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How This Supplement Supports Immunity and Respiratory Function for Athletes

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I never thought much about my lungs, their performance, or how they impacted my athletic activities and climbing adventures, until one day everything changed. 

During a backcountry ski race in the remote wilderness of the Elk Mountains in Colorado, I got frostbite in my lungs, which has ultimately resulted in long-term lung damage and exercise-induced asthma. Since then, I’ve experienced firsthand just how frustrating it can be when your respiration impacts performance: whether that is hiking to a crag, cross training for climbing with cardio, or simply “hacking up a lung” and sounding like a 40-year-old-smoker after a long day of activity.

It is estimated that at least 15%-25% of athletes suffer from asthma, including exercise-induced asthma, and many athletes struggle and yet continue to be undiagnosed. Exercise-induced asthma is one of the most common medical problems amongst winter Olympic athletes, where nearly 50% of these athletes struggle with this condition. Many activities place a high physical demand on respiratory function, and seeing as our airways are one of our main blockades to foregin particles, bacteria, and viruses, respiratory health is closely tied to both overall immune health and athletic performance.

Enter: Black Seed Oil

As a nutritionist, I discovered black seed oil when I completely immersed myself in research, looking for holistic tools that supported lung tissue and respiratory health. I began taking black seed oil immediately, first as the oil, then switching to capsules. I continue to be blown away as I uncover other incredible applications for this oil. 

Black seed oil (Nigella Sativa) has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. It has a strong religious significance, as it is mentioned in the book of Islam and Christianity, but is also referenced throughout ancient medical texts for its use for a number of diseases including asthma, fever, bronchitis, cough, chest congesiton, dizziness, chronic headache, back pain, and inflammation. The nutritional profile of black seed oil makes it a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Packed with a wide variety of nutrients—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and other constituents—N.Sativa can support a healthy body in a number of ways. The active constituents found in black seed oil, such as thymoquinone, fatty acids, alkaloids, tocopherols (vitamin E), vitamins (carotene, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, folate), and minerals (iron, calcium, zinc, copper, phosphorous), support many mechanisms in the body, including free radical scavenging activity (activity that promotes cellular healthy), digestive support, immune function, inflammation modulation, histamine (allergen response) balance, and skin health

One particular constituent of interest, thymoquinone (TQ), has a powerful antioxidant effect by preserving numerous antioxidant enzymes, and also acts as a free radical scavenger. TQ is one of the main constituents in the volatile oil of N. sativa, and it supports a healthy bacterial, microbial, viral, and fungal balance in the body. TQ has also been shown to support inflammation modulation, a robust immune system, respiratory health, cellular health, brain health, skin health, vascular health, and more. 

A Breath of Fresh Air 

Black seed oil has traditional uses for a number of respiratory conditions, from asthma and bronchitis, to congestion, cough, and other symptoms associated with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). The nutrient content of N. Sativa helps to support inflammation modulation within the airways, a healthy mucosal membrane in the lungs and respiratory tract, and a balanced histamine (allergen protection) production (for more information on histamine and asthma, check out my previous article on Seasonal Allergies). 

A recent randomized controlled double blind clinical study published in 2020, studying the therapeutic effects of black seed oil on COPD patients, showed that supplementing with black seed oil may be an effective therapy to improve lung function, inflammation, and oxidant-antioxidant balance within the respiratory tract. In this study, participants were supplemented with 1 gram of black seed oil twice daily for three months. This study also showed a significant increase in glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E levels in the body—antioxidants that further support both respiratory health and immune function).

A Body’s Great Defender

As previously mentioned, our lungs serve as a barrier to the outside world and foreign invaders, therefore lung health and immune health go hand-in-hand. However, there are some specific characteristics of black seed oil that make it a notable defender. One attribute in particular—TQ—is regarded as the most relevant component in terms of immune support against viral invaders. As the world continues to struggle with the lasting impact of the coronavirus, numerous recent studies have been done on black seed oil as a potential therapy. 

In a recent scientific review published in May 2021, titled Thymoquinone: A Promising Natural Compound with Potential Benefits for COVID-19 Prevention and Cure, scientific studies show that thymoquinone possess immunomodulatory and anti-coagulative effects. What this means is that TQ helps our immune system to not overreact or underreact, but instead respond appropriately. TQ also helps to keep blood from clotting, which is one of the many characteristics of this nasty virus. Research also shows that TQ increases cytokine suppressors, lymphocytes, natural killer cells, macrophages, and other important immune cells. Basically, thymoquinone helps our immune system CRUSH.

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Although a traditional remedy, black seed oil supplementation can be easily incorporated into a modern routine. One of my favorite brands for black seed oil is Heritage, and you can take it as an oil (1 Tablespoon up to 2 times daily with food) or as capsules. You can also use black seed oil topically for skin health, as it can be assimilated into your favorite skin care products or DIY skincare recipes. 

I certainly have noticed that my lungs have become stronger and more resilient when I put them to the test; whether that is crushing an uphill on my mountain bike, ski touring in the cold mountain air, or hiking up to the stellar desert crags, I am much less reliant on my inhaler. Although my lungs are not as efficient as they used to be, I have made notable improvements the last couple of years, and continue to see my lungs developing strength. I whole-heartedly attribute my personal progress not only to a balanced diet and lifestyle, but also to supplementing with key “powerhouses,” such as black seed oil. 

Whether you use an inhaler on every hike up to the crag, often feel short-winded during activities, suffer from poor immunity and frequent colds, or are simply looking for an all-encompassing tool to support your health, performance, and athletic recovery, black seed oil is an incredible gift and can support an active lifestyle in many ways!

For questions or individualized support, feel free to reach out to: emily.ipsen@mynourishedroots.com Disclaimer: the above information is not intended to treat, diagnose, or mitigate disease in any way. I am not a medical doctor, but a Nutritional Therapist. Certain foods and nutrients may interact with prescription medications. Please consult your physician before integrating new products.