40-induced apoptosis of CGNs via both extrinsic and intrinsic caspase pathways. Thus, the findings of this study suggest that TQ may prevent neurotoxicity and Aβ1-40-induced apoptosis. TQ is, therefore, worth studying further for its potential to reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

 Nigella sativa protects and promotes healing from nerve trauma

Pathologie BiologieA study published Pathologie Biologie reports that Nigella sativa improves the neurodegeneration typical after nerve trauma:

“The aim of this study was designed to evaluate the possible protective effects of Nigella sativa (NS) on the neuronal injury in the sciatic nerve of rats. The rats were randomly allotted into one of the three experimental groups: A (control), B (only trauma) and C (trauma and treated with NS); each group contain 10 animals… To date, no histopathological changes of neurodegeneration in the sciatic nerve after trauma in rats by NS treatment have been reported. Results showed in the group B (only trauma), the neurons of sciatic nerve tissue became extensively dark and degenerated with picnotic nuclei. Treatment of NS markedly reduced degenerating neurons after trauma and the distorted nerve cells were mainly absent in the NS-treated rats. The morphology of neurons in groups treated with NS was well protected, but not as neurons of the control group. The number of neurons in sciatic nerve tissue of group B (only trauma) was significantly less than both control and treated with NS groups. The morphology of neurons revealed that the number of neurons were significantly less in group B compared to control and group C rats’ motor neurons anterior horn spinal cord tissue. We conclude that NS therapy causes morphologic improvement on neurodegeneration in sciatic nerve after trauma in rats.”

Nigella sativa for osteoporosis

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative MedicineConsidering that inflammation plays a key role in osteoporosis, it’s reasonable to investigate the use Nigella sativa as described in a paper in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

“Animal studies have shown that NS and TQ may be used for the treatment of diabetes-induced osteoporosis and for the promotion of fracture healing. The mechanism involved is unclear, but it was postulated that the antioxidative, and anti-inflammatory activities may play some roles in the treatment of osteoporosis as this bone disease has been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation. This paper highlights studies on the antiosteoporotic effects of NS and TQ, the mechanisms behind these effects and their safety profiles. NS and TQ were shown to inhibit inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 and 6 and the transcription factor, nuclear factor κB. NS and TQ were found to be safe at the current dosage for supplementation in human with precautions in children and pregnant women. Both NS and TQ have shown potential as antiosteoporotic agent but more animal and clinical studies are required to further assess their antiosteoporotic efficacies.”

Inhibition of osteoporosis by Nigella sativa

BMC Complementary & Alternative MedicineIn an exciting study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, investigators report the reversal of osteoporosis in subjects whose ovaries had been removed:

“There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen after menopause and the development of osteoporosis…Nigella Sativa (NS) has been shown to have beneficial effects on bone and joint diseases. The present study was conducted to elucidate the protective effect of Nigella Sativa on osteoporosis produced by ovariectomy in rats…Female Wistar rats aged 12-14 months were divided into three groups: sham-operated control (SHAM), ovariectomized (OVX), and ovariectomized supplemented with nigella sativa (OVX-NS) orally for 12 weeks; 4 weeks before ovariectomy and 8 weeks after…OVX rats showed significant decrease in plasma Ca(+2), accompanied by a significant increase in plasma ALP, amino terminal collagen type 1 telopeptide, MDA, nitrates, TNF-α and IL-6. These changes were reversed by NS supplementation in OVX-NS group to be near SHAM levels. Histological examination of the tibias revealed discontinuous eroded bone trabeculae with widened bone marrow spaces in OVX rats accompanied by a significant decrease in both cortical and trabecular bone thickness compared to Sham rats. These parameters were markedly reversed in OVX-NS rats. Histological examination of the liver showed mononuclear cellular infiltration and congestion of blood vessels at the portal area in OVX rats which were not found in OVX-NS rats.”

Their data supported this exciting conclusion:

“It can be concluded that NS has shown potential as a safe and effective antiosteoporotic agent, which can be attributed to its high content of unsaturated fatty acids as well as its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”

Nigella sativa helps with psoriasis

Pharmacognosy MagazineConsidering its antiinflammatory and immunomodulating characteristics it seems a good bet that Nigella sativa would help with psoriasis as described in a study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine:

“The screening of antipsoriatic activity of 95% of ethanolic extract of Nigella sativa seeds by using mouse tail model for psoriasis and in vitro antipsoriatic activity was carried out by SRB Assay using HaCaT human keratinocyte cell lines….The ethanolic extract of Nigella sativa seeds extract produced a significant epidermal differentiation, from its degree of orthokeratosis (71.36±2.64) when compared to the negative control (17.30±4.09%)…The 95% ethanolic extract of Nigella sativa shown IC50 239 μg/ml, with good antiproliferant activity compared to Asiaticoside as positive control which showed potent activity with IC50 value of 20.13 μg/ml. From the present study it can be said that topical application of 95% ethanolic extract of Nigella sativa seeds has antipsoriatic activity and the external application is be beneficial in the management of psoriasis.”

