Following my previous article on pumpkin as a super food, this article discusses the medicinal properties, health benefits and industrial uses of pumpkin.
Medicinal properties of pumpkin.
Traditionally, pumpkin was used for medicinal purposes in Mexico, China, America and Africa. The medicinal properties of pumpkins are normally obtained from either the extract from the stem, leaves, fruit or seeds.
Oxidative stress can lead to production of unwanted radicals leading to health complications such as heart diseases, Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as cancers.
Oxidative stresses arise due to high levels of pro-oxidants in the body compared to antioxidants. The body therefore requires a way of generating additional antioxidants to counter the pro-oxidants. Various foods including pumpkin offer the much needed antioxidants to ameliorate the effects of excess pro-oxidants.
In 2009 scientists from Greece showed that pumpkin seeds are very rich in antioxidants and has a high content of vitamin E (tocopherol) which is also a very good antioxidant.
Until very recently pumpkin was not considered in the same league with other powerful anti-cancer foods such as tomatoes.
The carotenoid pigments found in pumpkin seeds oil have been linked to the prevention of prostate cancer.
A very big group of cancer patients from Nagoya, Japan, totalling 8,000, suffering from gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancer together with 50,000 non-cancer outpatients were compared in terms of what they eat and the link/absence of cancer for 10 years, between 1988 and 1998.
Those that consumed diets high in pumpkin seeds showed lower risk of gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancers.
The big headed fruit is an unsung hero when it comes to tackling diabetes, one of the modern man’s ailments.
Traditionally, pumpkin was used for treating type 2 diabetes in Mexico where the traditional healers administered crude extract of the pumpkin fruit to the patients.
In 2001, Acosta-Patino and his team from IMSS, Claudia University in Mexico, administered pumpkin extract orally to type 2 diabetes patients with moderate hyperglaecemia (elevated blood sugar). The patients showed positive results of reduced blood sugar.
Various studies with chemically-induced diabetes in rats have also confirmed that pumpkin extracts have blood-sugar lowering effect.
The chemicals that are thought to play the role of lowering blood sugar are phenolic phytochemicals and protein bound polysaccharides.
Protein-bound polysaccharide from pumpkin fruits were specifically evaluated for blood sugar lowering activity and effects on serum insulin levels in artificially -diabetic induced rats. It was found out that protein bound polysaccharide have three very important effects on the temporarily sick rats. These are: to increase the levels of serum insulin, reduce the blood glucose levels and improve tolerance of glucose.
Antibacterial and anti-parasitic
Use of pumpkin seed for treatment of tapeworms and other intestinal parasite date back to many years.
Traditional use of seeds for the treatment of intestinal infections led the United States Pharmacopoeia to list pumpkin seeds as an official medicine for parasite elimination from 1863 to 1936.
More recently, a research conducted in China and Russia showed that pumpkin seeds help treat tapeworm infestations.
In China pumpkin seeds were used to be treat people with acute schistosomiasis, a severe parasitic disease that is transmitted through snails.
Presently, there are very good interventions against bacterial infections in form of antibiotics. However, the misuse of antibiotics is causing some bacteria to become resistant warranting development of new drugs or turning to natural remedies.
Proteins and oil extracted from pumpkin seeds are good candidates for such drugs since they inhibit growth of wide range of bacteria, fungi and yeast.
Two trials in Thailand have reportedly found that eating pumpkin seeds as a snack can help prevent the most common type of kidney stones.
Pumpkin seeds appear to both reduce levels of substances that promote stone formation in the urine and increase levels of substances that inhibit stone formation.
Approximately 5–10 grams per day of pumpkin seeds may be needed for kidney stone prevention. However, the active constituents of pumpkin seeds responsible for this action have not yet been identified.
Due to high levels of tryptophan content in pumpkin seeds, the seeds have been recommended to treat depression.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that raises levels of serotonin ‘happiness-inducing hormone’ in the brain.
In 1995, Fahim, from University of Cairo, Egypt showed that oil extracted from pumpkin seeds has anti-inflammatory properties similar to indometacin, a well known anti-inflammatory drug.
Fahim and his colleagues effectively treated rats experiencing artificially-induced arthritis using pumpkin seeds oil, confirming that the pumpkin seed oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
The fact that modern and processed foods are increasingly begging many questions as far as their effects on health are concerned, traditional foods such as pumpkin are receiving and will continue to attract attention as natural and better alternatives.
High nutrients and medicinal properties in pumpkin leaves, fruit and seeds make it an attractive health food proposition.
Industrial utilization of pumpkin
Generally pumpkin is under-utilized and under valued, although it can be converted to commercially valuable products such as purees, jams and marmalades.
In 1972, Stephanie Lapinig was among the first to seriously explore the commercialisation of pumpkins by obtaining a patent in US for converting pumpkin mesocarp into sour and sweet pickle.
The patent involves chilling pumpkin in high salt concentration for over 5 hours to obtain crispiness. This is followed by addition of vinegar and sugar.
Others have followed the steps of Stephanie including Egbekun from Nigeria school of Technology who successfully developed a pumpkin marmalade with no difference in sensory attributes such as taste, spreadability and overall acceptability when compared to orange marmalade.
Pumpkin ketchup has been rated closely to tomato ketchup by scoring 2 compared to tomato ketchup that scored 3.2, suggesting that its perceived quality is slightly lower but very close to that of tomato ketchup.
Several food companies in Britain, America and China make canned pumpkin puree which is a popular food for weaning.
Bread when stored, loses its freshness by staling, addition of pumpkin pulp to bread flour slows staling and generally improves the quality of bread.
Due to high protein content in pumpkin seeds, adding the seed’s flour to wheat flour makes composite flour high in protein for making bread and cookies.
Although very little is known about Pumpkin seed oil, it is a major export of Slovenia as well as Austria and it is also produced in Germany, Hungary and Croatia.