Does Deworming with Pumpkin Seeds Work?
I had heard for years that pumpkin seeds can be used as a dewormer for chickens, dogs, goats, and other animals. With a field full of pumpkins I decided to look into it. The biochemicals cucurbitacin and cucurbitacin, found in cucurbits like pumpkins and bitter melons are said to be responsible for this effect.
I quickly found three studies on using pumpkin seeds to treat intestinal worms in animals. In this paper I analyze three very different studies in order to offer a rounded view of the subject. Some details from the studies are included, particularly with the third study, which focuses heavily on biochemistry, with clear explanations added for those who want to skip the nerdy bits, or just scroll down to view summaries and conclusions. Including my own. Direct quotes from the studies are italicized. I also refer to an article by USA Today.
To explored linked information referenced in each study, please access the original studies. The url for each study is posted below.
1. Delaware State University Cooperative Extension Program
2. Turkish Journal of Veterinary and Animal Sciences
3. National Institute of Health NIH
4. USA Today article
5. My conclusions and discussion
1. DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY COOPERATIVE EXTENSION PROGRAM
Delaware State University’s Cooperative Extension Program did a study on using pumpkin seeds as a dewormer in goats in 2008. It was a small study using 22 goat kids and only four data points over three weeks and was not conclusive, although the ending worm egg counts were much less than beginning counts.
The study used ground pumpkin seeds and it was found that some of the goats avoided eating the pumpkin seeds, making this a low quality study. The researchers refer to a previous study that used pumpkin seeds as a drench, which did look to be effective at reducing worm Fecal Egg Counts (FEC).
2. TURKISH JOURNAL OF VETERINARY AND ANIMAL SCIENCES
The Turkish Journal of Veterinary and Animal Sciences published a study in April 2019 called Evaluation of the in vivo efficacy of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) seeds against gastrointestinal helminthes of chickens. Research was conducted by Jezie A. ACORDA, Imma Ysabela Emille C. MANGUBAT, and Billy P. DIVINA.
This study looked at ninety Philippine Jolo native chickens of mixed sexes. The study consisted of a control group with basic mash feed, a group given ground pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo) daily in their basic mash feed, and a group given mebendazole-medicated feed. This study looked at three types of worms.
To quote the study, “Results indicate that compared to mebendazole, pumpkin seed was moderately effective in reducing worm counts of Ascaridia spp. and Raillietina spp., marginally active in reducing worm counts of Heterakis spp., and moderately effective in reducing egg output of the worms. The results suggest that pumpkin seed has the potential to be used as an alternative anthelmintic for chickens.”
“While the difference of mebendazole compared to pumpkin seed treatment is significant (P = 0.027), it does not disprove the anthelmintic effect of pumpkin seeds on helminth ova.”
Although medication was more effective in this study, the advantage of using pumpkin seeds over synthetic medication is “sustainable control of helminth infections with low environmental impact and low toxicity to both animals and man.”
According to the study, the “pumpkin seed treatment decreases worm load, likely due to the presence of cucurbitin, the active constituent responsible for the anthelmintic effects of the seeds. Besides damaging the tegument through proteolysis, cucurbitin also paralyzes worms by interfering with energy generation, uncoupling the oxidative phosphorylation process and causing a worm-expelling effect by detaching the parasites from the intestinal wall of the host.”
Another factor to consider is that the efficacy of natural treatments, such as pumpkin seeds, are dependent on dose. This study used a dose of 2 grams of ground pumpkin seeds per bird per day. The study refers to other research and the authors agree that the effective dose may be 6 grams, as stated by other researchers. The dose used in this study may have been too low.
Pumpkin seed treatment was:
Moderately effective in reducing worm counts of A. galli and Raillietina spp.
Marginally active in reducing worm counts of Heterakis gallinarum.
Moderately effective at reducing egg* output of the flock as a whole, with percentage effectiveness of 80.02%
Highly effective at reducing the egg* output of the average bird in the flock, with percentage effectiveness of 98.66%.
