What Is Mucuna Pruriens?
Mucuna pruriens, often referred to as the dopamine bean due to its high levels of L-dopa, is a creeping vine that grows all over India—particularly in the tropics—and is also found in tropical regions of Africa and the Caribbean. Aside from its L-dopa content, the velvet bean has a good nutritional value. Although a legume, it is easily digestible and rich in minerals, dietary proteins and essential amino acids, fatty acids such as linoleic acid, and starch.
What is Mucuna Used for?
This wonderful herb has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, India’s ancient medical system, for over two thousand years and has been known to support a healthy central & peripheral nervous system, support the body’s ability to handle stress, support physical balance & posture, promote healthy motor skills & coordination, improve energy & endurance, support the intellect, bolster libido, and revitalize both the male & female reproductive systems.
Like Jack’s magic beans in the fairytale, mucuna beans are sometimes called “magical velvet beans.” For researchers, this magic refers to mucuna’s potential to improve a wide range of serious brain diseases. For some users, this bean’s magical properties span from its aphrodisiac effects, while others yet allude to their mild, simultaneous relaxant and stimulating effects on the brain.
Health Benefits of Mucuna
Mucuna has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and many of its health benefits have been well-researched in modern scientific studies.
Mucuna Helps in Production of Dopamine
Mucuna is a natural source of levodopa (L-dopa), an essential precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine has many functions in the brain and in the nervous system as a whole; it plays an important role in behavior, cognition, voluntary movement, sleep, mood, working memory, and learning.
Though dopamine has been synthesized and can be administered directly, L-dopa reaches the central nervous system more readily and is actually more effective in supporting a body with already healthy dopamine levels. L-dopa has been shown to improve cognitive function, increase testosterone levels and libido, improve mental alertness, and increase motivation.
Mucuna is Used as a Nerve Tonic and May Treat Certain Nervous System Disorders
The powdered seeds of Mucuna possess anti-parkinsonism properties, possibly due to the presence of L-dopa. It is well known that dopamine is a neurotransmitter. The dopamine content in brain tissue is reduced when the conversion of tyrosine to L-dopa is blocked. L-Dopa, the precursor of dopamine, can cross the blood-brain barrier and undergo conversion to dopamine, restoring neurotransmission.
Mucuna is Used as an Aphrodisiac to Boost Libido
One of Mucuna’s traditional uses in Ayurvedic medicine is as an aphrodisiac to boost libido and sexual performance. In India, it is specifically the seeds of Mucuna pruriens that have traditionally been used as a powerful aphrodisiac for male virility.
Mucuna is used to kill off infections of parasitic worms
The seed pods of Mucuna pruriens are strongly anthelmintic. Anthelmintics or antihelminthics are a group of antiparasitic drugs or herbs that expel parasitic worms and other internal parasites from the body by either stunning or killing them and without causing significant damage to the host. They are sometimes also called vermifuges or vermicides. While not one of its primary traditional or modern uses, Mucuna is nevertheless an effective herb for treating parasitic worm infections.
Mucuna is Used to Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is not a bad thing in itself. Inflammation is simply your body's natural way of protecting itself from infection, illness, or injury. The issue arises when inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation, also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation, lasts for prolonged periods of several months to years. It is usually caused by dietary, lifestyle or environmental factors that persist over time—such as eating oxidized oils and processed foods on a regular basis, not exercising regularly, being in a constant state of stress, or being exposed to harmful chemicals in food, water, air, or products that one uses regularly.
Mucuna pruriens appears to have anti-inflammatory properties, and therefore, contributes to the lowering of inflammation levels in the body. This is beneficial for anyone that may be suffering from chronic, or long-term inflammation.
Mucuna contains powerful antioxidants
Recent research on Mucuna uncovered that it also boosts antioxidants and scavenges free radicals in the whole body. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules. Free radicals can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation and can either be beneficial or harmful.
Essentially, oxidation is any chemical reaction that involves the moving of electrons. Specifically, it means the substance that gives away electrons is oxidized. Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body. However, oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. This can result in damaged cells and ultimately ill health.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Antioxidants can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive. As oxidation is a process that is constantly occurring due to numerous chemical reactions in the body, antioxidants must also regularly work to keep free radicals in balance. Therefore, regularly consuming antioxidant-rich foods is a great way to reduce oxidative stress and to maintain balance and health.
