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Antidepressive Activity of Pumpkin Seeds

Written by Dr Sarah Porteous on October 28th, 2015.      0 comments

Depression and anxiety disorders have become common public health problems. In the 2011/2012 NewZealand Health survey 14.3% of New Zealand adults have been diagnosed with depression  at some time in their lives and 6.1% with anxiety disorders.

The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in mental disorder patients are of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters - such as L-tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin). Depression is associated with decreased release of two brain neurotransmitters - serotonin and noradrenaline, from nerve cells. When serotonin and noradrenaline are released  in the brain our mood lifts, when they are reabsorbed by the nerves the effect is attenuated. Common antidepressants such as imipriamine (sold under the brand name Tofranil here in NZ), act to elevate mood by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin and noradrenaline into nerve cells. Although imipriamine, can be effective, there is also the very undesirable side effect of increased risk of suicide. Finding alternatives to drug treatment is therefore highly desirable.

Boosting serotonin levels by consuming serotonin doesn't work, as serotonin doesn't cross the blood brain barrier so never makes it to where it's needed. The amino acid precursor of serotonin, tryptophan, however, does cross the blood brain barrier and is something we get from our diet. Tryptophan is found in many proteins, however as it competes with other amino acids for uptake into the brain the best way of boosting brain serotonin levels is to consume foods that have a high tryptophan to total protein ratio. These foods are pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds.

A study in 2012 investigated the antidepressant effect of pumpkin seed extracts on depressive behaviour in animals and compared this to treatment with imipriamine. Results from this study showed a similar effectiveness of all pumpkin seed extracts tested to that of imipriamine. Interestingly the extract made from germinated pumpkin seeds appeared to be most effective (the other extracts tested were from seeds that were raw, boiled, autoclaved, or roasted).

In people, a study on the effectiveness of pumpkin seed consumption on social anxiety disorder also found a significant improvement in those  eating the seeds.

Pumpkin seeds are also a valuable source of zinc, and a very good source of manganese, copper, phosphorous and magnesium.
PMID: 18066139
Antidepressive Activity of Processed Pumpkin (Curcurbita maxima) Seeds on Rats
Shemi George and P Nazni*, Int. J. Pharm. Med. & Bio. Sc. 2012