Plant Foods for Human Nutrition

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 70–77 | Cite as

A Review on Pharmacological Activities and Utilization Technologies of Pumpkin



Dietary plants and herbal preparations have been traditionally used as medicine in developing countries and obtained a resurgence of use in the United States and Europe. Research carried out in last few decades has validated several such claims of use of traditional medicine plants. Popularity of pumpkin in various systems of traditional medicine for several ailments (antidiabetic, antihypertensive, antitumor, immunomodulation, antibacterial, antihypercholesterolemia, intestinal antiparasitia, antiinflammation, antalgic) focused the investigators’ attention on this plant. Considerable evidence from several epidemiological studies concerning bioactivities leads have stimulated a number of animal model, cell culture studies and clinical trials designed to test this pharmacological actions. In addition, it was found that technologies such as germination and fermentation could reduce antinutritional materials and affect the pharmacological activities of pumpkin. This review will focus on the main medicinal properties and technologies of pumpkin, and point out areas for future research to further elucidate mechanisms whereby this compound may reduce disease risk.

Key words:

Pharmacological activities Pumpkin Review Technologies Traditional medicine 


The use of dietary plants and herbal preparations as alternative medicine has recently received considerable attention in the United States and Europe. There is an estimation that 12.1% of adults in the United States used herbal medicines in 1997 [1]. In 2001, $17.8 billion was spent on dietary supplements, 23.6% of it for herbal remedies [2]. In addition, in America, herbal medicines are regulated as dietary supplements and hence can be marketed without prior approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [3]. In developing countries–all over the world–80% of population continues to use traditional medicine in primary medical problems [4]. In the past decade, research has been focused on scientific evaluation of dietary plants and preparations of plant origin. Pumpkin is one such plant that has been frequently used as functional food or medicine.

The pumpkin belongs to the family Cucubitaceae. It is comprised of Cucurbita moschata, C. Pepo, C. Maxima, C. Mixta, C. Ficifolia and Telfairia occidentalis Hook. Three of these, Cucurbita pepo L., Cucurbita maxima Duchesne, and Cucurbita moschata Duchesne represent economically important species cultivated worldwide and have high production [5, 6, 7]. In Austria and adjacent countries, pumpkins have been grown for production of oil for about 3 centuries [8]. Several reviews were described from different points of view. Paris provides a entire overview of the classification of various types of squash and pumpkins within the species C. pepo [9]. A comprehensive description of fruit of both wild and domesticated forms of Cucurbita and a critical reviews on physiological aspects of productivity and quality in squash and pumpkins were provide by Decker-Walters and Walters [10] and J. Brent Loy [11], respectively.
Fig. 1.

Recovery for pumpkin bioactive materials.

Pumpkin is a dicotyledonous seed vegetable and consists of a flexible succulent stem with trifoliate leaves, an annual climber growing to 0.6 m by 5 m at a fast rate ( At maturity it gives rise to flowers and fruits, which have numerous seeds. Because embryo dry material is 40 to 50% lipids [12, 13, 14] and 30 to 37% proteins [14, 15], pumpkin seeds are a high-energy source and are consumed throughout the world with increasing in popularity. Because the seed coat comprises about 20% of the seed weight of C. pepo [16], and in C. maxima, even a much larger proportion of the seed, new technologies were sought to utilize in oil seed pumpkins. At about the turn of the twentieth century, a thin seed coat variant was discovered and subsequently applied in oil seed pumpkins because of the greater efficiency in oil recovery. In addition, pumpkin seeds are also a good source of the elements K, P, Fe and β-carotene [17, 18].

Pumpkin is cultivated throughout the world for use as vegetable as well as medicine. It has been used traditionally as medicine in many countries such as China, Yugoslavia, Argentina, India, Mexico, Brazil and America [19, 20, 21]. Some of its common uses in most countries are for diabetes and treating internally as well as externally for management of worms and parasites. However, it is commonly consumed as vegetable.

Its popular medicinal uses have focused research so far and the last few decades that have been carried out on pumpkin, using modern tools, and credited pumpkin with antidiabetic, antihypertension, antitumor, immunomodulation, antibacteria, antihypercholesterolemia, intestinal antiparasitia, antiinflammation and antalgic. It was found that technologies such as germination and ferment could reduce antinutritional materials and affect the pharmacological activities of pumpkin. This review will focus on the the main medicinal properties of pumpkin, and point out areas for future research to further elucidate mechanisms whereby this compound may reduce disease risk.