Assists in treatment of vitiligo

Iranian Red Crescent Medical JournalNIgella sativa is an agent to consider in case management of any autoimmune disorder including vitiligo, for which it showed benefit in a study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal:

Vitiligo is one of the autoimmune skin diseases that destroy the melanocytes of the skin…The aim of this study was to compare the effect of Nigella sativa and fish oil on vitiligo lesions of the patients referred to a dermatology clinic…After six months, a mean score of VASI decreased from 4.98 to 3.75 in patients applying topical Nigella sativa and from 4.98 to 4.62 in those using topical fish oil…In the current study, administration of Nigella sativa and fish oil significantly decreased skin lesions size, indicating an improvement in clinical condition…the depigmented areas were reduced over time and the skin color showed improvement. One reason for this positive response to treatment is the thymoquinone component of Nigella sativa…Thymoquinone can simulate the activity of acetylcholine, which causes the release of melanin and darkening of the skin through stimulation of cholinergic receptors. In addition, Nigella sativa oil administration was tolerable as well as safe and improved oxidative stress and clinical condition of patients…It was also shown that this type of treatment has no significant side effects and resulted in high patient satisfaction and acceptance.”

The authors state in conclusion:

“Nigella sativa oil and fish oil were effective in reduction the size of patient’s lesions; however, Nigella sativa was more effective in comparison to the fish oil. Therefore, using Nigella sativa with the major drugs in the treatment of vitiligo is recommended.”

Topical treatment of allergic rhinitis

Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal ChemistryAllergic rhinitis as a chronic inflammatory disorder also responds to Nigella sativa applied topically as reported in Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry:

Allergic rhinitis (AR) is the most common manifestation of atopic reaction to inhaled allergens. It is a chronic inflammatory disease which may first appear at any age, but the onset is usually during childhood or adolescence…The individuals in the active group received N. sativa oil and the control group individuals received ordinary food oil in the form of nasal drops for 6 weeks…After the 6 weeks treatment course, 100% of the patients in the mild active group became symptoms free; while in moderate active group 68.7% became symptoms free and 25% were improved; while in severe active group 58.3% became symptoms free and 25% were improved. In addition, 92.1% of total patients in the active group demonstrated improvement in their symptoms or were symptoms free, while the corresponding value was 30.1% in the control group. At the end of 6 weeks of treatment with topical use, the improvement in tolerability of allergen exposure in active group became 55.2% which was significant as compared with control group which was accounted for 20% at the same time…Topical application of black seed oil was effective in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, with minimal side effects.”

Nigella sativa protects against radiation damage

Journal of Investigative SurgeryRadiation therapy can produce substantial ‘collateral damage’. Authors of a study just published in the Journal of Investigative Surgery demonstrate that Nigella sativa reduces oxidative stress in animals subjected to total head irradiation:

“Many cancer patients treated with radiotherapy suffer severe side effects during and after their treatment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of irradiation and the addition of Nigella sativa oil (NSO) on the oxidant/antioxidant system in the liver tissue of irradiated rats…The control group received neither NSO nor irradiation but received 1-ml saline orally. The irradiation group (IR) received total head 5 gray (Gy) of gamma irradiation as a single dose, plus 1-ml saline orally. The IR plus NSO group received both total head 5 Gy of gamma irradiation as a single dose and 1 g/kg/day NSO orally through an orogastric tube starting one hour before irradiation and continuing for 10 days…Conclusions: NSO reduces oxidative stress markers and has antioxidant effects, which also augments the antioxidant capacity in the liver tissue of rats.”

Cutaneous and Ocular ToxicologyNigella sativa was shown to reduce radiation-induced cataracts in a study published in Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology:

“The aim of this study was to investigate the antioxidant and radioprotective effects of Nigella sativa oil (NSO) and thymoquinone (TQ) against ionizing radiation-induced cataracts in lens after total cranium irradiation (IR) of rats with a single dose of 5 gray (Gy)…At the end of the 10th d, cataract developed in 80% of the rats in IR group only. After IR, cataract rate dropped to 20% and 50% in groups which were treated with NSO and TQ, respectively, and was limited at grades 1 and 2. Nitric oxide synthase activity, nitric oxide and peroxynitrite levels in the radiotherapy group were higher than those of all other groups. Conclusions: The results implicate a major role for NSO and TQ in preventing cataractogenesis in ionizing radiation-induced cataracts in the lenses of rats, wherein NSO were found to be more potent.”

PhytomedicineAnd protection from radiation-induced damage to brain tissue was demonstrated in a study recently published in the journal Phytomedicine designed…

“To investigate Nigella sativa oil (NSO) and Thymoquinone (TQ) for their antioxidant effects on the brain tissue of rats exposed to ionizing radiation….Levels of NO· and ONOO(-), and enzyme activity of NOS in brain tissue of the rats treated with NSO or TQ were found to be lower than in received IR alone (p<0.002) Nigella sativa oil (NSO) and its active component, TQ, clearly protect brain tissue from radiation-induced nitrosative stress.