*eggs of parasitic worms
Pumpkin seed “may find ethnomedicinal use in the prevention and control of helminthic infections in poultry. “
Determining the optimal dose of pumpkin seeds
Toxicity studies to investigate the safety profile of pumpkin seeds
Determining the best way to prepare and treat with pumpkin seeds
Palatability/ consumption studies on different preparations
Production performance studies on pumpkin seed-treated birds
Efficacy studies on pumpkin seed treatment for other poultry species
A cost-benefit analysis of using pumpkin seed treatment over synthetic drugs
Studies to determine the anthelmintic efficacy of Cucurbita maxima seeds (C. pepo was used)
The study references the traditional use of plants as medicinals, including treatment and elimination of parasites. When considering treatment for worms, plants in the Cucurbitaceae family as used antiparasitic agents. One member of this family, pumpkin (Cucurbitamoschata, or C. maxima, or C. pepo), stands out because it is used as a natural vermifuge (worm killer) worldwide, “and its seeds are known to have anthelmintic properties when used in humans and animals.”
Other plants are in use and have been studied. The paper references a study In 2017 by Ozaraga and Ozaraga, that “studied the efficacy of ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala), betel nut (Areca catechu), and papaya (Carica papaya) seeds in reducing EPG values in Darag native chickens.”
3. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH STUDY
The third study, more biochemical in nature, at the National Institute of Health, published online 2016 Sep 1, called Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts—In Vitro and in Vivo Studies.
This study sites a growing deworming drug resistance in both humans and livestock, leading to possible morbidity and great economic losses worldwide, and was conducted to evaluate the in vitro (in the lab) and in vivo (in living animals) anthelmintic (deworming) efficiency of pumpkin seeds (C. pepo).
Pumpkin seeds were used using hot water extract (HWE), cold water extract (CWE) or ethanol (70%) extract (ETE) on two model nematodes: Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and Heligmosoides bakeri (H. bakeri).
The study analyzed the chemical constituents of each extract and performed lab tests to determine efficacy for a set of treatments, listed above. The most effective treatment found in the laboratory trials was then used to test the effects on animals.
All C. pepo seed extracts exhibited a nematidicidal (worm killing) potential in vitro, with the ethanol extraction being the most effective. The effects were dose dependent, with the highest dose delivering the most effective results.
The study showed that all extracts showed a negative effect on H. bakeri, but not C. elegans. The authors state that the dose used in this study against C. elegans may not have been high enough.
The study concluded that “Pumpkin seed extracts may be used to control of Gastrointestinal (G.I.) nematode infections. This relatively inexpensive alternative to the currently available chemotherapeutic should be considered as a novel drug candidate in the nearest future.”
No signs of negative effects of the treatment, physical or behavioral, were seen in the treated mice.
Both water and alcohol solvents led to a recovery of different natural products from the plant matrix, yet ethanol extract was found to contain a higher variety of compounds in comparison to the aqueous extracts.
Cold water had the lowest variation and the smallest concentration of metabolites, even though it was characterized by a similar composition to hot water extraction. The ethanol extract was seen as the most complex and interesting from a pharmacological point of view. Water extraction was not ruled out, however, as it is an easier and less expensive method.
The chemical analysis showed many compounds which may be responsible for the results seen, and secondary metabolites may also be responsible. This chemical analysis showed the presence of berberine and palmatine, previously unrecorded in C. pepo extracts.
This finding, the study states “is definitely of great importance as it might contribute to the denouement of C. pepo nematicidal activity. As previously reported, berberine and palmatine exhibited antileishmaniasis , antimalarial, anti-schisostomiasis and Toxoplasma gondii inhibitory properties. Moreover, berberine was found to reduce liver damage and oxidative stress, which occasionally accompany parasitic infections in in vivo tests on mice, which might lead to a sooner recovery.”