Phytochemistry and Technology

Pumpkin contains biologically active components that include polysaccharides, para-aminobenzoic acid, fixed oils, sterol, proteins and peptides [22, 23, 24, 25]. The fruits are a good source of carotenoid and γ-aminobutyric acid [26, 27, 28, 29, 30]. However, the presence of antinutrients in pumpkin seeds which have been shown to have detrimental physiological effects on growing rats and chicks limits its nutritional value and hence limits the usefulness of fresh pumpkin seed as a protein source for human food [31, 32, 33].

Several phytochemicals such as polysaccharides, phenolic glycosides, 13-hydroxy-9Z, 11E-octadecatrienoic acid from the leaves of pumpkin, proteins from germinated seeds, have been isolated [34, 35, 36, 37, 38].

The hypoglycemic chemicals of pumpkin include polysaccharides from the fruit pulp [39, 40, 41], oil from ungerminated seeds and protein from germinated seeds. These chemicals are concentrated in fruits of pumpkin; therefore fruit of pumpkin has shown more pronounced hypoglycemic/antihyperglycemic activity. However, protein possessing hypoglycemic activity was not from ungerminated pumpkin seed [42]. Hypoglycemic activity of polysaccharide isolated from pumpkin containing 8.48% sugar was lower than that from pumpkin containing 4.29% sugar [43].

Antifungal proteins, such as α- and β-moschins (MW: 12 kDa), MAP28 (MW: 28 kDa), MAP2 (MW: 2249D), MAP4 (MW: 4650D), MAP11 (MW: 11696D) and peptide (MW: 8 kDa) are documented [44, 45, 46, 47].

Some technologies affected the function of pumpkin and pumpkin extracts. The major process for recovering pumpkin bioactive materials are summarized in Fig. 1. In order to gain higher yield of pectin from pumpkin pulps, enzymic extraction was adopted and worth being commended [48, 49]. However, The pumpkin pectin obtained by enzymic means did not form gels [50] and previous chemical modification is unsuccessful to improve this pectin preparation's gelling properties [51]. Further work need to continue toward two objectives: (1) search of righter enzymes for preparation of pectin samples; (2) development of methods for chemical modification of pumpkin pectin preparations with a view to improving their gelling properties. Because the lower temperature in the SFE avoids thermal degradation and the low water content limits hydrolitic processes, the application of supercritical fluid (SF), particularly SC-CO2, not introducing organic residues is a good method for extraction of oils from food and vegetables [52]. SC-CO2 extraction was reported to be an effective method for extraction of pumpkin oils. It is helpful to keep the pharmacological activities of pumpkin oils [53].

Germination and fermentation were important methods to improve the use of pumpkin. Fermentation significantly (P ;< ;0.05) increased crude protein and in vitro protein digestibility meanwhile decreased polyphenol and phytic acid contents of the seeds and improved the funcational properties of pumpkin products [54, 55, 56, 57]. It was reported that the nutritional quality of fluted pumpkin seeds improved following a 5-days fermentation period. Germination can vary the amino acid and carbohydrate constitutes and hence reduce blood glucose [42, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62]. However, Addition of flour from germinated pumpkin seeds to wheat flour had a detrimental effect on loaf volume, bread color and texture [63]. In addition, Shishigatani pumpkin possessed bio-antimutagenicity in the chloroform and ethyl acetate fractions, but common pumpkin did not [64]. Boiled pumpkin juice significantly suppressed the incidence of aberrant cells while fresh pumpkin juice enhanced it [65].

Pharmacological Properties of Pumpkin

Antidiabetic Activity

Pumpkin is most widely studied with regard to its antidiabetic effect and the fruit pulp and seeds of this plant have shown hypoglycemic activity in normal animals and alloxan-induced diabetic rats and rabbits.

