When creating your Halloween pumpkin masterpiece, save the seeds to roast and eat as a healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds health benefits include reducing hair thinning, reducing menopause symptoms in women, prostate symptoms in men, and overactive bladder problems in both.
Pumpkin seeds nutritional benefits
Pumpkin seeds are available as green kernels, or as whole seeds with their hulls still intact. Pumpkin seed kernels are an excellent source of protein (58% by weight) and healthy oils (29% by weight) of which most are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of minerals and trace elements, especially potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, chromium, molybdenum, copper and manganese, plus some calcium and iron.
Pumpkin seeds contain vitamin E and antioxidant polyphenols, mostly in the form of lignans. Lignans are plant hormones which have a weak, oestrogen-like action and are able to block the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, which is associated with male and female hair thinning, and with prostate enlargement.
Pumpkin seeds also contain specific delta-7-sterols which have beneficial effects on the prostate gland.
Pumpkin seeds for hair loss
Pumpkin seed oil has an ability to inhibit the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone to the stronger dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This conversion to DHT occurs in hair follicles and is associated with increased oil production, acne and both male and female-pattern hair loss.
Small pilot studies suggest that lignan supplements may help to improve hair loss after one to two months, as well as decreasing scalp oiliness. While the richest dietary source of lignans is flax seeds (which must be ground before eating to boost lignan absorption), pumpkin seeds are easier to add to the diet.
Pumpkin seed oil is also added to hair products to moisturise and protect hair proteins, hydrate a dry scalp, and to inhibit the formation of DHT within hair follicles. You can also add a drop of neat pumpkin seed oil to your hair, with your conditioner, for added lustre and shine.
Pumpkin seeds and diabetes
Pumpkin seeds (and pumpkin flesh) are used to lower blood glucose levels in Chinese medicine, and in Indian, South American and African healing traditions.
Researchers have found that pumpkin pectin fibre slows glucose absorption from the intestines. Pumpkin seeds and flesh also contain globulins and protein-bound polysaccharides which significantly improve insulin secretion and glucose tolerance through effects on the pancreas and liver. These are at least as effective as the diabetes medication, glibenclamide in their ability to lower blood glucose levels. A study involving 30 people with type 2 diabetes found that taking pumpkin seeds extract reduced plasma glucose and controlled glycaemia as effectively as standard treatment.
NB if you are taking antidiabetes medication, monitor your blood glucose levels regularly when taking supplements containing concentrated pumpkin seed extracts.
Pumpkin seeds and prostate health
There is a long tradition of using pumpkin seed extracts for prostate problems. This is partly due to the inhibition of the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into the stronger dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which stimulates prostate growth.
Studies showed that pumpkin seed extracts and pumpkin seed oil have anti-inflammatory and antiandrogen actions that can reduce prostate gland size, weight and inflammation, and help the gland to relax. These therapeutic effects were attributed to unique delta-7-sterols which have not been found in other sterol-containing plant extracts traditionally used to treat prostate symptoms.
Pumpkin seed extract is credited as the first herbal preparation to be verified in accordance with the clinical research criteria of the International Consultation on BPH. Taking 500-1000 mg pumpkin seed extract per day for 12 weeks reduced International Prostate Symptom Scores by 41.4%.
A study involving 465 men showed that, after a year of taking pumpkin seed extracts, the International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS) was significantly reduced compared with placebo. As a result, some urologists now recommend pumpkin seed extracts for the treatment of mild-to-moderate prostate symptoms, before progressing to drug treatment.
A German study involving 1,431 men with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) due to BPH tested the effects of taking pumpkin seeds (5g twice a day) against pumpkin seed extracts in capsule form (500 mg twice a day) or a matching placebo. After 12 months, those eating the pumpkin seeds showed significantly better responses than the pumpkin seed extract or placebo. Of those eating pumpkin seeds, around 60% of men responded with an improvement in symptoms. Nearly 70% of men experienced a decrease of 3 or more points on the IPSS, and nearly 60% of the patients reported a decrease of 5 or more points.