In other words, complex plant based extracts, may have greater effects than single chemical drug solutions. Additionally, pumpkin seeds may have more far reaching benefits than simply eliminating worms.
The authors state that “plants from the Cucurbitaceae family contain active metabolites that might be used in nematicidal treatment. Seeds of Cucurbita species are known to contain various secondary metabolites which belong to different groups of compounds: nitrogen-containing compounds (cucurbitacin B, cucurbitin), saponins, sterols, and primary metabolites, such as proteins (curcumosin), sugars and fats (fatty acids), which were reported to have a medical potential.”
While this study used pumpkin seed extracts, it also addressed the use of ground pumpkin seed.
“The formerly performed evaluation of a possible pumpkin seed flour antinematicidal effect in meat goat kids and lambs performed by Matthews and co-investigators showed that the flour obtained from pumpkin seeds in the treatment exhibited no effects on the parasite infection, when administered to lambs and goat kids. The treatment dose of 5 g of seed flour/kg b.w. seemed to be too low to exhibit a satisfactory anthlemintic effect. In the light of our findings, the application of pumpkin extract instead of seed flour might exhibit a far stronger activity. It might be due to enrichment of the extract with pharmacologically active plant secondary metabolites, e.g., nitrogen containing compounds.”
The study the authors refer to here is one using the worm H. contortus, which is one of the most resistant parasites in livestock animals, one of the most difficult to treat.
Another issue to consider with the evaluation of pumpkin seed extracts in ruminants is that microbial compounds and enzymes in the rumen, which goats have, as well as the acidic environment of the abomasum (the final stomach in ruminants), may possibly cause degradation of the active compounds.
Therefore, extracts and other delivery methods may improve the effectiveness of pumpkin seeds against intestinal worms. Non ruminants may be more easily treated with pumpkin seeds.
CONCLUSIONS for NIH STUDY:
This study concluded that:
“Cucurbid seeds may constitute an alternative treatment for both standard and ecological methods of livestock breeding.”
Naturally-occurring compounds found in plants and animals, such as pumpkin seeds, have been used by indigenous people, even primitive humans, to treat health problems including parasitic infections for themselves and their livestock animals.
Because synthetic anthelmitics (dewormers) are developing a growing resistance, ethno-veterinary and ethno-medicine are now being studied with considerable efforts. Pumpkins, specifically, have been studied for the last decade due to their uses in the treatment of parasitical diseases.
This study found pumpkins seeds may be an alternative to synthetic anthelmintics. One benefit of using natural products like pumpkin seeds is they have little chance of long-living harmful residues.
And while pumpkin seeds are not as effective as synthetic drugs, there are some well-known examples of the medicinal use of natural plant products, “such as quinine for the treatment of malaria and artemisinin or quinghaosu from Artemisia annua for the treatment of malaria.”
Furthermore, these natural ethnopharmacological products could lead to novel agricultural industries, cultivating plants with antiparasitic properties, which could be used in different kinds of fodder as future medicines.
In this study, the extracts obtained from C. pepo (pumpkin) were found to exhibit nematicidal (worm killing) properties. The ethanol extraction had the most active compounds and the highest variety of secondary metabolites, as well as the highest concentration. It was the most effective extract.
However, hot water extraction could be an alternate method due to the economic reasons, as it was found to have the second most favorable concentration, and was shown to have antinematicidal properties in vitro (lab).
“Ethanol seed extract was found to significantly affect H. bakeri egg hatching, larval development and adult worm motility. The presented results of the in vivo experiment confirmed the anthelmintic action of ethanol extract obtained from the seeds against mouse G.I. nematode H. bakeri at a dose of 8 g/kg.”
The deworming action may have been because of “the presence of cucurbitine, fatty acids, and herein identified, for the first time to our knowledge, protoberberine alkaloids: berberine and palmatine.” These secondary metabolites may be alternatives to medicines currently used to treat gastrointestinal nematodes in livestock animals and humans.
