L-Dopa (Mucuna pruriens) is a centuries old supplement that supports your cognitive health, your libido, and most incredibly, Parkinson’s disease. But before you rush in, here’s all the important information you must know.
Mucuna pruriens, also typically called cowhage or velvet bean, is a legume native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia. It boasts an incredibly long history of use in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and more recently has begun to gain attention for its potential health benefits in a modern setting.
With this in mind, I want to explore the uses, benefits, safety considerations, and potential side effects that you can find with common Mucuna pruriens supplements. Whether you are curious about its cognitive-enhancing properties, mood-boosting effects, or its impact on overall vitality, you should be able to find everything you need to know about Mucuna pruriens below.
Mucuna pruriens 101
Mucuna pruriens, commonly referred to as velvet bean or cowhage, is a plant species that thrives in tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and South America. It’s classified as an annual climbing shrub – it is capable of reaching whopping heights of up to 15 meters. The plant produces distinctive seeds that are either black or brown and are characterized by their covering of gray or white hairs.
Various traditional forms of medicine have used Mucuna pruriens for its various health benefits and therapeutic properties.
For example, the plant has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine, dating back to the Vedic times (1500-1000 BC). In specific regions like the Himalayas and Mauritius, both the green pods and mature beans of Mucuna pruriens are traditionally boiled and consumed as food.
Nowadays, we know that it can enhance dopamine production within the body, which accounts for many of its purported health benefits (see below). This is incredibly important for various aspects of your health and wellbeing.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – it’s essential, and without adequate amounts of it we run the risk of some truly debilitating health concerns. It plays a central role in several functions, including mood regulation, motivation, and movement control – its absence characterizes Parkinson’s disease, hence the mood dysregulation and lack of motor control inherent to those suffering from Parkinson’s.
By increasing dopamine levels, Mucuna pruriens may be able to promote improved overall wellbeing whilst also potentially helping to manage/mitigate the symptoms of certain conditions, including Parkinson’s.
Mucuna pruriens has also been tied to several cognitive benefits, including improved memory and mental clarity. Because of this, it’s quite often included in common, high-quality nootropic supplements.
Clinical research suggests that these benefits could be down to certain components found in the plant, such as L-Dopa (levodopa), which may positively affect our cognitive functions. L-Dopa is a precursor to dopamine and can help to replenish the brain’s dopamine levels. It’s widely used as a medication to treat Parkinson’s disease.
What are the benefits associated with Mucuna pruriens?
So, what can Mucuna pruriens do for you?
Well, for starters, Mucuna pruriens has been used as something of an aphrodisiac – it is thought to support a heightened libido and healthy sexual function. Some evidence suggests that this might be particularly true for men, as it may help to optimize testosterone levels and consequently boost sex drive.
In addition, it can influence dopamine levels, as we know. This should help out a great deal. Dopamine is intimately involved in our reward and pleasure pathways. It therefore plays into motivation and pleasure experience, including sexual motivation and pleasure. Heightened dopamine levels should at least theoretically lead to enhanced sexual desire and satisfaction.
A lot of this is anecdotal, though. There is a lot of anecdotal data – as we know, Mucuna pruriens has a centuries’ long history of use in traditional forms of medicine, including as an aphrodisiac.
However, we need a fair amount more clinical data before we talk with any kind of certainty in a modern context. Individual differences will also always play a part. If you’re struggling with low libido or sexual pleasure, you’re best-off speaking to your healthcare provider as a first port of call. They will be able to advise you more ably, and more fully.
Aphrodisiacs are all well and good. However, we’re generally interested in Mucuna pruriens for its effects on cognitive health and function – its nootropic benefits. As we’ve seen, Mucuna pruriens contains several components, including L-dopa, which can aid cognition.
This is because dopamine is a precursor to dopamine, which in turn is a neurotransmitter, as we’ve seen.
Dopamine plays a central role in several distinct cognitive functions, including learning, memory, and focus. By acting as a precursor to dopamine, Mucuna pruriens’ L-dopa content may help to increase levels of dopamine in the brain, thereby potentially improving these cognitive processes.
