With countless delicious snacks being crossed off the menu, whether it’s milk chocolate or potato chips, many acne patients are looking for a convenient food which doesn’t derail their skin, and pumpkin seeds seem to fit the bill.
This snack has been part of the human diet for a long time; seeds related to pumpkin seeds have been unearthed in Mexican caves and tombs dating back to 7000BC. Pumpkins themselves were first cultivated back in 6000-5000BC, in Oaxaca and Tehuacán in Central Mexico; the Aztecs ground the seeds into traditional sauces such as mole or pepián.
Today, pumpkin seeds aren’t exactly raking in money. In the wider world of natural health, pumpkin seeds have been edged out by chia seeds. Gym rats and bodybuilders dismiss all seeds as being lightweight food fit only for your pet rabbit.
However, pumpkin seeds have gained a great reputation for clearing acne. You see pumpkin seeds in “top ten foods for acne” lists constantly.
Acne patients don’t claim that pumpkin seeds will strengthen your skin, enrich its tone, or anything fancy – they can supposedly wipe out acne, plain and simple. Meanwhile, others say that all seeds are unnatural foods for the human species and must be eliminated. Which theory is correct? Let’s find out.
The zinc theory
The main theory is that pumpkin seeds are loaded with zinc, which is a great mineral for acne. Zinc is in fact the greatest acne supplement you can take. It works by constraining your immune system and keeping your skin calm, in addition to enhancing vitamin A and its acne powers.
Pumpkin seeds contain a total of 34% of the daily allowance for zinc per snack sized portion of 50 grams. That’s strong on paper, because great sources of zinc are fairly uncommon. You tend to find moderate levels in a variety of animal foods like eggs and meat, as opposed to one incredible source. A good start, but where pumpkin seeds fall down is in the bioavailability.
Like sesame seeds and almonds (botanically a seed), pumpkin seeds are naturally rich in phytic acid, a defensive toxin. Phytic acid is designed to instil fear in predators by causing digestive upset and malnourishment, and most pertinently for acne, phytic acid reduces the absorption of minerals through your gut lining.
Cows and sheep are naturally equipped with the phytase enzyme required to digest phytic acid, but monogastric animals like humans and dogs are not. Iron, magnesium and copper are all blocked from absorption, and zinc is also inhibited. For instance, this study found that the phytic acid in maize inhibited zinc absorption massively, while this one commented that “phytic acid is the main known inhibitor of zinc”.
Most seeds, grains and nuts contain some phytic acid, in varying amounts, with almonds being high and coconut flesh being very low. Pumpkin seeds rank very highly in the seed group, containing 2.13 grams of phytates per 50 grams. Sesame seeds contain just 0.76 grams.
Phytic acid doesn’t completely inhibit mineral absorption. Some zinc will survive the voyage into your bloodstream, but overall, pumpkin seeds are a dramatically inferior food for zinc and therefore clear skin than their reputation suggests. In practice, they’re no better than a weak quality boiled egg from a chicken kept in a cramped farmhouse or even some greasy fish and chips from the street corner.
Even the official content is far inferior to oysters, the ultimate zinc source, which contains 605% per 100 gram serving and no phytic acid at all. In other words, the accepted wisdom on pumpkin seeds and acne is a mere shadow of the truth.
A secret way to increase collagen?
Luckily, they’re redeemed by a power which almost nobody knows about. Pumpkin seeds are one of the few plant sources of complete proteins.
Unlike potatoes or broccoli, they contain the full range of essential amino acids required by the human body. They’re an optimal snack for a vegan determined to avoid the “skinny weakling” stereotype (not a guaranteed fate if you’re vegan and intelligent about it)…
…and it happens that pumpkin seeds are particularly rich in the rare amino acid glycine. Glycine is the hidden amino acid, the hidden secret. For acne, glycine can increase levels of collagen levels manufactured by the human body.
More collagen is the solution for stronger skin, younger skin, and smoother skin. It’s the solution for everything you’ve ever wanted. Then there’s the glutathione benefits, because glycine is one of the minerals needed to make it. Glutathione is an abundant antioxidant.
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with glycine. They’re also loaded with more common amino acids, but glycine is uncommon; that’s the whole point. Most people are deficient, so to have an abundant food as a snack to carry up a mountain, to the beach or into a forest is excellent.
