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Liver Health Ideas: Pumpkin Seeds Trump Chips!


Discover several reasons why those with liver concerns are better served with a handful of pumpkin seeds than a bagful of chips.

Everything we eat has the potential to positively or negatively affect the liver’s health. As such, those with chronic liver disease have the weighty task of choosing favorable foods and avoiding unfavorable ones. Usually loaded with salt, fat and chemicals, traditional savory snacks tend to pose a quandary to those with liver concerns. However, pepitas – otherwise known as pumpkin seeds – fulfill the desire for tasty, salty snacking while simultaneously providing nutritional support to the liver.

One Reason We Crave Salty Snacks

As described by some health experts, stressed adrenal glands may be the cause of salty food cravings. The adrenal glands store salt – a mineral needed to produce adrenaline, noradrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. According to nutrition researcher Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, “…when you’re super busy and under a ton of pressure, your adrenals can get burned out trying to produce all of that cortisol. Their salt stores become drained and hormone output dips, leading to stubborn salt cravings, plus that awful drained and draggy feeling.”

Those with chronic liver disease are likely familiar with the drained, draggy feeling that Dr. Teitelbaum refers to. Luckily, taking 20 minutes a day to meditate, stretch, practice deep breathing, soak in a tub or get a little exercise has been shown to cut adrenal glands’ cortisol output by up to 25 percent. This output shift allows the adrenals to restock its salt stores and cut cravings without increasing salt intake.

Harmful Snacking

Cravings for savory snacks have the potential to wreck any well-intentioned dietary plan. Chips (usually potato or corn) tend to be a favorite pick for fulfilling the desire for a speedy, salty snack. Unfortunately, chips rarely do the liver any favors.

French fries, potato chips and other deep fried savory snacks contain high levels of:

  • Acrylamide – A toxin formed when starchy foods are heated to high temperatures, acrylamide can cause DNA damage, which may result in reproductive damage and cancer.
  • Liver-Toxic Lipid Peroxides – Rancid fats suppress the immune system and damage liver cell membranes.
  • Trans-Fatty Acids – Suppress the production of PGE1, an important liver-protecting prostaglandin.
  • Salt – Excessive salt stresses the kidneys and creates an imbalance that causes blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure raises the risk of damage to liver cells.

Pepitas – Satisfying and Liver Friendly

Pepitas pack an immense nutritional and medicinal punch. Containing future worlds within their compact structure, nature equips pumpkin seeds with an extremely dense source of organically-bound nutrients. For example, a one cup serving of pepitas contains:

  • 44 percent daily value of zinc
  • 22 percent daily value of copper
  • 42 percent daily value of magnesium
  • 16 percent daily value of manganese
  • 17 percent daily value of potassium
  • 17 percent daily value of iron

Salted pumpkin seeds are unnecessary, because the flavor and mineral content of an unsalted pumpkin seed is savory and satisfying. In addition, pepitas contain other immune-boosting vitamins (like Vitamin C, Vitamin B and Vitamin E) that are valuable to anyone with a weakened immune system. Various studies have found pumpkin seeds to support different aspects of liver health:

  • As published in a 2008 edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology, Tunisian researchers evaluated pumpkin and flaxseeds’ effect on high cholesterol in animals. They found a mixture of flax and pumpkin seeds protected the liver from a high cholesterol diet.
  • As published in a 2006 edition of Phytotherapy Research, South African researchers investigated the antioxidant effects of pumpkin seed protein isolate. They found pumpkin seeds contained antioxidants capable of protecting the liver from acetaminophen toxicity.
  • As published in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Medicinal Food, Egyptian researchers examined the effect of pumpkin seed oil on hypertension. They found that pumpkin seed oil exhibits an antihypertensive effect; an extremely valuable characteristic for those with advanced chronic liver disease. Because of the impaired blood circulation in a severely scarred liver, the pressure can get very high – requiring those affected to prioritize lowering their blood pressure.

For the liver’s sake, prioritize mitigating your desire for salty snacks. Instead of polishing off a bag of chips, consider cutting cortisol output with something like exercise, stretching or meditation and munch on a handful of pepitas (unsalted is preferred). Whether you are trying to satisfy a chip craving or just want to improve your diet’s nutritional content, giving pumpkin seeds a place in your kitchen is a smart choice for your liver’s longevity., Have Liver Problems? Eat Pumpkin Seeds!, Retrieved August 6, 2013,, 2013., The Remarkable Healing Properties of Pumpkin Seed, Sayer Ji, Retrieved August 6, 2013,, 2013., Three Reasons to Snack on Pumpkin Seeds for those With Advanced Hepatitis, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac, Retrieved August 6, 2013, Hepatitis Central, 2013., 5 Surprisingly Toxic Items to Your Liver, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved August 12, 2013, Natural Wellness, 2013., In Vitro antioxidative activity of pumpkin seed (Cucurbita pepo) protein isolate and its In Vivo effect on alanine transaminase and aspartate transaminase in acetaminophen-induced liver injury in low protein fed rats, Nkosi CZ, et al, Retrieved August 6, 2013, Phytotherapy Research, September 2006., Hypolipidemic and hepatoprotective effects of flax and pumpkin seed mixture rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in hypercholesterolemic rats, Makni M, et al, Retrieved August 6, 2013, Food and Chemical Toxicology, December 2008., Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects of pumpkin seed oil, El-Mosallamy AE, et al, Retrieved August 11, 2013, Journal of Medicinal Food, February 2012., If You Crave: Salty Snacks, Retrieved August 12, 2013, Comcast, 2013.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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