Again, there is a good body of evidence backing this up. Several studies have looked into Mucuna pruriens’ potential to aid cognition, with data suggesting a positive impact on memory, attention, and executive functions.
We’ve already mentioned Parkinson’s disease, but it’s worth returning to it. Mucuna pruriens’ role as a natural L-Dopa source can be a game changer in Parkinson’s disease treatment.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a progressive loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. This reduction will lead to motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with movement – these are all the hallmarks of more advanced Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s patients commonly take L-dopa to manage these symptoms – it should help to replenish lagging dopamine levels, thus improving motor control.
The link with Mucuna pruriens is fairly obvious, then. It’s being explored as a potential alternative to synthetic medication due to its naturally high L-dopa levels.
The academic literature thus far is favorable. Several separate studies have compared Mucuna pruriens’ efficacy with synthetic L-dopa, with promising results – they have demonstrated that Mucuna pruriens’ potential efficacy may be as effective as synthetic L-dopa, whilst potentially bringing fewer side effects to the table (see below for potential side effects).
Do note that, though optimistic, the science backing up Mucuna pruriens’ use for treating Parkinson’s is still very much in its infancy. As above, we need more substantial clinical data if we are to speak with complete certainty.
Finally, Mucuna pruriens can help to keep your brain young. A robust body of clinical evidence has shown that it offers neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.
This means that it should be able to keep your brain free from oxidative stress – stress caused by free radicals resulting from oxidative damage, stress, wear and tear, and so on. It should, in essence, keep age-related cognitive decline at bay, literally keeping your brain young.
How to use Mucuna pruriens
So, it’s pretty clear by now that Mucuna pruriens has some potentially quite profound benefits to offer. It can improve your overall mental health, wellbeing, and cognition, with benefits to a wide range of areas including working memory, executive function, memory, focus, and learning. It may also be an aphrodisiac, can keep your brain young, and even shows promise as a medication for Parkinson’s disease.
But how do you go about including it in your supplement regime?
Mucuna pruriens supplements come in various forms to accommodate different preferences and needs. The most common way of consuming it is through oral ingestion – it comes in several formats for oral use, including:
Capsules: Capsules are a popular choice for Mucuna pruriens supplementation. These capsules contain powdered or extract form of the plant and are easy to swallow. The dosage is pre-measured, making it super convenient for consistent and accurate intake.
Tablets: Similar to capsules, tablets offer a convenient way to consume Mucuna pruriens. They are compact and easily portable, making them suitable for using on the go. Tablets may contain either powdered or extract form of the plant. You can also find nootropic tablets that contain Mucuna pruriens as an active ingredient as part of a wider formula.
Powders: You can also get Mucuna pruriens in powdered form. This can be mixed with water, juice, or anything else you fancy – protein shakes may work well as a meal on-the-go. You can even include powdered Mucuna pruriens in cooking and baking. This allows for customized dosing and flexibility in adjusting the amount you can take, though it is obviously more involved than simply throwing back a pill or capsule.
Extracts: Mucuna pruriens extracts are made by extracting the active compounds from the plant, resulting in a concentrated form. These extracts typically come in liquid form, and may be consumed directly or mixed with other liquids or foods – or, as above, they can be included in capsules. Again, using pure extract allows for greater control over dosing at the expense of a fair amount of convenience.
Regardless of the form you choose, you should always make sure to follow the recommended dosage instructions provided on the product label (or as advised by your healthcare provider).
Appropriate dosage can vary depending on factors such as the concentration of active compounds, individual health status, and desired effects. I would always suggest beginning at a lower dosage and gradually increasing as needed, while closely monitoring any potential side effects. Again, however, go with whatever your healthcare provider recommends.
As well as this, it is important to be aware of any potential side effects or interactions with medications and to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen. Speaking of which…
Mucuna Pruriens side effects
Mucuna pruriens supplements have the potential to interact with some specific types of medication. It can cause side effects in some users. You should bear all of the following in mind when deciding on whether or not to incorporate it into your supplement regime:
Interactions with Medications
Mucuna pruriens supplements have the potential to interact with some medications. Common examples include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and blood pressure medications.
