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Effect of Nigella sativa fixed and essential oils on antioxidant status, hepatic enzymes, and immunity in streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus
© Sultan et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 2 December 2013
Accepted: 21 May 2014
Published: 17 June 2014
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. Parameters investigated were antioxidant potential, oxidative stress, and the immunity by in vivo experiments.
The results indicated that STZ decreased the glutathione contents (25.72%), while NSFO and NSEO increased the trait significantly (P < 0.05). Experimental diets increased the tocopherol contents (P < 0.01) and enhanced the expression of hepatic enzymes (P < 0.01). Correlation matrix further indicated that antioxidant potential is positively associated (P < 0.05) responsible for the modulation of hepatic enzymes and the decrease of the nitric oxide production thus controlling the diabetes complications.
Overall, results of present study supported the traditional use of N. sativa and its derived products as a treatment for hyperglycemia and allied abnormalities. Moreover, N. sativa fixed and essential oils significantly ameliorate free radicals and improve antioxidant capacity thus reducing the risk of diabetic complications.
Diabetes mellitus is a matter of great concern for the medical and allied stakeholders. According to an estimate, at the end of year 2030, approximately 376 million peoples will be the victims of diabetes mellitus . The hyperglycemia, decreased insulin production/insulin sensitivity along with some lifestyle related problems including poor dietary habits, and hypertensions are major causes of diabetes mellitus and its complications . Diabetes mellitus is associated with enhanced production of free radicals that further complicate the situation resulting in oxidative stress, cardiovascular disorders, renal failure, neurodegeneration, and immune dysfunction .
In diabetes mellitus, the human defence system responds slowly and the production of free radical tends to increase due the decreased scavenging abilities of the body [4, 5]. Diabetes induced oxidative stress needs to manage properly in clinical practices. In order to regulate free radical production, nature bestowed humans with complex defence mechanism comprising of different organ, enzymes, chemicals, and mediators. The system is effective in scavenging free radicals but diabetes mellitus can result in imbalance that can lead to DNA damage, myocardial infraction, LDL oxidation, and inflammation . The nutritional status of diet has significant impact on defence system of the body but deficiency of certain antioxidants/nutrients enhances the complications. Consumption of antioxidant rich foods may improve antioxidant defence mechanism and provide protection against oxidative damage caused by free radicals .
Many traditional plants products are in use since long due to their therapeutic potential e.g. garlic, green tea, ginger etc., and several avenues are yet to be explored . Nigella sativa L. belongs to family Ranunculaceae and its different parts of plant are in use for medicinal purposes to cure various maladies . The available literature reports the plant for its antioxidant activity due to presence of bioactive molecules that are mainly concentrated in fixed or essential oil including tocopherols, phytosterols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, thymoquinone, ρ-cymene, carvacrol, t-anethole and 4-terpineol . N. sativa has been utilized in some traditional medicines due to its hypothetical perceived antidiabetic properties. Some research studies have enumerated its ability to ameliorate oxidative stress and nephrotoxicity . Some other studies also reported its insulinotropic properties and ability to maintain β-cells integrity along with effectiveness in lowering cholesterol and drug toxicity . N. sativa normalizes the level of hepatic enzymes in normal rat, e.g. γ-glutamyl transpeptidase, xanthine oxidase, blood urea nitrogen, serum creatinine and extent of lipid peroxidation [12, 13]. However, the effects of N. sativa on oxidative stress in diabetes mellitus need further clarification.
For the purpose, present research explored the role of N. sativa fixed and essential oil against diabetes induced oxidative stress. The antioxidant status was determined by measuring the serum tocopherol and glutathione contents. Moreover, by using liver tissue homogenate, the level of hepatic enzymes were assayed e.g. sodium dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione reductase (GR), superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and catalase (CAT), and myeloperoxidase (MPO). The impact of supplementation of NSFO and NSEO on nitric oxide and xanthine oxidase was also assessed. Multiple correlations, interdependence of these parameters on each were also reported.
