When you think of pumpkin seeds, you likely remember carving jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween and having to scoop out that messy mass of seeds. It turns out that those seeds can act as a potent medicine. Specifically, Cucurbita pepo, a member of the gourd family, has some significant medicinal uses. Although there are many different varieties of pumpkin, the two most studied are the C. pepo and C. maxima.
Botanical researchers document the earliest use of pumpkin seeds as medicinal agents by the ancient Chinese thousands of years ago. Alternative medicine practitioners have used pumpkin seeds for generations to treat a wide variety of ailments. In developed countries, the most common use for pumpkin seeds is in the management of symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy.
The mechanism of action of pumpkin seeds is largely related to their high concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These components exert a powerful antioxidant effect on the swollen cellular membranes of the hypertrophic prostate. While unsaturated fatty acids make up more than one-third of a pumpkin seed, another third is plant protein. Pumpkin seeds are also a source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
In addition to their antioxidant action, pumpkin seeds have been shown to be as effective as calcium channel blockers in their ability to promote a vasodilatory response by regulating nitric oxide.1 The study that showed this effect randomly assigned laboratory rats to receive a calcium channel blocker, pumpkin seeds, or placebo daily for six weeks while a nitric oxide inhibitor was also administered. At the end of the trial, rats in both interventional arms of the study showed a similar and significant reduction in hypertensive effect.1
Pumpkin seed oil has been shown to improve prostatic hypertrophy in male rats that had the condition intentionally induced by testosterone.2 The animals received simultaneous testosterone and either high- or low-dose pumpkin seed oil during a three-week period. At the end of the study, the prostatic volume of the rats on the higher dose of pumpkin seed oil was significantly lower.