 Activity against Staphylococcal and fungal skin infections

Pakistan Journal of Biological SciencesNigella sativa is a benevolent agent in the treatment of skin infection and inflammation as documented by a study published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences:

“Nigella sativa has been used for a long time in Jordanian folk medicine to treat skin diseases like microbial infections and inflammation. Therefore, the present study was conducted to assess the healing efficacy of petroleum ether extract of Nigella sativa seeds (fixed oil) on staphylococcal-infected skin. Male BALB/c mice were infected with 100 microL of Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC 6538)… Application of treatments for each group (100 microL sterile saline, 100 microL chloramphenicol (10 microg/mouse) and Nigella sativa fixed oil at a dose of 50, 100 or 150 microL/mouse) was performed at the site of infection… At day 3 and 5 after infection, total White Blood Cells (WBCs) count; differential and absolute differential WBC counts and the number of viable bacteria present in the skin area were measured…Results indicated that fixed oil of Nigella sativa seeds enhance healing of staphylococcal-infected skin by reducing total and absolute differential WBC counts, local infection and inflammation, bacterial expansion and tissue impairment. These effects provide scientific basis for the use of Nigella sativa in traditional medicine to treat skin infections and inflammations.

Journal of EthnopharmacologyThe authors of a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology report effectiveness against fungal skin infections (dermatophytes):

“The antifungal activity of ether extract of Nigella sativa seed and its active principle thymoquinone was tested against eight species of dermatophytes: four species of Trichophyton rubrum and one each of Trichophyton interdigitale, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum canis. Agar diffusion method with serial dilutions of ether extract of Nigella sativa, thymoquinone and griseofulvin was employed…The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) was considered as the minimum concentration of the drug, which inhibited 80–100% of the fungal growth. The MICs of the ether extract of Nigella sativa and thymoquinone were between 10 and 40 and 0.125 and 0.25 mg/ml…These results denote the potentiality of Nigella sativa as a source for antidermatophyte drugs and support its use in folk medicine for the treatment of fungal skin infections.”

Case report of seroreversion in HIV

Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med.A case report published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines presents unexpected results in the treatment of HIV:

“Nigella sativa had been documented to possess many therapeutic functions in medicine but the least expected is sero-reversion in HIV infection which is very rare despite extensive therapy with highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). This case presentation is to highlight the complete recovery and sero-reversion of adult HIV patient after treatment with Nigella sativa concoction for the period of six months. The patient presented to the herbal therapist with history of chronic fever, diarrhoea, weight loss and multiple papular pruritic lesions of 3 months duration. Examination revealed moderate weight loss, and the laboratory tests of ELISA (Genscreen) and western blot (new blot 1 & 2) confirmed sero-positivity to HIV infection with pre-treatment viral (HIV-RNA) load and CD4 count of 27,000 copies/ml and CD4 count of 250 cells/ mm(3) respectively. The patient was commenced on Nigella sativa concoction 10 mls twice daily for 6 months. He was contacted daily to monitor side-effects and drug efficacy. Fever, diarrhoea and multiple pruritic lesions disappeared on 5th, 7th and 20th day respectively on Nigella sativa therapy. The CD4 count decreased to 160 cells/ mm3 despite significant reduction in viral load (≤1000 copies/ml) on 30th day on N. sativa. Repeated EIA and Western blot tests on 187th day on Nigella sativa therapy was sero-negative. The post therapy CD4 count was 650 cells/ mm(3) with undetectable viral (HIV-RNA) load. Several repeats of the HIV tests remained sero-negative, aviraemia and normal CD4 count since 24 months without herbal therapy. This case report reflects the fact that there are possible therapeutic agents in Nigella sativa that may effectively control HIV infection.

Improvement in semen quality

PhytomedicineAnother study published in Phytomedicine presents evidence from a double-blind, placebo-controlled that Nigella sativa improves abnormal semen quality in infertility:

“Since Nigella sativa L. seed (N. sativa) has many uses including infertility in traditional medicine, the effects of Nigella sativa L. seed oil on abnormal semen quality in infertile men with abnormal semen quality are of interest. This study was conducted on Iranian infertile men with inclusion criteria of abnormal sperm morphology less than 30% or sperm counts below 20×10(6)/ml or type A and B motility less than 25% and 50% respectively. The patients in N. sativa oil group (n=34) received 2.5mlN. sativa oil and placebo group (n=34) received 2.5ml liquid paraffin two times a day orally for 2 months. At baseline and after 2 months, the sperm count, motility and morphology and semen volume, pH and round cells as primary outcomes were determined in both groups. Results showed that sperm count, motility and morphology and semen volume, pH and round cells were improved significantly in N. sativa oil treated group compared with placebo group after 2 months. It is concluded that daily intake of 5ml N. sativa oil for two months improves abnormal semen quality in infertile men without any adverse effects.”

Is Nigella sativa safe?

Advanced Pharmaceutical BulletinA study investigating the potential for liver toxicity was reported last year in the journal Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin:

“The aim of this study was to determine the toxic effect of Nigella sativa powder on the liver function which was evaluated by measuring liver enzymes and through histopathological examination of liver tissue…Twenty four male Sprague Dawley rats were allotted randomly to four groups including: control (taking normal diet); low dose (supplemented with 0.01 g/kg/day Nigella sativa); normal dose (supplemented with 0.1 g/kg/day Nigella sativa) and high dose (supplemented with 1 g/kg/day Nigella sativa)…To assess liver toxicity, liver enzymes measurement and histological study were done at the end of supplementation…The study showed that supplementation of Nigella sativa up to the dose of 1 g/kg supplemented for a period of 28 days resulted no changes in liver enzymes level and did not cause any toxicity effect on the liver function

The authors stated this conclusion regarding human consumption of Nigella sativa:

“With the evidence of normal ALT and AST level in blood and normal liver tissue in histology examination for all treatment groups, it is suggested that there are no toxic effect on liver function of Nigella sativa at different doses for 4 weeks period. As a conclusion, popular consumption of Nigella sativa powder by human did not cause any toxicity effect on the liver function and safe to be consumed for many purposes.”