Collection of Nigella sativa and extraction of fixed and essential oils
The Barani Agricultural Research Institute, Chakwal, Pakistan provided us with N. sativa seeds (Voucher/Specimen No. Chk.Pk-926). Chemical Reagents (analytical & HPLC grade) and standards were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich Tokyo, Japan and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad, Pakistan provided infectious free Sprague Dawley rats for the research purpose as per instructions of “Animal Care Committee, NIFSAT-Faisalabad Pakistan”. The seeds of N. sativa were slurred with hexane (in the ratio of 1:6 using a Soxhlet apparatus and later solvent was removed using rotary evaporator) to extract the fixed oil. N. sativa essential oil was extracted using locally assembled hydro-distillation apparatus.
Housing of rats
Diet plan used in the study
D1: (Control/placebo diet)
D2: (4.0% fixed oil)
D3: (0.3% Essential oil)
Glutathione contents were determined following the protocols described by Beutler . The product of GSH + DTNB in the protein free supernatant was measured using spectrophotometer at 412 nm (expressed as nmol/mg protein). Level of serum α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol were also measured following the procedures described by Xu and Godber  through HPLC. Briefly, the oil samples were slurred in hexane in the first step until dissolved completely. A normal phase HPLC column (250 mm × 4.6 mm, 5.0 μm particle size) and mobile phase consisting of isooctane/ethyl acetate (96:4 v/v) was used for the purpose. Total run time and flow rate were 30 min and 1.0 mL/min, respectively. The detector was set at 290 nm excitation wavelength and 400 nm emission wavelengths. The column temperature was 35°C. Similarly, the individual standards of isomers of tocopherols were run using the same pattern and curves were obtained and used for calibration in order to determine the amounts of tocopherols in N. sativa fixed oil.
Hepatic antioxidant enzymes assays
The estimation of superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity requires measuring the ability of enzyme to inhibit cytochrome ‘c’ oxidation  and activity was expressed in IU/mg protein. The decomposition of hydrogen peroxide was measurement of by-products was mainly used for the estimation of catalase (CAT) activity and the units remained the same as IU/mg protein and one IU was equivalent to one μmol H2O2 consumed per mg protein per minute . Glutathione transferase (GST) action was measure using the commercial kits provided by Bioassay Internationals. The reaction include the rate of formation of conjugate between GSH and 1-chloro-2,4- dinitrobenzene  and measurement unit used IU/ mg protein. One IU is equivalent to one μmol of conjugate formed/min/mg protein. Glutathione peroxidase (GPX) activity was estimated using tertiary butyl hydroperoxide (tbHP) as substrate  and the activity was expressed in IU/mg protein and one IU equivalent to one nmol of NADPH oxidized/mg protein in one minutes. Glutathione reductase (GR) activity was assayed by following the oxidation of NADPH. Glutathione reductase (GR) activity was assayed at 37°C and 340 nm by following the oxidation of NADPH. Hepatic enzymes like GST, GPx and GR was determined as described by Paglia and Valentine .
Myeloperoxidase and xanthine oxidase activity
Using spectrophotometer, we estimated the activity of tissue associated myeloperoxidase (MPO) following the procedures laid down by Hillegas et al.. For the purpose, a single unit of enzyme activity (IU/mg of proteins) was defined as the amount of the MPO present that caused a change in absorbance measured at 460 nm during the reaction time of three minutes. The xanthine oxidase was measured using the using diagnostic kits from Cayman Chemicals according following the procedures mentioned by Marcocci et al..
Statistical package i.e. Cohort V-6.1 (Co-Stat Statistical Software, 2003) was used for data analysis. The values presented in Tables are means ± standard deviation. The technique of analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied to check the level of significance. The source of variations (SOV) were diets (factor A), intervals (factor B) and their interaction (A × B). Duncan’s multiple range test (DMRt) further clarified the effects of diets in a comprehensive manner.
The process of oxidation is an integral part of energy yielding metabolism. However, the same process is responsible for the production of free radicals/reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can be destructive for human health . In some pathological states like diabetes mellitus, the onset of oxidative stress is very common , and it need to be mediated through integrated approach of boosting natural defence through natural antioxidant . In the present research, we observed the protective effects of N. sativa fixed and essential oil against oxidative stress with special reference to antioxidant status and hepatic enzymes along with their role as enhancing the immunity.
