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Three Reasons to Snack on Pumpkin Seeds for Those with Advanced Hepatitis

Nicole Cutler L.Ac.

September 27, 2012

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When living with cirrhosis, be aware of the pros and cons of snacking on pumpkin seeds.

Once October hits, pumpkins are placed front and center in a majority of American supermarkets, kitchen counters and front porches. The pumpkin’s seeds frequently get scooped and tossed when making Jack-O-lanterns or in favor of the gourd’s bright orange flesh for pie making. However, pumpkin seeds are virtual nutrient powerhouses that harbor several benefits to people with a chronic illness – especially those with advanced hepatitis.

About Pumpkin Seeds

Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are delicious and full of nutrients. Consumed raw or toasted, they can be a hulled kernel or an unhulled whole seed. Pepitas are used in Mexican cuisine in such dishes as mole, and are ground for use in green sauces. In addition, their tasty crunch and nutritional fortitude has given rise to pumpkin seeds being viewed as an ideal natural snack food.

One serving of raw pumpkin seeds is a quarter cup, and contains 187 calories; 10 percent of the total recommended daily value of calories, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website. Although most of these calories come from fat, pepitas contain a desirable ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids that fosters healthful cellular function and oxygenation. In addition to unsaturated fatty acids, pepitas are loaded with nutrients such as:

  • Amino-acids (protein building blocks)
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • B Vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Beta Carotene
  • Phosphorous
  • Lutein
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Zinc

About Advanced Hepatitis

Whether a result of alcoholic hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis, viral Hepatitis B or viral Hepatitis C, hepatitis that is caught late or is unable to be treated can progress to advanced liver disease. Those in this position are vulnerable to extensive scarring of the liver, possibly to the irreversible point of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is characterized by the hardening and shrinking of liver cells causing diminished liver function. Besides the possibility of developing liver cancer, cirrhosis is the final phase of chronic liver disease.

Living with cirrhosis adds many challenges to a person’s health. Although there are many potential complications of cirrhosis, three common ones include:

  • Frequent infections due to an impaired immune system
  • Malnutrition due to loss of appetite and difficulty processing nutrients
  • Bleeding related to increased pressure in the main vein that brings blood to the liver – portal hypertension

Pepitas and Cirrhosis

There have not been any large, respected, double-blind studies evaluating the effect of pumpkin seeds on cirrhosis. Nonetheless, several of pepitas’ characteristics make them a logical snack choice for this advanced liver illness:

  1. Immune Boosters – Because the liver manufactures many of the immune system’s components, a liver impaired by cirrhosis is likely to be associated with weakened immunity. Pepitas contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals (Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin E, Zinc) known to support immune health. In addition, pumpkin seeds are also valued for their antimicrobial benefits, including antifungal and antiviral properties. Research points to the role of unique proteins in pumpkin seeds as the reason for their antimicrobial properties. The lignans in pumpkin seeds (including pinoresinol, medioresinol and lariciresinol) have also been shown to exert an antiviral effect.
  2. Good for Low Appetite – Having little to no appetite and recurring nausea is a frequent issue with cirrhosis. Unfortunately, this can further malnutrition. When liver function is diminished, there are fewer enzymes to digest food – often leading to nausea. Small food portions are typically suggested to prevent the nausea from being severe. Because so much nutritive value is found in just a small handful of pumpkin seeds, snacking on pepitas is a great way to provide protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to someone who has no interest in eating.
  3. Ease Portal Hypertension – Because of the impaired blood circulation in a cirrhotic liver, the pressure can get very high in the main vein entering the liver. For this reason, those with portal hypertension take various steps to ease their blood pressure. As reported by Egyptian researchers in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Medicinal Food, the oil in pumpkin seeds exhibits an antihypertensive and cardio-protective effect through a mechanism that may involve the generation of nitric oxide (a blood vessel relaxer).

Although pepitas appear to be a great snack food for anyone with advanced hepatitis, there are several caveats to be aware of:

  1. Iron – In a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds, there is an estimated 15.7 percent of the daily value of iron. Certain individuals with cirrhosis are on an iron-restricted diet and must factor this in to their calculations.
  2. Salt - Adding salt to pumpkin seeds might make them exceptionally tasty, but will increase the risk of ascites. Ascites is abdominal swelling typical of those with cirrhosis – and its treatment usually revolves around salt abstinence.
  3. Fat – Although containing a healthful balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, those with concurrent gallbladder disease may be on a strict fat restrictive diet.

Finding healthy, tasty snacks may not always be easy, but autumn’s abundance of pumpkins reminds us otherwise. Having cirrhosis presents several health challenges that can be met with saving, cleaning and roasting the pepitas from a hollowed out pumpkin. As long as you don’t add salt – and the iron and fat content are okay – munching on pepitas might just become a favorite, year-round, healthy habit.

References:

http://suite101.com/article/health-benefits-of-pumpkin-a153140, Health Benefits of Pumpkin, Jennifer Murray, Retrieved September 23, 2012, suite101.com, 2012.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/263750-pepitas-nutrition-information/, Pepitas Nutritional Information, Elisabeth Dahl, Retrieved September 23, 2012, Demand Media Inc., 2012.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cirrhosis/DS00373/DSECTION=complications, Cirrhosis Complications, Retrieved September 23, 2012, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2012.

http://www.naturalnews.com/025621_pepitas_seeds_food.html, Pepitas are a Crunchy Munchy Snack Food full of Nutritional Benefits, Barbara L. Minton, Retrieved September 23, 2012, Natural News Network, 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16909447, Antioxidative effects of pumpkin seed (Cucurbita pepo) protein isolate in CCl4-induced liver injury in low-protein fed rats, Nkosi, CZ, et al, Retrieved September 23, 2012, Phytotherapy Research, November 2006.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22082068, Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects of pumpkin seed oil, El-Mosallamy AE, et al, Retrieved September 23, 2012, Journal of Medical Food, February 2012.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=82, Pumpkin Seeds, Retrieved September 23, 2012, The George Mateljan Foundation, 2012.

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Posted by Nicole Cutler L.Ac. on September 27, 2012

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