What is Mucuna pruriens?
Mucuna pruriens, also known as “the cowhage” or “velvet bean", and “atmagupta” in India, grows in tropical climates all over the world, most notably, in Asia (Eastern India and Southern China), the Pacific islands, Africa, and parts of Central and South America. Its seeds contain high levels of levodopa which seemingly is better tolerated and more potent than the synthetic levodopa in Sinemet, Madopar (not available in the US), Rytary, or Stalevo.
The powder of this legume has been developed into an extract that can be taken orally and has been shown to have anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-epileptic, anti-depressant properties, neuroprotective, and anti-parkinson effects. It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for a variety of ailments including parkinsonism symptoms. Mucuna pruriens got some buzz in the earlier part of this century as supplement manufacturers made headway with preparations available to the general public who are interested in increased their dopamine levels via a "natural" source. It has even been used to treat ADD/ADHD.
Research on Mucuna pruriens as a treatment for Parkinson’s Mucuna pruriens has been studied in many research institutions over the years and has been described as an alternative or adjunct to traditionally prescribed levodopa for Parkinson's disease. In 2017, Italian scientists took patients with advanced Parkinson's disease and gave them varying doses and preparations of levodopa in the form of traditional levodopa, Mucuna pruriens, and a placebo. Data showed that the patients who were given Mucuna pruriens had greater motor improvement at 90 and 180 minutes, longer "on" time, and fewer dyskinesias. They also experienced fewer adverse events than in traditional levodopa groups, suggesting a better tolerability profile. However, in 2018, a small study of 14 patients given Mucuna pruriens powder (obtained from roasted Mucuna pruriens seeds) for eight weeks and then carbidopa/levodopa for eight weeks (longer than previous studies) showed less-than-favorable results with several adverse events. Seven of the patients discontinued Mucuna pruriens, four for gastro-intestinal side effects and three for worsening of motor symptoms.
For the seven who remained on treatment, efficacy of Mucuna pruriens was the same as carbidopa/levodopa. Nobody discontinued during the carbidopa/levodopa phase. Although the study showed that Mucuna pruriens can be effective in reducing PD symptoms, it drew attention to the need for additional research into safety and efficacy as well as better tolerated preparations formulated for long-term use, potentially by adding carbidopa to enhance the effect of the levodopa, similar to traditional medications.
Interested in trying Mucuna pruriens?
Several manufacturers supply this in health food stores or on the internet, however, buyer beware! These supplements are not FDA-approved. In fact, there is no regulatory body that controls the standardization of the Mucuna pruriens products. This means that they are not required to meet any purity or dosage standards. Since Parkinson's disease manifests so differently in individuals who may have different sensitivities to medications, you may not be able to ensure you are obtaining the correct amount of levodopa required to manage your symptoms. Since it is not a regulated medication, traditional neurologists or movement disorder specialists will not prescribe and most will not even entertain the idea of adding an unregulated supplement to your treatment plan, so you need become and stay informed of its efficacy, side effects, and potential interactions independently and be comfortable doing so. References:
Mucuna pruriens in Parkinson disease
A double-blind, randomized, controlled, crossover study
Roberto Cilia, Janeth Laguna, Erica Cassani, Emanuele Cereda, Nicolò G. Pozzi, Ioannis U. Isaias, Manuela Contin, Michela Barichella, Gianni Pezzoli
Neurology Aug 2017, 89 (5) 432-438.
Katzenschlager R, Evans A, Manson A, et al
Mucuna pruriens in Parkinson’s disease: a double blind clinical and pharmacological study
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2004;75:1672-1677.
Lampariello LR, Cortelazzo A, Guerranti R, Sticozzi C, Valacchi G. The Magic Velvet Bean of Mucuna pruriens. J Tradit Complement Med. 2012;2(4):331-339.
Cilia R, Laguna J, Cassani E, Cereda E, Raspini B, Barichella M, Pezzoli G. Daily intake of Mucuna pruriens in advanced Parkinson's disease: A 16-week, noninferiority, randomized, crossover, pilot study. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2018 Apr;49:60-66.