Nigella sativa (N. sativa) seed has been an important nutritional flavoring agent and natural remedy for many ailments for centuries in ancient systems of medicine, e.g. Unani, Ayurveda, Chinese and Arabic Medicines. Many active components have been isolated from N. sativa, including thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, dithymoquinone, thymol, carvacrol, nigellimine-N-oxide, nigellicine, nigellidine and alpha-hederin. In addition, 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. Only a few authors have reviewed the medicinal properties of N. sativa and given some description of the 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. We hope this review will encourage interested researchers to conduct further preclinical and clinical studies to evaluate the anticancer activities of N. sativa, its active constituents and their derivatives.
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