Pumpkin Seeds and Bladder Health

Published on October 24, 2016 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

It’s that time of year to pick out your Halloween costume, add some spooky décor to your home and improve your pumpkin carving skills. Throughout all of the excitement, hopefully you remembered to save the pumpkin seeds and find a way to incorporate them into your diet! Not only can they be delicious but it turns out they may offer some great health benefits, too. Traditionally, pumpkin seeds have been used in Central Europe for various genitourinary conditions including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and overactive bladder syndrome (OAB). More recently, research has confirmed these traditional applications.  

What are Overactive Bladder (OAB) Syndrome and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)?

OAB is a common urinary disorder that occurs in more than 15% of men and women aged 40 or older. It consists of urgency and frequency of urination, significant enough to cause frequent waking during the night and, in some cases, incontinence. As one can imagine, OAB can severely disrupt the quality of life for those afflicted.

BPH is separate condition that occurs in 50% of men over 50 years old and 70% of men over 70 years of age. It involves the non-cancerous growth of the prostate, leading to very similar urinary symptoms as OAB such as urgency, frequency, and nighttime waking. BPH can be extremely disruptive to everyday life for elderly men. 

What Does the Research Say?

Numerous trials have examined pumpkin seed oil for its use with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). One study examined over 2000 men and found that pumpkin seed oil significantly improved symptoms by more than 40%. Dosing of 500-1000mg per day of Cucurbita pepo (field pumpkin) was used in this instance.

A more recent study in 2014 looked at 45 subjects with OAB and tested the effects of 10 grams daily pumpkin seed oil from Cucurbita maxima over 12 weeks. Subjective questionnaires determined that significant improvements in all aspects of OAB were noted after 12 weeks, including daytime and nighttime frequency, urgency and urgency incontinence.

Other studies have combined various species of pumpkin (Cucurbita) with soy isoflavones to determine the synergistic effects on OAB. For example, a 2014 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluated the efficacy and safety of pumpkin seed extract and soy germ in 120 subjects suffering from OAB. After 12 weeks, individuals in the treatment group showed significant reductions in urination frequency, urgency, incontinence frequency, maximum urgency score, nocturnal urination frequency and OAB-symptom scale. Although these studies don’t isolate pumpkin seeds as the sole reason for improvement, the combination with soy certainly supports the findings of previous trials.

The exact mechanism of action responsible for the health benefits of pumpkin seed and pumpkin seed oil is unknown, but sitosterol content appears to play a role and pumpkin seeds are quite high in minerals like magnesium. Interestingly, pumpkin seed extracts have also been shown to selectively inhibit replication of faster growing cells (including cancer cells) while not affecting normal cells. This could explain why pumpkin seeds may be particularly useful in BPH. Research has found that pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil do not alter the receptor sensitivity of sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.

How to Use Pumpkin Seeds in Everyday Life

One of the easiest ways to integrate pumpkin seeds into your diet is by adding them into dishes you already make. Sprinkling them on a salad is a great place to start. Adding them into your baked dishes like muffins or loaves also works. Even simpler, roasting them in the oven and adding some light seasoning (salt, herbamare, turmeric, etc.) can make for a quick and easy snack. If you have any favourite go-to snacks or recipes that incorporate pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed oil, feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

Select References:

Nishimura M et al. Pumpkin Seed Oil Extracted From Cucurbita maxima Improves Urinary Disorder in Human Overactive Bladder. J Tradit Complement Med. 2014 Jan;4(1):72-4.

B. Shim, H. Jeong, S. Lee, S. Hwang, B. Moon, C. Storni, A randomized double-blind
placebo-controlled clinical trial of a product containing pumpkin seed extract and
soy germ extract to improve overactive bladder-related voiding dysfunction and
quality of life. J. Funct. Foods 8 (2014) 111–117.

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.