Pumpkin seed extracts are often combined with other prosate-friendly natural remedies such as Saw palmetto.
Pumpkin seeds and overactive bladder
Pumpkin seed is used to treat overactive bladder – a condition associated with urinary urgency, frequency and urinary leakage. Pumpkin seed extracts help to reduce bladder pressure and increase bladder compliance as well reducing pressure in the urethra which helps to reduce frequency and urgency symptoms (including those associated with prostate enlargement).
A study involving 45 men and women with overactive bladder symptoms tested pumpkin seed oil (10g per day) for 12 weeks. After 6 weeks, overactive bladder symptoms of urgency were reduced. After 12 weeks, datime and night time frequency and urgency incontinence were also significantly reduced.
Herbal medicines for bladder symptoms often combine pumpkin seed extracts (rich in delta-7-sterols) with other synergystic ingredients such as cranberry, soy, zinc, sumach bark, l-arginine or hops.
Pumpkin seeds and menopause
Pumpkin seeds contain 265mg plant oestrogens per 100g seeds, in the form of lignans. Like their close cousins, the isoflavones, lignans are activated by bowel bacteria to release enterolignans (mainly enterolactone and enterodiol) which have a weak oestrogen-like action that can reduce menopausal symptoms.
Taking pumpkin seed extracts can significantly improve menopausal symptom scores, with a decrease in severity of hot flushes, with fewer headaches and fewer joint pains. These beneficial lignans are also found in flax seeds and sweet potatoes.
Pumpkin seeds and cholesterol
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can improve cholesterol balance, reduce fatty liver changes and may protect against atherosclerosis.
In a study involving postmenopausal women, taking pumpkin seed oil (2g per day) for 12 weeks increased ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol levels by 16% compared with a 12% increase in those taking wheatgerm oil.
Pumpkin seeds and blood pressure
Pumpkin seeds are traditionally used to improve blood pressure control, and pumpkin seed oil has been found to boost the action of two classes of antihypertensive drug: calcium channel blockers and ACE-inhibitors.
Pumpkin seed oil may help blood vessels to dilate through an effect on nitric oxide in a similar way to l-arginine. In a study involving postmenopausal women, taking pumpkin seed oil reduced blood pressure by 2.05/5.43mmHg after 12 weeks, although only the reduction in diastolic blood pressure (lower reading) was statistically significant.
Pumpkin seeds and anaemia
Pumpkin seeds are a source of iron. Adding 30g pumpkin seeds per day to the diet was found to help improve the iron status of women with iron-deficiency anaemia, along with other measures such as eating iron fortified ready-to-eat cereal.
Pumpkin seeds and kidney stones
Pumpkin seeds contain substances that inhibit crystal formation, and help to reduce the development of calcium-oxalate crystals in the urine.
Pumpkin seeds dose
Raw or roasted pumpkins seeds: 30g daily
Pumpkin seed extracts: 1g to 2g daily
Pumpkin seed oil: 160mg three times a day
Pumpkin seed extracts are often combined with other active ingredients such as saw palmetto and zinc in supplements designed to improve prostate health.
How to add pumpkin seeds to your diet
Enjoy a handful as a snack or sprinkle onto salads, soups, deserts, yogurt, cereals and muesli mixes.
Roast the seeds and combine with nuts and other seeds.
Grind pumpkin seeds and add to shakes and smoothies.
Pumpkin seed oil is used as a salad dressing and has a lovely dark green colour.
Roast pumpkin seeds recipe
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F/ 160 degrees C
- Rinse and dry the pumpkin seeds
- Toss together with olive oil plus 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried seasoning (eg a little celery salt, black pepper and paprika, or dried herbs)
- Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how crisp you want them.
- Cool and enjoy as a healthy snack.