Research shows that a diet that includes pumpkin seed oil may help to prevent heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Pumpkin seed oil is cold-pressed from the seeds of Cucurbita pepo, a cultivar of winter squash native to North America. Abundant in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, phytosterols, carotenoids, antioxidants and vitamins A and E, it’s one of the most nutritious culinary oils there is. In fact, it’s often referred to as “green gold.” One caveat: Cooking destroys some of the beneficial compounds in pumpkin seed oil, so don’t plan to swirl some in a skillet. The oil can, however, be used in baking and for making dressings and more.
Pumpkin seed oil contains essential amino acids, like glutamate and tryptophan. Both of these are key neurotransmitters involved in memory and learning, as well as in regulating mood and mediating the effects of stress and anxiety. Tryptophan, for example, is converted to serotonin, a chemical that affects memory, sleep, mood and social behavior. A deficit of serotonin has been found to be a contributing factor in depression.
A study published in Pharmacology Research has shown that pumpkin seed oil decreases inflammation associated with arthritis. The anti-inflammatory effect was found to be comparable to the pharmaceutical drug indomethacin, but without increasing liver lipid peroxidation levels.
Research has also shown that pumpkin seed oil may decrease the risk of heart disease. For one thing, pumpkin seeds have a high concentration of beta-sitosterol, campestanol and other phytosterols, plant steroid compounds that compete with and prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Studies have shown that consumption of pumpkin oil increases HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) as well as diastolic blood pressure. The oil also appears to promote the synthesis of nitric oxide, which regulates blood pressure by dilating blood vessels and arteries. Animal-based studies indicate that pumpkin seed oil supplementation is as effective in lowering blood pressure by maintaining normal nitric oxide levels as the antihypertensive drug amlodipine.
BPH & Overactive Bladder
Both men and women can suffer from an overactive bladder, the latter group most commonly after menopause. For older men, symptoms usually result from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate. Studies have found that the phytosterols in pumpkin seeds can significantly improve both conditions within 6 weeks to three months. In one study that involved 53 men between the ages of 50 and 80, supplementation with a pumpkin seed extract for 90 days led to a 40% increase in urine flow and a 30% reduction in the need to visit the “loo” during the night.
Research has shown that magnesium plays an important role in preventing osteoporosis by maintaining bone mineral density, while phosphorous and zinc have been shown to decrease the risk of fractures. Although declining bone density also affects older men, postmenopausal women are at highest risk for fracture and osteoporosis. A deficiency in these trace minerals, most notably zinc, increases risk. Because pumpkin seed oil is a rich source of all of these minerals, it may help to improve bone density.
How to Use Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil adds a nutty flavor to foods. Use it to make pesto, salad dressings or drizzle over pasta, squash soup, crostini, roasted vegetables (after roasting) – and even corn-on-the-cob and vanilla ice cream (with a punch of salt)!
Pumpkin Seed Oil Dressing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ tablespoon raw honey
½ tablespoon pumpkin seed oil
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in small bowl and stir with a whisk. Drizzle over arugula and sliced beet salad, or other combinations of salad greens, fruits and vegetables.
Cheese Spread with Pumpkin Seed Oil
Spread this creamy mixture over slices of dark rye or other rustic bread. Delicious with crackers too!
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon pumpkin seed oil
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste, freshly ground
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before using to allow flavors to fully develop.