 Protection against alcohol-induced liver injury

Chinese Journal of Natural MedicinesNot only is Nigella sativa safe for the liver, but a study published in the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines provides data showing that it protects the liver against oxidative damage caused by alcohol:

Nigella sativa L. (Ranunculaceae) is considered as a therapeutic plant-based medicine for liver damage. In this study, the aim was to study the effect of Nigella sativa oil (NSO) pretreatment on ethanol-induced hepatotoxicity in rats…Rats were given Nigella sativa oil at doses of 2.5 and 5.0 mL·kg(-1), orally for 3 weeks, followed by oral ethanol (EtOH) administration (5 g·kg(-1)) every 12 h three times (binge model).”

Amazingly…

Binge ethanol application caused significant increases in plasma transaminase activities and hepatic triglyceride and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels. It decreased hepatic glutathione (GSH) levels, but did not change vitamins E and vitamin C levels and antioxidant enzyme activities. NSO (5.0 mL·kg(-1)) pretreatment significantly decreased plasma transaminase activities, hepatic MDA, and triglyceride levels together with amelioration in hepatic histopathological findings.”

Based on these findings the authors conclude:

“NSO pretreatment may be effective in protecting oxidative stress-induced hepatotoxicity after ethanol administration.”

Practical use of Nigella sativa

Nigella sativa seeds 3The foregoing sampling of studies from the scientific literature on Nigella sativa should not be construed as an endorsement for its use in any specific case or condition. It is a presentation of the extraordinary scope of action and clinical potential of an agent that I am finding valuable in practice. Colleagues who are interested in knowing the particular Nigella sativa whole seed extract that I am using are welcome to contact me. For the general reader, I caution against taking anything (especially something found on the internet) without having first discussed it with your knowledgeable health care practitioner who has the background and depth to advise on how this may fit into your treatment or health maintenance plan.

Is growth hormone a sound anti-aging therapy?

The marketing of human growth hormone (HGH) has only increased since this commentary was published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) several years ago:

“The distribution and marketing of human growth hormone (HGH or GH) via Web sites and antiaging clinics has grown into a multimillion-dollar antiaging industry. Despite congressional hearings warning of deceptive marketing claims and the potential health and economic dangers associated with the antiaging industry, and statements issued by the National Institute on Aging and the Federal Trade Commission, the distribution and use of GH for antiaging is now common. For example, entering the terms “HGH” and “anti-aging” into the Google search engine generated 3 410 000 hits as of September 26, 2005, many representing Web sites and clinics marketing and selling GH.”

Is the marketing of GH to people without an objective test demonstrating growth hormone deficiency a safe and effective practice? A number of studies indicate that using supraphysiological (abnormally high) levels of growth hormone as a ‘shortcut’ to improve body composition (lose fat) is neither necessary nor safe. A perspective published in The New England Journal of Medicine recalls the single study that launched the GH anti-aging industry:

“An article by Rudman et al. that appeared in the Journal in 1990 reported the effect on body composition of administering human growth hormone for six months to 12 older men. This article incited a proliferation of “antiaging” clinics and lay publications, such as “Grow Young with HGH,” extolling the benefits of growth hormone in reversing or preventing aging…First, it is necessary to recall exactly what the study…demonstrated. Twelve healthy men…received growth hormone for six months…The weekly dose of growth hormone was approximately twice as high as the dose used in adult men with a growth hormone deficiency…The administration of growth hormone in older men resulted in a 4.7-kg increase in lean body mass, a 3.5-kg decrease in adipose mass, and an increase of 0.02 g per square centimeter in lumbar-spine density; systolic blood pressure and the fasting glucose concentration increased significantly. The study was not double-blind (there was a control group consisting of nine men who received no treatment); there were no assessments of muscle strength, exercise endurance, or quality of life. This study is the basis for claims that growth hormone reverses aging…A recent…study…confirmed the effects of growth hormone on body composition; there was no change in muscle strength or maximal oxygen uptake during exercise in either group…”

Is this improvement in body composition, without any increase in strength or oxygen efficiency, anything that can’t be accomplished with simple lifestyle measures?

Not mentioned on the “antiaging” Web sites is a study of 18 healthy men, 65 to 82 years of age, who underwent progressive strength training for 14 weeks, followed by an additional 10 weeks of strength training plus either growth hormone or placebo. In that study, resistance exercise training increased muscle strength significantly; the addition of growth hormone did not result in any further improvement. Going to the gym is beneficial and certainly cheaper than growth hormone.”

But what about safety, especially the increased risk of developing cancer?

“In 152 healthy men, the relative risk of the subsequent development of prostate cancer was increased by a factor of 4.3 among men who had serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor I in the highest quartile, as compared with those whose concentrations were in the lowest quartile (Insulin-like growth factor I mediates the action of growth hormone, and its concentration reflects the circulating concentration of growth hormone).”