Eat pumpkin seeds and you will crank up your skin’s defences. Incorporate them into your daily diet and who knows how great your skin will end up looking, assuming that you were deficient in the first place. To manufacture collagen your skin needs glycine and proline. Vitamin C is also important but it’s a cofactor, an agent needed to stimulate the process. Glycine is an essential ingredient.
This is a natural feature of pumpkin seeds which is almost never discussed, but for acne it beats the zinc content easily. Eat some pumpkin seeds as your daily snack and you could look younger or have smoother skin within weeks.
There’s plenty of decent glycine sources out there, such as beef, gelatin, liver and pork. However, they’re all animal foods. If you’re a vegan who wishes to keep your skin strong then pumpkin seeds are a great secret weapon to know about.
The glycine content of pumpkin seeds is approximately 1358mg per 100 grams. Compare the glycine content to other seeds:
Sunflower seeds per 100 grams – 1104mg.
Sesame seeds – 1162mg.
Chia seeds – 907mg.
Flax seeds – 1248mg.
Sunflower seeds give pumpkin seeds a run for their money, but they seem to have some dark secrets, as this study confirmed that eating sunflower seeds for two weeks led to acne outbreaks among fifty 15-30 year olds. Flax seeds are also a rich source, but have notorious estrogenic side effects.
THE HIDDEN DANGERS – defensive toxins
It cannot be denied that pumpkin seeds have powers for acne even if they’re not what a mainstream acne guru would claim. Yet despite being instinctively associated with the word “health” among the public, pumpkin seeds have a hidden dark side. Any seed designed to sprout and give birth to a new plant is loaded with toxins designed to ward off predators, and that includes you or me.
We’ve covered phytic acid already. Phytates bind to minerals in the seed itself, but there’s also evidence that they bind to and snatch away the mineral supplies of your own body. This might rob you of important minerals like magnesium, vital for regulating oily skin and sleep.
Pumpkin seeds also contains oxalates, which increase inflammation in the human body among susceptible individuals. Unlike phytates, pumpkin seeds contain less than most seeds, but still enough to create fresh pimples if you’re sensitive.
Then there’s the fat profile. Pumpkin seeds contain 14 grams of fat per 100 grams of weight; the fat is their natural energy for fuelling the young stages of the new plant’s life. 12 grams of that fat are omega 6s while only 0.00000012 grams are omega 3s. Eat too many pumpkin seeds and your omega ratio will become very unbalanced and unnatural. The result will be an overactive immune system and overactive acne.
Pumpkin seeds also contain lectins, which cause digestive discomfort. That’s what you feel at least, but what’s also occurring is a severe disruption of the absorption of nutrients from food. Often these are important acne nutrients.
Finally, there are protease inhibitors, found in all seeds. The goal of this weapon is to disrupt protein digestion, causing the predators of pumpkins like deer and rabbits to weaken and get eaten by their own predators. Because of these toxins it’s a mystery whether the beneficial glycine will actually be absorbed at all, because it’s an amino acid. If your digestion is exactly average, you will still benefit moderately.
Overall, pumpkin seeds are an identical proposition to almonds and their excellent vitamin E arsenal. A convenient snack with some strong acne benefits, which nevertheless contains a variety of defensive toxins.
Who can eat pumpkin seeds?
They’re also similar to almonds in that some people can acquire these benefits without an explosion of acne while others have no chance.
Vegans – if you’ve jumped aboard the vegan diet and are looking forward to clear and enriched skin, be careful! There are benefits, but many dodgy promises as well. In particular, some nutrients of animal foods are vital and the amino acids are an example.
Glycine is like vitamin B12; it’s extremely difficult to obtain from plant sources. So is zinc. That’s why pumpkin seeds are a great snack to carry around if you’re a vegan. I recommend against a vegan diet for acne, but if it’s philosophical and you’re determined to stick with it, make yourself aware of your new skincare needs.
Gluten free dieters – if you’ve been gluten free for months, you have already minimised the dangers. Gluten is the single most deadly compound behind digestive disorders and inefficiency, even in people who show no apparent signs of sensitivity. Gluten free dieters will be much more resistant to the lectins and antinutrients in pumpkin seeds.
Smokers – if you puff on 20 cigarettes daily and immerse your face in the smoke, your collagen supplies are severely weakened. You need more glycine than non-smokers and pumpkin seeds can supply it.