Both common and sugar-removed pumpkin powder showed a significant reduction in blood glucose and an increase in plasma insulin and protected the diabetic nephropathy [66, 67, 68]. Reduction on blood glucose, serum total cholesterol and triglyceride was observed in alloxan-induced diabetic rabbits applied with pumpkin powder [69]. Hypoglycemic activity of water-extracted pumpkin polysaccharides was demonstrated and excelled glibenclamide in alloxan-induced diabetic rats (P ;< ;0.01) [70, 71, 72, 73, 74]. Antihyperglycemic activity of water-extracted pumpkin polysaccharides was observed in normal rats [40]. Crude polysaccharide from pumpkin fruit was reported to reduce branched chain amino acid and have better effect on normal rats than on alloxan-induced diabetic rats [75]. We report that protein-bound polysaccharide can obviously increase the levels of serum insulin, reduce the blood glucose levels and improve tolerance of glucose. The hypoglycemic effect of big dose protein-bound polysaccharide group (1000 mg/kg body weight) excelled that of small dose protein-bound polysaccharide group (500 mg/kg body weight) and glibenclamide group [76]. Eighteen amino acids were identified to be components of the protein-bound polysaccharide but the relationship between the contents of amino acids and hypoglycemic activity of pumpkin protein-bound polysaccharide is not clear [77]. We also found that the oil from ungerminated pumpkin seeds and proteins from germinated pumpkin seeds possessed hypoglycemic activity. The protein components with molecular weight over 60 kDa and below 3 kDa from pumpkin seeds after 4days germination obviously increased the blood insulin level. The ungerminated pumpkin seeds oil and germinated protein components with molecular weights 3–60 kDa improved blood glucose tolerance. However, proteins from ungerminated pumpkin seeds didn't possess the hypoglycemic activity [78]. The results on polyamine levels of 3–26 week old female mice during ageing suggest that polyamines may play important roles in the function of the pancreas, as a polyamine-rich food, pumpkin maybe shows hypoglycemic activity via action on pancreas [79]. It is necessary to investigate the protective effect of pumpkin and its extracts on pancreatic islets damage.

In a clinical trial, pumpkin juice consumed as to the diet produced a reduction in fasting blood glucose in diabetic subjects [80]. In another clinical study, pumpkin polysaccharide granule and oral-administration pumpkin polysaccharide liquid all caused significant reduction of post-prandial serum glucose and fasting glucose in NIDDM subjects [81, 82, 83]. A daily supplement containing pumpkin powder significantly reduced blood glucose concentrations in the 20 NIDDM diabetics (P ;< ;0.01) [84].

Further clinical work is required to be undertaken before those isolated, purified compounds can be marketed. However, in the developing countries, to cut down costs, intake of pumpkin fruit in form of vegetable should be encouraged that also shown to clinically effective. NIDDM patients should be encouraged to consume pumpkin as it can reduce the blood sugar, but choice of which kind of pumpkin should be kept in mind. Safety is assured because pumpkin has been consumed in diet for centuries. However, necessary technologies are advocated to reduce antinutritional materials.

Antibacterial activity.

There were reports on broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity of pumpkin extracts. Pumpkin oil inhibits Acinetobacter baumanii, Aeromonas veronii biogroup sobria, Candida albicans, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia col, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serotype typhimurium, Serratia marcescens and Staphylococcus aureus at the concentration of 2.0% (v/v) [85]. A peptide (MW: 8 kDa) from pumpkin seeds was proved to inhibit B. cinerea, F. oxysporum and M. arachidicola at a dose of 375 ug and to exerted an inhibitory effect on cell-free translation with an IC50 of 1.2 uM [47]. The purified α-moschin and β-moschin, two proteins with a molecular mass of 12 kDa from fresh brown pumpkin seeds, displayed translation-inhibiting activity with IC50 of 17 uM and 300 nM, respectively [44]. A significant inhibitory effect of a purified protein (MW28000) against the fungal growth of Fusarium oxysporum was exerted in an agar-disc plate at a concentration greater than 2 mM. It was shown that the MW28000 possessed a synergistic effect with nikkomycin, a chitin synthase inhibitor, for the growth inhibition of Candida albicans [45]. Three pumpkin seed basic proteins, MAP2 (MW: 2249D), MAP4 (MW: 4650D), MAP11 (MW: 11696D), inhibit the growth of yeast cells, with MAP11696 being the most effective inhibitor. However, MAP2 and MAP4 did not inhibit the growth of the Gram negative bacterium E. coli. [46]. Phloem exudate from pumpkin fruits (Cucurbitaceae) possess antifungal activities via inhibition of pathogenic fungal proteases [86].