The author concludes by stating:

Studies that have followed the 1990 report by Rudman et al. confirm the effects of growth hormone on body composition but do not show improvement in function. In contrast, resistance training improves muscle strength and function, indicating that real effort is beneficial. There is no current “magic-bullet” medication that retards or reverses aging.”

Several years later a review of the matter was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors first note:

“Human growth hormone (GH) is widely used as an antiaging therapy, although its use for this purpose has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its distribution as an antiaging agent is illegal in the United States.”

Their data synthesis encompassed 31 papers and 18 study populations with an average treatment duration of 27 weeks. The picture that emerged from their data was very interesting:

“In participants treated with GH compared with those not treated with GH, overall fat mass decreased and overall lean body mass increased, and their weight did not change significantly. Total cholesterol levels decreased although not significantly after adjustment for body composition changes. Other outcomes, including bone density and other serum lipid levels, did not change. Persons treated with GH were significantly more likely to experience soft tissue edema, arthralgias, carpal tunnel syndrome, and gynecomastia [breast enlargement] and were somewhat more likely to experience the onset of diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting glucose.

The authors conclude:

“The literature published on randomized, controlled trials evaluating GH therapy in the healthy elderly is limited but suggests that it is associated with small changes in body composition and increased rates of adverse events. On the basis of this evidence, GH cannot be recommended as an antiaging therapy.”

The authors of the first paper cited above published in JAMA state in a subsequent reply that while there are legitimate therapeutic uses of GH:

“We are concerned that patients are led to believe that they have adult growth hormone deficiency (AGHD) and then are provided with GH inappropriately, when the clinical requirements for this diagnosis have not been met. The package inserts for GH state unambiguously that to make a diagnosis of AGHD that satisfies FDA criteria, both a specific pathology involving the anterior pituitary gland and a defined lack of a response to a stimulation test are required.”

We can also appreciate the paper published a year and a half ago in Clinical Interventions in Aging that undertakes an extensive and detailed review of the scientific evidence:

“Although advanced age or symptoms of aging are not among approved indications for growth hormone (GH) therapy, recombinant human GH (rhGH) and various GH-related products are aggressively promoted as anti-aging therapies. Well-controlled studies of the effects of rhGH treatment in endocrinologically normal elderly subjects report some improvements in body composition and a number of undesirable side effects in sharp contrast to major benefits of GH therapy in patients with [actual, as determined by tests] GH deficiency. Controversies surrounding the potential utility of GH in treatment of a geriatric patient are fueled by increasing evidence linking GH and cancer and by remarkably increased lifespan of GH-resistant and GH-deficient mice [lower GH = longer lifespan].”

Their massive accumulation of data led to this conclusion:

“We suggest that the normal, physiological functions of GH in promoting growth, sexual maturation and fecundity involve significant costs in terms of aging and life expectancy. Natural decline in GH levels during aging likely contributes to concomitant alterations in body composition and vigor but also may be offering important protection from cancer and other age-associated diseases.”

What data is there for the dangers of a supraphysiological increase in GH (as measured through IGF-I levels because direct GH measurement is not practical)? A study published 10 years ago in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute considers this in relation to colorectal cancers in women:

“Leading a Western lifestyle, being overweight, and being sedentary are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Recent theories propose that the effects of these risk factors may be mediated by increases in circulating insulin levels and in the bioactivity of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I.”

The authors investigated this association in a cohort of 14,275 women over a period of six years. What did the data show? Remember that GH works partly by increasing IGF-I.

Chronically high levels of circulating insulin and IGFs associated with a Western lifestyle may increase colorectal cancer risk, possibly by decreasing IGFBP-1 and increasing the bioactivity of IGF-I.”

Further evidence was reported in a paper published in the journal Cancer Research:

“It has been shown previously that slight elevations in serum levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) are correlated with an increased risk for developing prostate, breast, colon, and lung cancer. The aim of this study was to determine the role of serum IGF-I levels in the process of stimulating tumor growth and metastasis…”

When they compared injections of GH in ‘normal’ and GH-deficient mice to saline injections a disturbing picture emerged:

“Both control and LID mice treated with recombinant human IGF-I displayed significantly increased rates of tumor development on the cecum and metastasis to the liver, as compared with saline-injected mice. The number of metastatic nodules in the liver was significantly higher…vessel abundance in the cecum tumors was dependent on the levels of serum IGF-I. This study supports the hypothesis that circulating IGF-I levels play an important role in tumor development and metastasis.”

Another study published around the same time in The Lancet discusses similar concerns even for patients with documented GH deficiency:

“Despite these limitations, the high incidence of cancer, and in particular of colon cancer, is worrying. That growth hormone might increase the risk of colorectal cancer is plausible for several reasons. Growth hormone causes raised serum IGF-I and to a lesser extent IGF binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3), and consequently causes a raised ratio of IGF-I to IGFBP-3, with this ratio being greater as growth hormone concentrations increase. IGF-I receptors have been identified on human colorectal cells, mRNAs for IGF-I have been detected in colorectal tumours, IGF-I is a potent stimulator of colorectal-cancer-cell proliferation in vitro, and blockade of IGF-I receptors inhibits growth of human colorectal cancer cells.”