“Based on the above information, pumpkin seed extracts could constitute novel candidates to become inexpensive sources of anthelmintic compounds.
The authors would like to see tests in the future using larger animals with model parasites, such as sheep with H. contortus, as well as the development of extraction stabilization, preservation, and formulation.
Citation: 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.
5. USA TODAY FACT CHECK
USA TODAY ran a fact check article. The article says that claims that pumpkin seeds can eliminate intestinal parasites is false, pointing out exaggeration in social media claims and a lack of human trials.
Clearly, the above studies indicate the usefulness of pumpkin seeds in eliminating intestinal worms. Perhaps when researching efficacy of a natural remedy, one should consider the source. Social media posts are prone to misinformation and exaggeration, but media sources that rely on revenue from companies that gain financially from drug sales over natural remedies should also be seen as suspect information.
6. MY CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
It does appear that pumpkin seeds can be used to control intestinal worms, but there are factors to consider.
Effectiveness of pumpkin seeds to treat worms is dose dependent.
Treatment method (ground, extract, type of extract etc.) changes effectiveness.
Extracts seem to be more effective than ground pumpkin seeds.
Extracts with higher diversity of biochemicals and higher concentrations appear to be most effective, in particular ethanol extracts, followed by hot water extracts.
Results vary greatly depending on species of parasite, with some species like C. elegans not affected at all, and other species, such as H. contortus, very hard to treat.
Ruminants may be harder to treat.
Synthetic dewormers are significantly better than pumpkin seeds.
Parasitic worms are becoming more resistant globally to synthetic dewormers like mebendazole.
Source of information matters. Research carefully.
Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbit family, all which contain varying degrees of biochemicals like cucurbitin and cucurbitacin. Bitter melon, Momordica charantia, and squirting cucumber, Ecballium elaterium, may have very high levels of these bitter compounds.
Considering the action of cucuritin and cucurbitacin alone may be short sighted as other biochemistry may also be involved. Berberine and palmatine, which have now been identified in pumpkin seed extracts, have been used in the treatment of leishmaniasis (a parasitic protozoan), schisostomiasis (blood flukes), and toxoplasmosis (a parasite commonly found in cat litter boxes).
Moreover, as stated in the NIH study, “berberine was found to reduce liver damage and oxidative stress, which occasionally accompany parasitic infections in in vivo tests on mice, which might lead to a sooner recovery.”
Often natural products, with complex biochemistry, not only have an effect on parasites and disease, they may also have compounds that help heal and restore health.
There is a lack of study and understanding of full biochemistry in natural materials. Commonly drug development points toward a single active compound and disregards the synergistic effects of corresponding biochemistry. This is one reason why natural compounds have far less side effects than solitary, isolated chemicals used as drugs.
While pumpkin seeds are less useful in killing intestinal parasites than synthetic drugs, using pumpkin seeds to treat, regularly may be effective enough to avoid needing medication entirely. This, in my opinion, would be ideal, as the medications are expensive, are losing effectiveness, and causes side effects. Small frequent doses of natural products like pumpkin seeds may eliminate the need for powerful, synthetic medication.
In the practice of Korean Natural Farming, perhaps the best way to use pumpkin seeds to control internal parasites would be by making pumpkins seeds into a Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), as the fermentation process of making FPJ makes chemicals more bio-available. In particular, the process produces ethanol, although in small quantities, which have been shown to extract a high diversity and high concentration of biochemistry effective in treating intestinal worms.
Pumpkin seed FPJ could then be used as a drench, with animals such as ruminants, or in drinking water, for animals like chickens. Repeated small doses may prove to be effective in the long run, avoiding the need for medication, which is expensive, is losing effectiveness, and can cause side effects.
Be sure to monitor animal health if you try natural remedies such as pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed FPJ. These parasites can be deadly to your animals and can spread quickly.