It is of great importance that those living in developing countries be encouraged to consume pumpkin as it protects against organisms that cause diseases prevalent in these areas.

Hypocholesterolemic and Anti-Oxidant Potential

Several experimental studies carried out in normal as well as diabetic animals have shown hypo-cholesterolemic effect by pumpkin.

Reduction on serum total cholesterol and triglyceride was observed in alloxan-induce diabetic rabbits applied with pumpkin powder [69]. Hypolipidemic activities were observed after administrating pumpkin polysaccharides in normal and diabetic mice [87]. Administration of pumpkin-seed oil was reported to succeed in modulating most of the altered parameters affected during arthritis, especially at the chronic phase [88]. Treatment of spontaneously hypertensive rats with felodipine or captopril monotherapy or combined with pumpkin seed oil produced improvement in the measured free radical scavengers in the heart and kidney [89]. Among males who currently smoked and drank alcohol, the intake frequency of carrot or pumpkin was significantly lower for those with high HbA1c than for the others, although no significant differences of serum carotenoid levels were observed [90]. The serous and hepatic activities of SOD, GSH-Px in mice of pumpkin extracts administration group were significantly higher than that of Pb group (P ;< ;0.01), but the concentrations of MDA in mice of pumpkin extracts administration group were significantly lower than that of Pb group (P ;< ;0.01) [91]. It was found that pumpkin polysaccharide could increase the SOD and GSH-Px activity and reduce the MDA content in tumor-mice serum (P ;< ;0.05) [92]. It was reported that pumpkin-seed oil was effective against hypercholesterolemia [93].

Anticancer Activity

Several preliminary studies (in vitro as well as in vivo) with crude pumpkin extract and its various purified fraction–including proteins and polysaccharide–have shown anticancer activity against melanmoa, ehrlich ascites and leukaemia. Interestedly, boiled pumpkin juice significantly suppressed the incidence of aberrant cells while fresh pumpkin juice enhanced it [65].

Moschatin, a rRNA N-glycosidase from pumpkin seeds potently blocked the protein synthesis in the rabbit reticulocyte lysate with an IC50 of 0.26 nM [94]. The inhibition rate of pumpkin polysaccharide for mice S-180 and Ehrlich ascites tumor cell were 37.3 and 33.3% respectively [92]. It was reported that pumpkin extracts markedly reduced tumor weight in S-180-bearing mice [95]. MAP2 and MAP4 were reported to have effect on the growth of leukaemia K-562 cells but to have little effect at concentrations up to 6 mM [46]. Proteins from pumpkin seeds were reported to inhibit melanoma proliferation [96]. Enzyme preparations of pumpkin was found to possess antitumoric potentiality [97].

Literature at present points to the potential usefulness of pumpkin in cancer treatment. However, it would be interesting to conduct an epidemiological survey with regard to incidence of malignancies among population that consumes pumpkin as vegetable.

Immunomodulatory Activity

In investigations about the antitumor activity of pumpkin polysaccharide, increase of cell immune function was observed (P ;< ;0.05) [92]. Pumpkin extracts could promoted of splenic lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cell activity and enhance the number of CD4+, CD8+ and the CD4+/CD8+ ratio (P ;< ;0.05) [94].

Antimutagenic Activity

Pumpkin juice was reported to have antimutagenic activity. Interestedly, when fruit and vegetable juices were heated, pumpkin juice was remarkably heat stable while a considerable reduction of antimutagenic potencies was seen with many fruits and vegetables such as apples, apricots, kiwis, pineapples and beets [98]. Shishigatani pumpkin (Cucurbitaceae) possessed bio-antimutagenicity in the chloroform and ethyl acetate fractions, but common pumpkin did not [64]. In addition, pumpkin and bitter leaves in Nigeria was reported to possess potential anti-mutagenic activities [99], it is necessary to prove the results in other places via more investigation.

Anthelmintic Study

Pumpkin seed was found to be a vermifuge and was eaten fresh or roasted for the relief of abdominal cramps and distension due to intestinal worms. ( The effect of water extracts of pumpkin seeds in the treatment of puppies experimentally infected with heterophyiasis could obtain promising results and combined extracts of areca nut and pumpkin seeds gave an excellent result than when given either extract alone [100]. An antihelminthic effect was reported at the minimum inhibitory concentration of 23 g of pumpkin seed in 100 ml of distilled water in preclinical studies [101].