Note that their study cohort was young people (39% under 10 and 60% under 19 years of age) with proven GH deficiency. The risk of death from cancer overall was increased approximately 3-fold, from colorectal cancer and Hodgkin’s disease approximately 11-fold and incidence of colorectal cancer was increased approximately 8-fold.

“In conclusion, we found a significantly raised frequency of colon cancer mortality after growth hormone treatment which, although based on small numbers, is of concern because it concurs with raised risks found in patients with acromegaly and in individuals with previously increased concentrations of IGF-I…Our data…suggest the need for increased awareness of the possibility of cancer risks, and for surveillance of growth hormone-treated patients.”

A different group of researchers reported high levels of IGF-I receptors in human colon cancers in a study published in the journal Cancer:

High concentrations of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I and IGF-II have been demonstrated in human colonic adenocarcinomas and exert mitogenic effects through paracrine/autocrine interactions with the IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR).”

Their findings confirm the role of IGF-I (which mediates the effects of increases in GH) in human colon cancers:

“Our results demonstrate that, in addition to IGF-II, a strong overexpression of IGF-IR is found in the majority of colorectal carcinomas, supporting the hypothesis of an important role of the IGF system in the pathogenesis of colorectal carcinoma.”

More evidence of the link between ‘anti-aging therapy’ with GH and cancer appeared in a paper published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology:

“Our findings of increased tumor tissue IGF1R expression as compared with normal colon lends support to an etiologic role for the GH/IGF1 axis in the development and progression of colon cancer, as has been previously described…”

They present a case report of colorectal cancer after administration of GH for ‘anti-aging’ purposes:

“That it occurred in an individual already at increased risk for colon cancer underscores the need for further investigation of the pro-neoplastic [pro-cancer] potential of growth hormone supplementation for anti-aging.”

There is an important principle of functional endocrinology implicit here: it is mandatory that hormone replacement be used only to treat true deficiencies, administration must not exceed physiological levels, and it must be cautiously managed with pre and post testing to affirm safety and efficacy.

Immunepheresis: a vastly under-utilized cancer therapy that deserves far more attention

It has long been known that tumor cells defy destruction by immune cells by producing cytokine ‘decoys’ called soluble TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor-alpha) receptors. TNF-α is a ‘guidance system’ for the immune attack that seeks its receptors on malignant cell membranes. The soluble receptors (TNF-R) shed by tumor cells into their local environment divert the TNF-α by binding them. A paper published sixteen years ago in the British Journal of Cancer documents their presence in breast cancer:

“The expression of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and its two distinct receptors, TNF-R p55 and TNF-R p75 [soluble receptors], was…was not detectable in normal breast tissue or in non-malignant breast tissue adjacent to the tumours.”

It was a different story for the tumors examined:

“TNF-R p55 was expressed by a population of stromal cells in all the tumours examined, and a varying proportion of neoplastic cells in 75% of these tissues. TNF-R p75 was detected in about 70% of the tumours…”

It has been known for just as long that the presence of soluble tumour necrosis factor receptors can predict the outcome for a cancer patient. A paper published in The Lancet around the same time references a number of earlier studies on the topic.

A couple years later a similar observation was reported in a paper published in the European Journal of Cancer for melanoma. The authors note:

“It has been recently suggested that soluble tumour necrosis factor receptors (sTNF-Rs) may represent prognostic factors in cancer.”

They proceed to describe increased concentrations of soluble TNF receptors in association with adhesion molecules that also participate in tumor development:

“We report in this study the serum concentrations of sTNF-R1 and sTNF-R2 in 32 patients with primary melanoma and in 21 patients with metastatic melanoma, in correlation with those of soluble ICAM-1 (sICAM-1). Significantly raised sTNF-Rl levels were detected only in patients with metastatic melanoma compared with normal controls, whereas sTNF-R2 levels were increased both in primary and metastatic melanoma…A correlation between sTNF-Rs and sICAM-1 concentrations in patients’ sera was observed in metastatic melanoma. The combined adverse effects of these soluble proteins on normal immune effector functions may contribute to tumour progression.”

These observations were soon followed by research that further confirmed the blockade of anti-tumor immune mechanisms by soluble TNF receptors. A paper published in the journal Immunology also mentions early trials of ultrapheresis (another term for immunepheresis = filtering from the blood of soluble TNF receptor ‘decoys’):

Soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor type I (sTNFRI) is a potent inhibitor of TNF with the potential to suppress a variety of effector mechanisms important in tumour immunity. That sTNFRI influences tumour survival in vivo is suggested by results from human clinical trials of Ultrapheresis, an experimental extracorporeal treatment for cancer.”

The authors designed their study to resolve definitive proof that sTNFRI specifically blocks immune efforts at tumor removal (full text available here):

“While the considerable clinical benefit provided by Ultrapheresis is correlated with the removal of plasma sTNFRI, there is no direct evidence that sTNFRI inhibits immune mechanisms which mediate tumour cell elimination.”

Their findings proved that soluble TNF receptor (sTNFRI)-secreting tumor cells resisted destruction by TNF:

“These findings confirm the suggestion that sTNFRI inhibits immunological mechanisms important in tumour cell eradication, and further support a role for sTNFRI in tumour survival in vivo. In addition, these observations suggest the development of methods for more specific removal and/or inactivation of sTNFRI as promising new avenues for cancer immunotherapy.”

