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More than just a celebrated autumn fruit, pumpkin provides a wealth of health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases, facilitating wound healing and providing cardiovascular protection
Pumpkin is popularly known as a Halloween decoration or a delicious Thanksgiving pie. Yet it's more than just a symbol of these annual festivities -- it offers a bounty of health benefits that have been celebrated for centuries.
Pumpkin, a type of winter squash, is part of the Cucurbitaceae family. It's native to North America and in the U.S. is sometimes referred to as Cucurbita pepo.[i] One of the fascinating benefits of pumpkin is its rich beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid and antioxidant, a natural plant compound that gives pumpkin its bright orange color.[ii]
Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed an eco-friendly way to measure beta-carotene and other carotenoids found in pumpkin, showing that pumpkin contains more beta-carotene than many other foods found in your pantry.[iii] The human body can naturally convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which promotes vision and skin health, among many perks.
In a 2019 clinical trial conducted by the National Eye Institute called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), high doses of beta-carotene along with vitamins C and E were linked to a significantly reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.[iv] Here's a rundown of additional wondrous benefits of pumpkin for well-being.
1. Anticancer Effects
A 2016 study suggested that a diet rich in beta-carotene can help suppress prostate cancer tumors.[v] A cross-sectional study done on a Japanese population in 2014 also showed that beta-carotene can slow the development of colon cancer. In a separate animal study, pumpkin seed was found to reduce the risk of colon cancer when consumed in dietary proportions.[vi]
Pumpkin seed extract also had growth inhibition effects on benign prostate hyperplasia, also known as prostate gland enlargement, and some cancer cell lines, such as prostate, breast and colon.[vii]
2. Diabetes Support
In a more recent study, published in 2019, a combination of two plant extracts -- one of which was pumpkin polysaccharides -- pushed down blood sugar levels in animal models.[ix] While further human trials may be needed, the study demonstrated the plant compounds' potential to successfully manage Type 2 diabetes.
3. Wound Healing
Pumpkin seed oil has been tested for wound healing due to its known properties that may aid treatment. Results from one study showed that cold-pressed, excellent-quality pumpkin oil, which has a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols and sterols, promoted efficient wound healing in rats.[x]
4. Heart Health and Blood Pressure Regulation
According to a 2017 study involving 2,722 participants, consuming plenty of potassium is an important step to maintaining healthy blood pressure.[xi] Pumpkin is high in potassium, containing 394 milligrams per cup.[xii]
Other research revealed that pumpkin seed oil led to beneficial effects when administered along with an ACE-inhibitor and calcium-channel blocker in treating high blood pressure.[xiii] Consistent with other outcomes is the conclusion of a 2012 study showing that pumpkin seed oil exhibits antihypertensive and heart-protective effects.[xiv] The mechanism may involve the generation of nitric oxide.
In female rats in a different study, supplementing with pumpkin seed oil also improved lipid profile and cardiovascular outcomes, specifically lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressures.[xv]
For more health benefits of this often underappreciated squash, check out our pumpkin research database.
[i] Rahman M et al "Prophetic vegetable Pumpkin, Its impressive health benefits and total analysis" Bioscience Research. 2019;16(4):3987-3999.
[v] Gong X et al "Mitochondrial β-Carotene 9′,10′ Oxygenase Modulates Prostate Cancer Growth via NF-κB Inhibition: A Lycopene-Independent Function" Mol Cancer Res. 2016;14(10).
[vi] Chari K et al "An Appraisal of Pumpkin Seed Extract in 1, 2-Dimethylhydrazine Induced Colon Cancer in Wistar Rats" J Toxicol. 2018 ;2018:6086490. Epub 2018 Sep 2.
[vii] Medjakovic S et al "Pumpkin seed extract: Cell growth inhibition of hyperplastic and cancer cells, independent of steroid hormone receptors" Fitoterapia. 2016 Apr ;110:150-6. Epub 2016 Mar 11.
[viii] Makni M et al "Flax and Pumpkin seeds mixture ameliorates diabetic nephropathy in rats" Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Aug-Sep;48(8-9):2407-12. Epub 2010 Jun 4.
[ix] Chen X et al "Synergistic Hypoglycemic Effects of Pumpkin Polysaccharides and Puerarin on Type II Diabetes Mellitus Mice" Molecules. 2019 Mar; 24(5): 955. Epub 2019 Mar 8.
[x] Bardaa S et al "Oil from pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) seeds: evaluation of its functional properties on wound healing in rats" Lipids Health Dis. 2016 ;15(1):73. Epub 2016 Apr 11.
[xi] Ware L et al "Associations between dietary salt, potassium and blood pressure in South African adults: WHO SAGE Wave 2 Salt & Tobacco" Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017 Sep;27(9):784-791. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2017.06.017. Epub 2017 Jul 8.
[xiii] Zuhair H et al "Pumpkin-seed oil modulates the effect of felodipine and captopril in spontaneously hypertensive rats" Pharmacol Res. 2000 May;41(5):555-63.
[xiv] El-Mosallamy A et al "Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects of pumpkin seed oil" J Med Food. 2012 Feb ;15(2):180-9. Epub 2011 Nov 14.
[xv] Gossell-Williams M et al "Supplementation with pumpkin seed oil improves plasma lipid profile and cardiovascular outcomes of female non-ovariectomized and ovariectomized Sprague-Dawley rats" Phytother Res. 2008 Jul;22(7):873-7.