Supplementation of pumpkin seeds snack gave a higher level of inhibitor of crystal formation or aggregation which will subsequently reduce the risk of bladder stone disease in Thailand [102]. Pumpkin seeds or orthophosphate supplementation 60 mg/kg. (body wt) per day could reduce the incidence of bladderstone, the longer the supplementation period of pumpkin seeds, the better were the results [103]. It was reported that the oil preparation could remarkably reduce the bladder pressure, increase the bladder compliance and reduce the urethral pressure [104].

Miscellaneous Effects

A few preliminary studies have shown various other pharmacological properties of the plant.

Pretreatment of spontaneously hypertensive rats with pumpkin seed oil for 4 weeks then i.v. administration of felodipine or captopril produced a significant beneficial hypotensive action [89]. In a clinical trial, a daily supplement of 30 g/person pumpkin powder produced hypotensive activities in 20 normal people and 20 NIDDM diabetics [84].

The administration of pumpkin seeds proteins after CCl4 intoxication resulted in significantly reduced activity levels of lactate dehydrogenase (LD), alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and hence this protein administration was effective in alleviating the detrimental effects associated with protein malnutrition [105].

Pumpkin showed urokinase inhibitory activity over 80%. There were various urokinase inhibitory activities with different ways of processing and pumpkin with water showed highest urokinase inhibitory activity [106].

Analgesia and antiinflammation activities were observed with head of pumpkin stem [107]. Proteins from pumpkin seeds could inhibit trypsin and activated Hageman factor, a serine protease involved in blood coagulation [108, 109]. A dietetic formula made of pumpkin, rice, chicken and vegetable oils was found to beneficial for children with diarrhea [110]. It was found that that both aqueous and ethanolic extracts of fluted pumpkin leaf have hepatoprotective properties. Furthermore, the aqueous extract is more effective than the ethanolic extract, which could be attributed to the higher antioxidative activity of the aqueous extract than the ethanolic extracts of fluted pumpkin leaves [111].

Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

Over the years scientists have researched many pharmacological actions and potential uses of pumpkin and its extracts. Clearly, there is still a lot to learn about the health effects of this plant. Further studies are required to gain a better understanding of the role of pumpkin extracts in protecting against disease.

Concentrated fruit or seed extracts and purified chemical can be found in various herbal preparations (capsules and liquid). Pumpkin preparations are becoming more widely available in the China as well as rest of the world and are employed by practitioners of natural health for treatment of diabetes. Role of pumpkin in diabetes is of paramount importance as this plant serves various purposes in these patients–reducing blood sugar, increasing the insulin level and decreasing branched chain amino acid. Most importantly it is cheap and easily available in developing countries. However, standardization of pumpkin and its antidiabetic component followed by a controlled clinical trial is needed.

Preliminary studies (in vitro as well as in vivo) of crude pumpkin extract against several cancers suggests that it have anticancer potential, however, presently further studies are needed.

Pumpkin extracts were reported to possess the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. In developing countries, both pumpkin and AIDS are ubiquitous, it could bring enormous hope to the suffering and it can be advocated as a dietary aid.

Polysaccharides including protein-bound polysaccharides are the bioactive materials of pumpkin. However, the structure property and relation between the structure and the function are not clear. The relationship between the contents of amino acids and hypoglycemic activity of protein-bound polysaccharides need further work to prove.

Because of reduction of antinutrients, technologies such as germination and fermentation are worth advocating. New bioactivity of germinated pumpkin seeds would be paid more attention. As special effective catalyst, enzyme is helpful to extract the bioactive substances from plant. Enzyme-assisted extraction of pumpkin oil or protein is good for research. The ultrasound treatment can significantly affect two types of physical phenomena: diffusion through the cell walls and washing out (rinsing) the cell contents once the walls are broken, involved in the extraction mechanism. To contribute toward industrialized utilization of pumpkin products, it is necessary to study ultrasound-assisted extraction of bioactive materials in pumpkin.



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support received in the form of a research grant (Project No: 30571298) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Food Science and Nutrition EngineeringChina Agriculture UniversityBeijingChina

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