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Pumpkin Seed As a Dewormer

Pumpkins, belonging to the genus Cucurbita, boast one of the earliest domestications on record. Archaeological evidence shows humans have been using Cucurbita species for as long as 10,000 years ago, around 8000 BC (Soltis).  Pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers.   It boasts a wealth of natural compounds, including alkaloids, flavonoids, and fatty acids like palmitic, oleic, and linoleic acid. Research has documented a range of potential health benefits, including anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-parasitic, and anti-inflammatory properties.  

I recently looked into the biochemistry of pumpkins and thought to share my findings here. The purpose of this article will be to discuss the phytochemistry of pumpkin.    I’ll expand on the anti-parasitic benefits of it for dogs, in the later part of the paper. And while most of the research is done for humans, the information is still worthwhile and can apply to the dog parent.

The Phytochemistry of Pumpkin

Pumpkin has a long history of being valued for its health-promoting properties. This reputation stems from the presence of various bioactive compounds within different parts of the plant such as polysaccharides, para-aminobenzoic acid, fixed oils, sterols, proteins and peptides.   The fruits are a good source of carotenoids, antioxidants, and γ-aminobutyric acid while the seeds are a source of essential fatty acids, linoleic acid, amino acids, and essential micro-elements such as potassium, chromium, and sodium (Yadav).  

Anti-diabetic Properties

Some studies suggest that the tetrasaccharide (a carbohydrate which gives upon hydrolysis four molecules of the same or different monosaccharides)  glyceroglycolipid (a specific subclass of glycerolipid and have a sugar molecule (glycosyl group) attached to the third hydroxyl group of the glycerol backbone) compounds in pumpkins might have glucose-lowering effects. (Men X)   while the D-chiro-Inositol, found in pumpkin has shown promise as an insulin secretagogue and sensitizer, potentially improving the body’s ability to use insulin (Yadav).

Anti-oxidant Properties

Antioxidants such as those found in pumpkins act as cellular defenders by neutralizing free radicals.  Pumpkin polysaccharide (long-chain polymeric carbohydrates composed of monosaccharide units bound together by glycosidic linkages) normally not an antioxidant, acts like one.  It is a brown powder, a non-specific immunopotentiator that enhances the body’s immune function, promotes cytokine production, and produces multiple regulators by activating the immune system.  Research has revealed that pumpkin polysaccharide possesses a remarkable ability to neutralize free radicals. These destructive molecules can damage cells and contribute to various health concerns. By effectively eliminating free radicals, pumpkin polysaccharide offers potential health benefits. (Chen)

Anti-carcinogenic Properties

The carotenoids (mostly consist of eight isoprene units with a 40-carbon skeleton) found in pumpkins are the primary pigments responsible for the yellow color of pumpkins.  Pumpkin is rich in β-carotene and lutein, as well as α-carotene and ζ-carotene. β-carotene is converted into vitamin A.  These have been found to reduce the occurrence of cancer, chronic diseases, and embolic vascular diseases.  (Men X)  In a study, a novel ribosome-inactivating protein moschatin from mature seeds of pumpkin which was conjugated with anti-human melanoma monoclonal antibody, to develop a novel compound moschatin-Ng76. This immunotoxin was found that it could inhibit the growth of targeted melanoma cell.  In another 12-month study, patients given hydroethanolic extract of pumpkin seed saw reduced viability of prostate cancer, breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, pancreatic, and colorectal adenocarcinoma.  (Patel)

Anti-microbial Properties

Pumpkin extracts have demonstrated effectiveness against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. This includes Staphylococcus aureus (often associated with skin infections), Bacillus subtilis, and Escherichia coli (a common cause of foodborne illness).  Furthermore, pumpkin extracts have shown promise against other gram-negative bacteria such as Proteus vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella spp., and Klebsiella spp.  These findings suggest that pumpkin extracts could potentially play a role in combating various bacterial infections.  (Bahare)

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Pumpkins boast a diverse array of bioactive compounds with potential anti-inflammatory properties.  The carotenoids, vitamin C, cucurbitacin, phenolic compounds, and flavanoids all work to reduce inflammation in the body.  In a 2015 study, pumpkin oil was reported to strongly reduce hepatic inflammation and steatosis.  It has also been linked to play an important role in arthritis due to its ability to reduce inflammation.  

Anti-parasitic Properties

Historically, societies in Asia, Europe, S. America, N. America, and Africa have been turning to cucurbitacin (pumpkin seeds) to address intestinal parasites.   (Bahare).   The structure of cucurbitacin is tetracyclic triterpenes produced by members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are divided into twelve categories, named from A to T.  Helminths, or parasitic worms of humans may cause chronic and sometimes deadly diseases.  In humans, the disease caused by parasitic worms is about 14 million globally, also called neglected tropical diseases.  It is a gentle and safe remedy for a number of complaints, especially as an effective tapeworm remover for children and pregnant women for whom stronger-acting and toxic remedies are unsuitable.  Test results showed paralysis and death of intestinal worms.  (Akoto)

In farming, we are seeing resistance to helminths.   As such researchers are looking back at plants to see if they can be effective alternative anthelmintics (Zirintuda).  Pumpkin seed extracts may be used to control of Gastrointestinal nematode infections, control fecal egg counts, and adult worm burdens (Grzybek). 