We have another interesting study published just weeks ago in the journal Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine that adds more evidence that soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor type I concentrations are a powerful predictor of outcome in breast cancer.

“The aim of this study was to exploit the potential clinical use of circulating cytokine assessment in patients with breast cancer.”

The authors surveyed cytokines in breast cancer patients including interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor-α (TNFα), interleukin 8 (IL-8), soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor type I (sTNF RI), sTNF RII, interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), interleukin 10 (IL-10), macrophage colony-stimulating factor, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF)and followed them for ten years. Their data led them to this conclusion:

“…a significant value of pretreatment serum sTNF RI concentrations, next to stage and oestrogen receptors status, was its utility as an independent prognostic factor of the overall survival in patients with breast cancer… Serum sTNF RI may be considered an additional, independent and clinically useful factor of poor prognosis in patients with breast cancer.”

In other words, the soluble TNF receptors, the worse the breast cancer patient will do. But what about other types of cancer? A research article published in the Journal of Surgical Oncology shows the link between serum cytokine receptor levels and bone sarcoma:

“We analyzed the correlations between pretreatment serum levels of 11 cytokines and soluble cytokine receptors (interleukin 6 (IL-6); interleukin 8 (IL-8); interleukin 10 (IL-10); vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF); basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF); macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF); granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF); interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra); sIL-2R; tumor necrosis factor receptor I (TNF RI), and TNF RII) with clinico-pathological features and survival of patients with bone sarcomas.”

They used multiple metrics to show the association between cytokines and soluble receptors and tumor characteristics along with overall outcome. Their data led to this conclusion:

“These findings indicate that cytokines and soluble cytokine receptors, both physiologically involved in bone destruction and bone formation, have an essential role in the progression of malignant bone tumors.”

A research article published in the journal Tumor Biology finds the same kind of evidence for colorectal cancer. While they found a correlation with a number of circulating cytokines, their summary observations are the most striking:

sTNF RI (soluble TNF receptor 1), IL-8, IL-6 and vascular endothelial growth factor measurements demonstrated the highest diagnostic sensitivity. sTNF RI was found elevated in the greatest percentage of all CRC [colorectal cancer] patients, in the greatest proportion of stage I patients and presented the best diagnostic sensitivity. In addition, the sTNF RI level strongly correlated with tumor grade and invasion and proved to be an independent prognostic factor.”

And another paper published in the same journal concludes with concordant evidence for solid carcinomas in general:

“…for the soluble tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptors type I (p55) and type II (p75) and IL·2 receptor we determined their levels in the plasma of 378 patients with various solid carcinomas, 56 patients with benign tumors, and 241 healthy controls. The plasma concentrations of both TNF receptors as well as the IL-2 receptor were significantly higher in the cancer patients than in the healthy controls, independent of the origin or histology of the tumor. The incidence and the extent of the receptor increase correlated with the extent of the disease. In the patients with benign tumors plasma levels of TNF receptor p75 and IL·2 receptor were not significantly different from the controls.”

A study published around the same time in the journal Oncology makes the same case for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) as well, with an interesting comparison to the standard markers:

“…increases in IL-6, IL-8 and sTNF RI were noted in the greatest proportion of stage I patients. Most cytokine/cytokine receptor levels revealed higher sensitivity than the standard tumor markers…A significant prognostic value of pretreatment serum M-CSF and CEA levels in NSCLC patients has been shown, but only M-CSF proved to be an independent prognostic factor.”

We also have the evidence from a study published in the journal Cellular Immunology in which the authors blocked the decoy effect of soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor type I (sTNFRI)receptors with neutralizing antibodies and observed the effect. Their data led to this conclusion:

“These data demonstrate that sTNFRI directly influences tumor formation and persistence in vivo and suggest the selective removal and/or inactivation of sTNFRI as a promising new avenue for cancer immunotherapy.”

Obviously an intervention that gets rid of the ‘decoy’ receptors so the immune system can effectively attack the tumor makes excellent sense. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) we have early evidence that the soluble tumor necrosis factor receptors can be filtered out of the blood of human cancer patients:

Serum ultrafiltrates (SUF) from human patients with different types of cancer contain a blocking factor (BF) that inhibits the cytolytic activity of human tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) in vitro.”

The investigators proceeded to show that the blocking factor is derived from malignant cell membrane TNF receptors. They further observed that:

“Purified BF blocks the lytic [malignant cell destroying] activity of recombinant human and mouse TNF-alpha…The BF also inhibits the necrotizing activity of recombinant human TNF-alpha… The BF may have an important role in…interaction between the tumor and the host antitumor mechanisms…”

A paper published in 2002 by a leader in the field of immunepheresis in the journal Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis documents the emerging insights and outstanding outcomes with cancer patients that were already being accomplished:

Immunosuppression is a hallmark of advanced malignancies in man. Over the past 40 years, many investigators have identified soluble immunosuppressive factors in blood, serum, ascitic fluid, and pleural fluid from cancers in man and other species. Suppressive factors have also been identified that are produced by tumors.”