Indices of antioxidant status
Hepatic antioxidant enzymes
Effects of N. sativa fixed and essential oil on sodium dismutase & catalase in diabetic rats
Study intervals (Days)
SOD (IU/mg protein)
18.64 ± 1.076c
19.65 ± 0.637b
22.43 ± 1.137a
17.27 ± 0.722de
18.92 ± 0.636c
16.90 ± 0.744e
18.11 ± 0.690 cd
13.65 ± 0.665f
12.71 ± 0.564f
Catalase (IU/mg protein)
8.57 ± 0.326d
9.99 ± 0.486b
12.71 ± 0.564a
9.59 ± 0.401b
9.20 ± 0.309c
8.49 ± 0.374d
8.63 ± 0.498d
8.62 ± 0.279d
7.94 ± 0.403e
Effects of N. sativa fixed and essential oil on hepatic antioxidants enzymes in diabetic rats
Study intervals (Days)
Glutathione peroxidase (IU/mg protein)
65.68 ± 3.790d
62.50 ± 2.025de
58.81 ± 2.981e
62.50 ± 2.615de
72.20 ± 2.427c
78.70 ± 3.466b
62.86 ± 2.394d
77.75 ± 3.785b
96.96 ± 4.304a
Glutathione reductase (IU/mg protein)
16.28 ± 0.939d
15.53 ± 0.503de
14.60 ± 0.740e
15.53 ± 0.649de
18.33 ± 0.616c
23.80 ± 1.048b
15.60 ± 0.594de
24.35 ± 1.185b
29.36 ± 1.303a
Glutathione transferase (IU/mg protein)
0.75 ± 0.043d
0.74 ± 0.024d
0.65 ± 0.033e
0.74 ± 0.031d
0.84 ± 0.028c
0.95 ± 0.042b
0.73 ± 0.028d
0.80 ± 0.039c
1.03 ± 0.046a
Effects of N. sativa fixed and essential oil on indices of immune system in diabetic rats
Study intervals (Days)
Xanthine oxidase (IU/mg protein)
26.13 ± 1.51c
29.82 ± 0.97b
32.13 ± 1.63a
29.03 ± 1.21b
28.28 ± 0.95bc
25.10 ± 1.11d
29.45 ± 1.12b
26.33 ± 1.28 cd
19.33 ± 0.86e
Myeloperoxidase (IU/mg protein)
15.66 ± 0.904c
17.34 ± 0.562b
20.65 ± 1.047a
16.09 ± 0.673c
13.53 ± 0.455d
13.28 ± 0.585d
16.08 ± 0.612c
12.42 ± 0.605e
10.85 ± 0.482f
Nitric oxide (nmol/dL )
23.42 ± 1.35d
25.98 ± 0.84b
27.13 ± 1.38a
23.47 ± 0.98c
21.58 ± 0.73d
21.22 ± 0.93d
24.79 ± 0.94bc
21.21 ± 1.03d
17.43 ± 0.77e
Correlation matrix of some important parameters in diabetic rats
The correlation matrix clearly showed that most of these parameters linked with a chain of variables, but indices of antioxidant status (P < 0.05) are linked with MPO, xanthine oxidase, and nitric oxide (P < 0.01). The lower antioxidant status is linked with higher immune responses and vice-versa that in turn affect negatively the hepatic enzyme production.