If you need more collagen for any reason, pumpkin seeds will become infinitely more useful. Tobacco smoke is proven to mutate and destroy collagen proteins in human skin.
People who eat a traditional diet – if you’re reading this from a village in India or the valleys of Nepal then your digestive system is probably in exquisite shape. Traditional diets consist of more fermented foods like natto or kombucha, with healthy bacterial strains. The lack of obsessive cleanliness and hygiene in traditional cultures also improves gut bacteria through exposure to dirt.
Healthy bacterial strains in the gut provide a buffer of defence against antinutrients like the ones in pumpkin seeds (that’s the basic summary, the subject is massive). The result is less acne and efficient, machine-like extraction of the nutrition. If you’re a Westerner with a severe kefir, yoghurt, or sauerkraut addiction then you too will be stronger than most.
Who shouldn’t eat pumpkin seeds?
People with IBS or chronic digestion problems – if you have a weak digestive system then you will not withstand the antinutrients in pumpkin seeds at all.
The source of all your nausea, stomach aches and ingestion is probably 1) imbalanced gut bacteria, or 2) a dysfunctional gut lining. The phytic acid and lectins in pumpkin seeds will worsen both conditions and worsen your acne.
Follow the advice on the rest of this website and your poor digestion should gradually improve. It isn’t an incurable condition from which you should simply pray for respite; it’s caused by “conventional wisdom”, the irreparably flawed Standard American Diet.
Standard American dieters – speaking of which, if you’ve only just uncovered the world of natural health and dietary strategies then pumpkin seeds should be avoided. If you’ve stumbled through life eating what big health bodies have told you to, then your digestive system and body will simply be too weak.
This relates closely to the point on digestion, but it can be true even if your digestion seems excellent. Constant eating of bread and pasta will take its toll on your gut and make you more sensitive to acne from pumpkin seeds. Mountain after mountain of added sugar lurking in fish breadcrumbs or pasta sauce will have been feeding your unhealthy gut bacteria for decades. Eat cleanly for two months and your body will strengthen.
Carnivorous dieters – if you’re obsessed with meat, eggs and organs regardless of any natural health strategies, you are probably obtaining the benefits of pumpkin seeds already. The sources of zinc and glycine are primarily animal foods.
Seafood is a particularly concentrated source, so if you follow the Mediterranean diet or have retired to a tropical island lair in the Caribbean, make raspberries your favourite snack for acne instead.
BONUS POWER – skin tone
This is another potential power which is far more interesting than the zinc. Pumpkin seeds might enhance your skin tone and glow by increasing blood flow to the skin.
This study was designed to test pumpkin seed oil against hypertension, which was induced by a chemical that depleted nitric oxide. Rats were fed pumpkin seed oil or a placebo for 6 weeks. Pumpkin seed oil reversed the increase in blood pressure, accompanied by a reversal in the depletion of nitric oxide metabolites. This took effect after two weeks.
To make you more of an expert, note that nitric oxide is a vasodilating gas which controls blood pressure. The key for acne is that it dilates the tiny capillaries which deliver blood and nutrients to skin cells.
The study was conducted on pumpkin seed oil, a simple extract of the fat content of pumpkin seeds. Strangely, almost all scientific research has been conducted on the oil, rather than the seeds themselves. However, the oil is approximately 14% of the raw seeds, so if the oil increases nitric oxide, the seeds are almost guaranteed to as well.
None of the specific fatty acids in pumpkin seeds (e.g. omega 6s) are known to increase nitric oxide. It must be a hidden compound which hasn’t been isolated yet. The scientists concluded that pumpkin seed oil contained “a mechanism that may involve generation of NO”, but not what the mechanism was.
We shall declare this power to be unproven, but pumpkin seeds might improve blood flow to the skin and improve your oxygen and nutrient delivery.
Pumpkin seeds have a niche, albeit a mediocre one – as an alternative source of acne nutrients. For most acne patients they are unspectacular, but if you’re a member of the vegan sect then pumpkin seeds are excellent for getting your all-important zinc and glycine, without compromising your beliefs.
Additionally, their potential benefits for skin tone are very interesting. I will stay alert for new studies and update this page if necessary.
Pumpkin seeds are more of a secret acne trick which is good to have in your brain rather than a full scale acne miracle.
Thanks for reading!