Mucuna is Used as an Anti-Venom Against Snake Bites
Mucuna pruriens has been shown to be active against snake venom and its seeds are used in traditional medicine to prevent the toxic effects of snake bites. The mechanisms of the protective effects exerted by Mucuna pruriens seed aqueous extract (MPE) were investigated in detail in a study involving the effects of echis carinatus venom (EV).
In vivo experiments on mice showed that protection against the poison is evident at 24 hours (short term) and 1 month (long term) after injection of MPE. According to research on these experiments “MPE protects mice against the toxic effects of EV through an immune mechanism. MPE contains an immunogenic component, a multiform glycoprotein, which stimulates the production of antibodies that cross-react with (bind to) certain venom proteins."
What Are the Active Compounds in Mucuna?
It is well-known that the main phenolic compound of Mucuna seeds is L-dopa. Nowadays, Mucuna is widely studied because L-dopa is a substance used as a first-line treatment for Parkinson's disease. Mucuna also contains glutathione, gallic acid, and beta-sitosterol. It has unidentified bases such as mucunine, mucunadine, prurienine, and prurieninine. Other bases isolated from the pods, seeds, leaves, and roots include indole-3-alkylamines-N, N-dimethyltryptamine. The leeaves of Mucuna also have 6-methoxyharman, whereas Serotonin is present in the seed pods.
Is Mucuna Safe?
Mucuna is generally considered to be a safe and effective herb for a wide range of uses, particularly for uses related to nervous system health. However, some side effects were reported in clinical studies, including nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting (rare), and insomnia (rare). These side effects were not universal, but only experienced by certain individuals. No serious side effects or changes in blood test values were reported.
According to research Mucuna overdose (more than recommended dosage) can cause headaches, movement disorders, fatigue, tremors, fainting, and thirst.
Mucuna has a high L-dopa content, which can raise dopamine levels in the brain and body. Increasing dopamine levels or using L-dopa could be dangerous in some people, including those with the following conditions: Glaucoma (narrow-angle glaucoma), as L-dopa can increase eye blood pressure; Heart arrhythmias; Chronic nerve pain (neuropathy), as L-dopa may worsen it; Stomach ulcers (now or in the past); Psychosis, as L-dopa may cause a worsening in people already diagnosed with schizophrenia (or a psychotic disorder).
If you have any of the conditions above, avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements unless recommended by a doctor. Due to their lectin content, mucuna beans may also not be suitable for people with certain food sensitivities.
Mucuna Pruriens Side Effects and Drug Interactions
Based on what we know about L-dopa, the main phenolic compound of Mucuna, the following drug interactions are possible, and should be avoided:
- Some antidepressants and anti-Parkinson’s drugs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOI) – people taking these drugs should avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements, as the use of both may dangerously increase dopamine levels and cause very high blood pressure.
- Other medications for depression (tricyclic antidepressants)
- Some antipsychotics (D2 antagonists) can reduce the effects of Mucuna
- Guanethidine (Ismelin)
- Antidiabetic drugs
- Medications used during surgery (Anesthesia)
Mucuna pruriens, often referred to as the dopamine bean due to its high levels of L-dopa, is a creeping vine that grows all over India—particularly in the tropics—and is also found in tropical regions of Africa and the Caribbean. In the Himalayas and Mauritius, both the green pods and the mature beans from Mucuna pruriens are traditionally boiled and eaten. In Guatemala and Mexico, it is roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute widely known in the region as “Nescafé.”
Mucuna has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, India’s ancient medical system, for over two thousand years. Modern research has shown that Mucuna may help those suffering from Parkinson’s and other nervous system ailments; may be used as an aphrodisiac, may kill parasitic worm infections; may reduce inflammation and eliminate free radicals; and may be used as an antivenom for snake bites.
Most of Mucuna’s praise goes to its beneficial effect on the nervous system, and its ability to naturally enhance dopamine levels in the brain, and for its use as a nootropic—an herb that is said to enhance focus and cognitive performance. For those interested in naturally increasing their levels of energy, improving cognitive functioning, and supporting a healthy nervous system, Mucuna pruriens is truly a powerful medicinal herb worth investing in.