Diabetes mellitus is associated with production of free radicals that impart some unfavorable changes in the body metabolism. Resultantly, these changes are important in determining the complications. Streptozotocin (STZ) has shown in some previous research studies to produce oxygen free radicals by stimulating H2O2 generation in pancreatic β-cells that can damage the β-cell membranes and results in depletion of intracellular nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), thus leading to onset and progression of diabetes mellitus . The increased free radical production results in diabetes complications including cardiac hypertrophy, myocardial infractions, liver and kidney damage, and indeed neurodegenerative disorders . Most of these complications are due to excessive free radical production and immuno-suppression. In the present research, we attempted to address the complications associated with diabetes mellitus with special reference to the free radical production using N. Sativa fixed and essential oils. In this research, we induced diabetes mellitus in Sprague Dawley rats using streptozotocin (STZ) and assessed the effectiveness of N. sativa fixed and essential oils in 8 weeks trails in reducing oxidative damage, improving antioxidant potential, modulation of hepatic enzymes, and boosting immunity. The results of the present exploration indicated that production of free radicals increased. STZ results in depletion of antioxidant system in both blood and tissues and promotes the generation of free radicals . N. sativa essential oil owing to its antioxidant potential is useful in controlling the diabetic complications in experimental diabetic rats . Glutathione provides protection in oxidative injury by participating in the cellular defense system against oxidative damage. In our experiments, glutathione contents decreased by 25.72% in control group while increased by 3.86 and 20.83% in N. sativa fixed and essential oils groups, respectively. The enhanced activities of glutathione were negatively associated with blood glucose showing that improved antioxidant defense system protects body from deleterious effects of diabetes mellitus . Oxidative stress enhanced the production of highly reactive oxygen radicals that are toxic to cells, particularly the cell membrane in which these radicals interact with the lipid bi-layer and produce lipid peroxides. However, endogenous antioxidant enzymes (e.g. SOD, CAT, and GSH-Px) are responsible for the detoxification of deleterious oxygen radicals . The Hepatic SOD activity was significantly higher in STZ-induced diabetic rats compared to the control rats. Similar changes were also recorded for CAT activity in diabetes groups, whereas GSH-Px activity was markedly decreased in diabetic rats compared to the normal rats. Recently, Huang and coworkers  also explicated that oxidative stress results in decreased activities of hepatic enzymes in diabetes mellitus; subsequently yielding deleterious effects on body metabolism and homeostasis. The hyperglycemia results in decreased activities of liver enzymes as reported by Lapshina et al. . The findings were in agreement with present results as activities of hepatic enzymes were decreased in control group . Use of N. sativa fixed and essential oils resulted in marked increase in the activities of liver enzymes. These results agree with data reported in literature [12, 30].
Many researchers designed studies to elucidate the role of N. sativa fixed and essential oils for management of diabetes and presented various hypotheses for its hypoglycemic perspectives. In this regard, Kanter et al. observed insulinotropic and antidiabetic effects of N. sativa and thymoquinone at a dose of 400 and 50 mg/kg body weight/day, respectively. Earlier, Meral et al.  observed lower glucose (194.41 mg/dl) in diabetic rats treated with N. sativa as compared to control (340.43 mg/dl). Subsequently, Kanter,  also suggested that N. sativa essential oil at a dose of 0.2 ml/kg/day intraperitoneously exerts therapeutic effect in diabetes by decreasing oxidative stress and preserving pancreatic β-cell integrity.
Nitric oxide is an indicator of reactive nitrogen species. In the present study, N. sativa fixed and essential oils modulated this parameter positively. However, its expression was in negative association with some hepatic enzymes. Previously, El-Mahmoudy et al. found that N. sativa fixed oil suppressed the nitric oxide production. In this regard, the anti-inflammatory potentials of thymoquinone and nigellone, components of N. sativa essential oil, are of considerable importance as they act immune boosters. In earlier study by the same authors, N. sativa suppressed KBrO3 mediated renal oxidative stress, and multiple organ toxicity . Overall, results of present study further supported the traditional use of N. sativa and its derived products as a treatment for hyperglycemia and related abnormalities. Moreover, N. sativa fixed and essential oils significantly ameliorate free radicals and improve antioxidant capacity thus reducing the risk of diabetic complications.
Results of present study supported the traditional use of N. sativa fixed and essential oils significantly ameliorate free radicals and improve antioxidant status through modulation of hepatic enzyme expression and boosting immunity in animal models.
The present research was conducted following the instructions of “Animal Care Committee, NIFSAT-Faisalabad Pakistan” and research plan was submitted to National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad for further approval of research. They modified and approved the study after deliberate discussion and provided infectious free Sprague dawley rats as per requirements of modified proposed research. Thus, undertaken study does not violate the ethical and moral values for designing studies that would be used for planning further experimentation in human.
Authors are thankful to Higher Education Commission of Pakistan for providing funding for his research and Dr. Hang Xiao (Assistant Professor), Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA for his support.
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