Various studies have been done to measure the antihelmintic activity of pumpkin. Keep in mind that studies are done to look at various methods and so one has to look at all the different studies to get the full picture.

Pumpkin Extracts: Hot water vs. cold water vs. ethanol on two nematodes

One study looked to see which type of extract between the three, were more effective against two types of nematodes. Results showed ethanol extracts was the strongest against H. bakeri eggs hatching and marked inhibitory properties against worm motility when compared to the control (Gryzbek).

Pumpkin with Honey

In another study, the researchers looked to see how effective pumpkin and honey was against trichnella spiralis. Pumpkin was combined in a 1:1 ratio. The seeds were decoted and combined with citrus honey (from Egypt). They tested mice (8 to 10weeks old) that had 300 larvae of T. spiralis worms. The decoction was injected into the mice for five days.

Results showed that treatment with pumpkin decoction showed a significant reduction in the recovery rate of adult worms by 69.6%. However, a significant decrease of 37.03% in the recovery rate of adult worms was observed in the case of treatment with honey. Treatment with pumpkin and honey resulted in a high elimination rate of worms (83.2%), whereas treatment with a 50 mg/kg dose of albendazole (ALB) showed a 50.3% decrease in the worm recovery rate.

This combination of honey is part of the “Weep and Sweep” reaction (Saleh). Further reading on this process can be done through the paper but I will simplify it below.

The researchers wanted to see how pumpkin seed tea (decoction) and pumpkin seed tea with honey work to get rid of worms in mice.

  • Normally, our bodies fight worms with a type of immune response called Type 1. But for worms, a different type of immune response, Type 2, is actually better at getting rid of them.
  • The researchers found that pumpkin seed tea and pumpkin seed tea with honey helped switch the immune response from Type 1 to Type 2. This Type 2 response helps the body in two ways:
    • Weep: It increases mucus production in the gut, making it slippery and harder for worms to hold on.
    • Sweep: It makes the gut muscles contract more, which helps push the worms out.
  • The researchers also found that pumpkin seed tea and pumpkin seed tea with honey helped protect the gut from damage caused by the worms.

The researchers concluded that mixing pumpkin decocted with honey increased its activity to be more effective.

Pumpkin Seeds on Hymenolepis nana

In another study – researchers were looking for a more cost effective way to use against H. nana. They tested this on mice, and found that Pumpkin seeds aqueous extract showed a significant reduction (P < 0.05) in the number and length of H. nana adult worms, number and viability of eggs in comparison to the infected control group and PZQ group. Pumpkin seed aqueous extract is proven to be an effective anthelmintic against H. nana (Alhawiti).

So Where Does That Leave Us For Our Dogs

Kudos if you’ve made it this far into this article. As you can see, looking at studies on PubMed can lead to a lot of information and I wanted to demonstrate that you cannot just look at one study because each study has a very specific set of parameters they are looking at.

For example, these studies were for the benefit of humans but they tested their hypothesis on mice.

Also, they didn’t compare different types of methods in feeding because in a laboratory environment, they have to select methods that make it so they can be consistent in what they are measuring.

Therefore the blanket, “ethanol pumpkin extracts are more effective” are only true when you also say “when we are comparing it to other extracts such as hot and cold water” but you cannot say ethanol extracts are more effective than combining pumpking with honey because the two were not compared with each other. Furthermore, the researchers tested each method on different sets of parasites.

When it comes to our lovely dogs at home, we don’t know for sure which parasites are in them and if you’re using pumpkin seeds as a preventative to keep parasite burden low or because your dog has had a history of parasites unless you have a recent parasite test, we’re really just making a few assumptions that are not clinically confirmed.

So why even feed pumpkin seeds then?

It’s really just a preventative. And, if your dog has a history of a parasite in them, or lack of appetite, bilious vomit, diarrhea, itchy anal glands (scooting behavior), failure to gain weight, failure to thrive, stool eating, dirt eating, floor licking, symptoms that are worse at night, or appear monthly, then it will not hurt to incorporate a gentle parasite cleanse.

It goes without saying that if in doubt, bring your dog to the vet immediately. Pumpkin seeds alone will not be enough if your dog has a serious parasite infestation.

When incorporating this into your dog’s feeding, choose a method that is easy for you and your dog. Examples include:

  • Soaking seeds overnight and adding to food the next day
  • Crushing/grinding seeds and adding them to the food
  • Mixing crushed seeds with honey

In all cases, the goal is to decrease the parasitic load so that the dog’s immune system isn’t overtaken by parasites.