This is because Mucuna pruriens contains levodopa, a precursor to dopamine. This means that it can increase dopamine levels in the body. This is great for many – as above, this is the bulk of its appeal. However, it isn’t suitable for some, especially those taking these medications.
Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are commonly prescribed to treat mood disorders. They work by increasing serotonin levels in your brain.
However, if you take them alongside Mucuna pruriens, there is a risk of serotonin syndrome as dopamine levels rise at the same time. Serotonin syndrome is typically characterized by symptoms including fever, diarrhea, chills, and even seizures in more extreme cases.
Antipsychotic medications can also fall foul of Mucuna pruriens. This is because they often alleviate symptoms of psychosis by targeting dopamine receptors. Adding Mucuna pruriens to antipsychotic treatment can potentially interfere with their effectiveness, or can even cause side effects similar to serotonin disorder.
Blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics, all help to better regulate blood pressure by manipulating different mechanisms. Mucuna pruriens, with its dopaminergic activity, may interact with these medications and potentially affect blood pressure control. This can diminish their efficacy, or even lead to unsafe blood pressure levels.
You should always consult your healthcare provider before changing up your supplement regime. If you’re considering using Mucuna pruriens and are on any of the above medications, this is particularly important.
Some people may experience headaches when supplementing with Mucuna pruriens. We don’t know the exact mechanism that can lead to this, though fluctuations in dopamine levels might be behind it.
This is because changes in dopamine levels can impact blood vessels in the brain. It is thought that dopamine can elicit vasodilation – or a widening of blood vessels. This can lead to headaches or migraines in people already susceptible to them.
This isn’t the only theory, though. Some people may be sensitive to the supplement itself, or additional ingredients in the supplement. We also all respond differently to supplements, and these different responses may contribute to the occurrence of headaches. We simply don’t know.
If you experience headaches when taking Mucuna pruriens, you should immediately discontinue use and chat with your healthcare provider.
Increased Heart Rate
Mucuna pruriens supplements may also have an impact on your heart rate. Some of us may find our heart rates increasing after taking it.
Again, this is likely down to the levodopa and its ability to boost our dopamine levels. This is because dopamine can influence the cardiovascular system’s functioning, which in turn can lead to accelerated heartbeat – commonly known as tachycardia.
For those suffering with certain pre-existing health conditions, like cardiovascular disease or arrhythmias, an increase in heart rate like this can be of great concern. It can exacerbate existing heart rhythm abnormalities or strain the heart, potentially leading to complications. Because of this, Mucuna pruriens supplementation may not be a good idea.
Mucuna pruriens may also interact with any medications that affect heart function, including the likes of beta-blockers and antiarrhythmic drugs. This interaction could further affect heart rate and potentially disrupt the medications’ intended therapeutic effects.
If you suffer with any heart conditions, or are on any heart-related medications, it’s vital you speak to your healthcare provider before taking Mucuna pruriens – or, indeed, any new supplement. As ever, they will be able to advise you more ably, more fully, based on your own medical history and personal circumstances.
In very rare cases, Mucuna pruriens supplements have been linked to symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. Again, this may be down to the levodopa in the Mucuna pruriens and its ability to boost our dopamine levels.
It is important to note that such cases are vanishingly rare and typically occur in individuals using high doses of Mucuna pruriens or those with underlying vulnerabilities to psychosis. The vast majority of people using Mucuna pruriens supplements do not experience psychosis symptoms.
Is Mucuna pruriens safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding?
There is limited information on Mucuna pruriens’ safety during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. It’s generally best practice to avoid it when pregnant or breastfeeding, unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider.
Mucuna pruriens’ use in traditional forms of medicine, like Ayurvedic medicine, dates back centuries, with very good reason. This humble legume is thought to bring to bear a range of potential health benefits, such as supporting cognitive function, mood, libido, and overall vitality.
However, it is important to exercise caution and consult with your healthcare provider before adding any new supplement into your existing regime. Mucuna pruriens in particular may interact with certain medications and has been known to cause side effects.
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level in Philosophy. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements.
James enjoys helping others to reach their peak both physically and mentally and believes that expressing his knowledge through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the wellbeing of others on a larger scale.