The author also draws attention to the similarity of immunologic tolerance in cancer and pregnancy (which has also been referred to as the ‘trophoblastic theory‘):

“The description of immunosuppressive factors in the blood of vertebrates who either have cancer or who are pregnant is significant, for only in pregnancy and cancer does a seemingly normal immune system tolerate immunogenic neoantigen. Tumor necrosis factors (TNFs) are …thought to be suppressed in patients who have cancer or who are pregnant. Recently, elevated blood levels of soluble tumor necrosis factor receptors (sTNFRs) have been reported in the blood in a variety of cancers and pregnancy.”

He notes that much evidence has accumulated validating the connection between elevations of sTNFRs and a poor prognosis:

“In 1990, after our initial publication of the discovery of sTNFRs in the serum and low molecular weight ultrafiltrates of serum from a variety of cancer patients, others confirmed significant elevations of sTNFRs in cancer patients. This elevation was found to correlate with a poor prognosis.”

The author then reviews the suppressive role of soluble receptors shed from tumor cells and the positive effects of ultrapheresisfiltering the blood to remove reduce these suppressive molecules. A few years a ago a paper published in the same journal reported advances in the filtering technology:

“Using these methods, an improvement in performance status and clinical symptoms and reduction of tumor size have been observed.”

Two years ago further advances and positive clinical outcomes were reported in Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis in a paper presented by the same pioneer mentioned above:

“Mean reductions in sTNF-R1 (48%), sTNF-R2 (55%), and sIL2-R levels (72%) were observed … Clinical findings indicated tumor inflammation and necrosis in most patients. Side-effects were low-grade fever, flu-like symptoms; tumor pain and redness, warmth, tenderness, and edema. The column demonstrated safety and efficacy in lowering plasma sTNF-R1, sTNF-R2, and sIL2-R levels.”

Personally I know of patients who have undergone this procedure who have had outstanding outcomes characterized by dramatic reductions in tumor mass.

Is this a safe treatment? A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Apheresis reports that, in contrast with chemotherapy, short term side-effects of immune activation were only mild-moderate, and there were no long-term side-effects at all:

“The most common side effects observed among 1,306 treatments were chills (28% of treatments), low grade fever (28%), and musculoskeletal pain (16%). Side effects were mild to moderate and required no treatment or only symptomatic treatment…Of 64 patients available for long-term follow-up evaluation (mean of 11 months), none exhibited evidence of long-term treatment-related side effects.”

Immunepheresis (therapeutic apheresis, ultrapheresis) is worthy of far more research resources and clinical utilization. For more information see the International Immunology Foundation. Treatment is available for suitable candidates from M. Rigdon Lentz, M.D. (an American oncologist and immunepheresis pioneer) and Kiran Lentz, M.D. at their clinic in Prien am Chiemsee, Bavaria, Germany. As usual, the papers presented above are a small selection from a much larger body of literature. A 170 page report by Dr. Ralph Moss of Cancer Decisions on the work of Dr. Lentz is available here.

Note: Removal of soluble receptor blockade to permit immune destruction of malignant cells is an elegant physiological intervention to reduce tumor burden. Practitioners and patients alike must also bear in mind the need to investigate and treat from a functional medicine perspective the underlying causal factors that develop malignancies in the first place and promote their recurrence.

These findings confirm the suggestion that sTNFRI inhibits immunological mechanisms important in tumour cell eradication, and further support a role for sTNFRI in tumour survival in vivo. In addition, these observations suggest the development of methods for more specific removal and/or inactivation of sTNFRI as promising new avenues for cancer immunotherapy.

Sesamin, a cancer chemopreventative

Molecular Cancer ResearchAs the authors of this paper published last month in Molecular Cancer Research state:

“Agents that are safe, affordable, and efficacious are urgently needed for the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer.”

They establish their rationale for investigating the sesame seed lignan called sesamin as a cancer chemopreventative:

“Sesamin…has been linked with prevention of hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and carcinogenesis through an unknown mechanism. Because the transcription factor NF-κB has been associated with inflammation, carcinogenesis, tumor cell survival, proliferation, invasion, and angiogenesis of cancer, we postulated that sesamin might mediate its effect through the modulation of the NF-κB pathway.”

They found in fact that sesamin packs quite a punch:

“…sesamin inhibited the proliferation of a wide variety of tumor cells including leukemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, pancreas, and lung. Sesamin also potentiated tumor necrosis factor-α–induced apoptosis and this correlated with the suppression of gene products linked to cell survival, proliferation, inflammation (e.g., cyclooxygenase-2), invasion (e.g., matrix metalloproteinase-9, intercellular adhesion molecule 1), and angiogenesis (e.g., vascular endothelial growth factor). Sesamin downregulated constitutive and inducible NF-κB activation induced by various inflammatory stimuli and carcinogens…”

Those of you who may be pursuing immunopheresis for cancer (filtering TNF-α soluble receptors that barricade tumors from the immune system’s attack) may very well wish to include sesamin in your protocol since it enhances cytotoxic TNF-α activity. Interestingly, sesamin is included in some of our omega-3 fatty acid formulae for brain support as an evidence-based agent for reducing brain inflammation. So the authors’ conclusion is a welcome one:

“Overall, our results showed that sesamin may have potential against cancer and other chronic diseases through the suppression of a pathway linked to the NF-κB signaling.”