Conclusion

Pumpkins are a treasure trove of bioactive compounds. These valuable components are present throughout the plant, making all parts of the pumpkin a potential source of functional ingredients.  It is easily found at grocery stores and farmer’s markets and would be a beneficial addition to the daily diet but for the dog parent, its key strength is as a natural dewormer or worm preventative.   

Resources: 

  1. Kates HR, Soltis PS, Soltis DE. Evolutionary and domestication history of Cucurbita (pumpkin and squash) species inferred from 44 nuclear loci. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2017 Jun;111:98-109. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 10. PMID: 28288944.
  2. Zhang H, Liu C, Zheng Q. Development and application of anthelminthic drugs in China. Acta Trop. 2019 Dec;200:105181. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2019.105181. Epub 2019 Sep 19. PMID: 31542370.
  3. Men X, Choi SI, Han X, Kwon HY, Jang GW, Choi YE, Park SM, Lee OH. Physicochemical, nutritional and functional properties of Cucurbita moschata. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2020 Nov 9;30(2):171-183. doi: 10.1007/s10068-020-00835-2. PMID: 33732508; PMCID: PMC7914307.
  4. Chen L, Huang G. Antioxidant activities of phosphorylated pumpkin polysaccharide. Int J Biol Macromol. 2019 Mar 15;125:256-261. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.12.069. Epub 2018 Dec 7. PMID: 30529557.
  5. Patel S, Rauf A. Edible seeds from Cucurbitaceae family as potential functional foods: Immense promises, few concerns. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Jul;91:330-337. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.04.090. Epub 2017 May 2. PMID: 28463796.
  6. Salehi B, Capanoglu E, Adrar N, Catalkaya G, Shaheen S, Jaffer M, Giri L, Suyal R, Jugran AK, Calina D, Docea AO, Kamiloglu S, Kregiel D, Antolak H, Pawlikowska E, Sen S, Acharya K, Selamoglu Z, Sharifi-Rad J, Martorell M, Rodrigues CF, Sharopov F, Martins N, Capasso R. Cucurbits Plants: A Key Emphasis to Its Pharmacological Potential. Molecules. 2019 May 14;24(10):1854. doi: 10.3390/molecules24101854. PMID: 31091784; PMCID: PMC6572650.
  7. Akoto C. O., Acheampong A., Boakye Y. D., Akwata D., Okine M. In vitro anthelminthic, antimicrobial and antioxidant activities and FTIR analysis of extracts of Alchornea cordifolia leaves. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry . 2019;8(4):2432–2442.
  8. Zirintunda G, Biryomumaisho S, Kasozi KI, Batiha GE, Kateregga J, Vudriko P, Nalule S, Olila D, Kajoba M, Matama K, Kwizera MR, Ghoneim MM, Abdelhamid M, Zaghlool SS, Alshehri S, Abdelgawad MA, Acai-Okwee J. Emerging Anthelmintic Resistance in Poultry: Can Ethnopharmacological Approaches Offer a Solution? Front Pharmacol. 2022 Feb 14;12:774896. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.774896. PMID: 35237147; PMCID: PMC8883056.
  9. Grzybek M, Kukula-Koch W, Strachecka A, Jaworska A, Phiri AM, Paleolog J, Tomczuk K. Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts-In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Sep 1;17(9):1456. doi: 10.3390/ijms17091456. PMID: 27598135; PMCID: PMC5037735.
  10. Batool M, Ranjha MMAN, Roobab U, Manzoor MF, Farooq U, Nadeem HR, Nadeem M, Kanwal R, AbdElgawad H, Al Jaouni SK, Selim S, Ibrahim SA. Nutritional Value, Phytochemical Potential, and Therapeutic Benefits of Pumpkin (Cucurbita sp.). Plants (Basel). 2022 May 24;11(11):1394. doi: 10.3390/plants11111394. PMID: 35684166; PMCID: PMC9182978.
  11. Grzybek M, Kukula-Koch W, Strachecka A, Jaworska A, Phiri AM, Paleolog J, Tomczuk K. Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts-In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Sep 1;17(9):1456. doi: 10.3390/ijms17091456. PMID: 27598135; PMCID: PMC5037735.
  12. Saleh AS, El-Newary SA, Mohamed WA, Elgamal AM, Farah MA. Pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo subsp. ovifera) decoction promotes Trichinella spiralis expulsion during intestinal phase via “Weep and Sweep” mechanism. Sci Rep. 2024 Jan 18;14(1):1548. doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-51616-4. PMID: 38233460; PMCID: PMC10794180.
  13. Alhawiti AO, Toulah FH, Wakid MH. Anthelmintic Potential of Cucurbita pepo Seeds on Hymenolepis nana. Acta Parasitol. 2019 Jun;64(2):276-281. doi: 10.2478/s11686-019-00033-z. Epub 2019 Feb 18. PMID: 30778840.

Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

She is available for one on one consultations. Additionally, you can find her sharing free content on Instagram.

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