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What Is Thymoquinone?

Nigella sativa, from which thymoquinone is derived.
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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2014
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Thymoquinone is a compound derived from the black seeds of a Middle Eastern flower called Nigella sativa. Also known as fennel flower, black caraway or Roman coriander, this plant has been used for more than 2,000 years as a medicinal herb to fight disease and boost immunity. At the beginning of the 21st century, science has accumulated sufficient proof that thymoquinone has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties.

The oil extract of fennel flower contains not just thymoquinone but several so-called phytochemicals suspected of being angiogenesis inhibitors, suspected of suspending and even reversing cancerous tissue. In addition to thymoquinone, the oil also contains dithymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, Omega fatty acids and thymol — all reputed to have regenerative qualities that are commonly as used in chemotherapy treatments as well as to fight infection and ease the pain of arthritis. This oil is an established and well-rounded remedy in the Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese herbalist traditions.

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Several studies have verified the beneficial properties of thymoquinone, particularly regarding its ability to thwart cancer cells in the pancreas, prostate and colon. These cancers tend to include inflammation, which thymoquinone has been proven especially adept at squashing. A 2009 study by the Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, determined that this compound can not only kill pancreatic cancer cells but also keep them from developing in the first place. This compound kept both cancer-causing histone deacetylases and several inflammation-causing cytokines from appearing — even more effectively than another proven plant-based phytochemical called trichostatin A.

What pushes this compound past trichostatin A in effectiveness appears to be its ability to supersede a genetic propensity some people have for developing certain cancers. This transcription factor, called NF-kappaB, is typically present when pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, but not when thymoquinone is also present. Though this is perhaps the most life-saving news in recent decades, the compound has also been proven to reduce the effects of asthma and allergic reactions, provide antioxidant support, and potentially even reduce hypertension and cholesterol.

Several other types of phytochemicals could be included in a cancer patient's chemotherapy treatment. These may also be recommended by health professionals to fight diabetes, heart disease and other degenerative disorders. Most of these phytochemicals — from the well-known antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids to the lesser-understood isothiocyanates, polyphenols and catechins — are readily available in grains, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. Some turn to supplements to ensure a diverse and plentiful army of phytochemicals is regularly being ingested.

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