Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima
The familiar Halloween pumpkin is a member of the squash family, native to North and Central America. The seeds of the pumpkin were used medicinally in Native American medicine, primarily for the treatment of kidney, bladder, and digestive problems. From 1863 to 1936, the United States Pharmacopoeia listed pumpkin seeds as a treatment for intestinal parasites.
Pumpkin seed oil has become popular today as a treatment for prostate enlargement ( benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), and it was approved for this use in 1985 by Germany’s Commission E. However, there is no meaningful evidence that pumpkin seed is helpful for this condition. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have been reported for pumpkin seed oil alone. (For information on why this type of study is essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?) However, two such studies evaluated a combination product containing pumpkin seed oil and the herb saw palmetto.1,2
These studies did suggest benefit with the combination product, but since saw palmetto is thought to be effective for BPH, it is not clear whether pumpkin seed oil made any additional contribution.
The only reported study on pumpkin seed oil alone lacked a placebo group, and for this reason its results prove little.3 (BPH is a condition that responds greatly to the power of suggestion, so it could have been assumed even before conducting this trial that people given pumpkin seed oil would show improvement.)
In highly preliminary research, pumpkin seed or its constituent curcurbitin has shown some activity against intestinal parasites.4,7
These studies, however, can only be regarded as highly preliminary investigations of a traditional use; they were not designed in such a way that they could prove effectiveness.
Two studies performed in Thailand hint that pumpkin seed snacks might help prevent kidney stones among children at high risk for developing them.8,9 However, this research only looked at chemical changes in the urine suggestive of a possible preventive effect, not actual reduction of stones. Furthermore, the design of the studies did not reach modern standards.
In studies, the dose of pumpkin seed oil used for the treatment of BPH was 160 mg three times daily. For the prevention of kidney stones, the dose of pumpkin seed snack tried was 5–10 grams per day.
As a widely eaten food, pumpkin seeds are presumed to be safe (though there have been cases in which incompletely chewed up seeds have gotten stuck in the esophagus!). There are as yet no known or suspected safety risks with pumpkin seed oil.
1. Carbin BE, Eliasson R. Treatment by Curbicin in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Swed J Biol Med. 1989;2:7–9.
2. Carbin BE, Larsson B, Lindahl O. Treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia with phytosterols. Br J Urol. 1990;66:639–41.
3. Schiebel-Schlosser G, Friederich M. Phytotherapy of BPH with pumpkin seeds–a multicenter clinical trial. ZeitsPhytother. 1998;19:71–6.
4. Rybaltovskii OV. On the discovery of cucurbitin—a component of pumpkin seed with anthelmintic action. Med Parazitol (Mosk). 1966;35:487–8.
5. Chou HC, Ming H. Pumpkin seed ( Cucurbita moschata) in the treatment of acute schistosomiasis. Chin Med J. 1960;80:115–20.
6. Chung WC, Ko BC. Treatment of Taenia saginata infection with mixture of areca nuts and pumpkin seeds. Chung Hua Min Kuo Wei Sheng Wu Hsueh Tsa Chih. 1976;9:31–5.
7. Plotnikov AA, Karnaukhov VK, Ozeretskovskaia NN, et al. Clinical trial of cucurbin (a preparation from pumpkin seeds) in cestodiasis. Med Parazitol (Mosk). 1972;41:407–11.
8. Suphakarn VS, Yarnnon C, Ngunboonsri P. The effect of pumpkin seeds on oxalcrystalluria and urinary compositions of children in hyperendemic area. Am J Clin Nutr. 1987;45:115–21.
9. Suphiphat V, Morjaroen N, Pukboonme I, et al. The effect of pumpkin seeds snack on inhibitors and promoters of urolithiasis in Thai adolescents. J Med Assoc Thai. 1993;76:487–93.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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