Mucuna pruriens benefits are well known in the East Indian medical system of Ayurveda where it has been used therapeutically for many generations to balance the reproductive and nervous systems of the body.
Mucuna (Mucuna pruriens), also referred to as "Kapikachhu" in the Ayurvedic system and "cowhage" in other herbal systems, is a type of legume that grows wild all over India and other tropical climates. The seeds are the primary part used for medicinal purposes as a dietary supplement usually consumed in powdered form.
As a top superfood adaptogen it is also known to be helpful for restful sleep, anxiety relief, eliminating addictive drug cravings, increasing brain power, calming the nerves and uplifting the mood.
It is famous for its naturally high content of the amino acid called L-dopa or levodopa, which is an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter called "dopamine."
Increased amounts of dopamine can be particularly helpful for those with low levels, as in conditions involving motor control disorders, seizures, diminished mental focus and depression. L-dopa is therefore considered a top natural supplement for those with Parkinson's disease who can not efficiently produce dopamine in the brain.
Mucuna is one of the most beneficial herbs for normalizing the Vata
dosha. In other words, it is a great herb for calming the nervous
system and deeply nourishes tissues and fluids of the body. It is one
of the rare Ayurvedic herbs that actually balances all three doshas or body types Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
In the Chinese herbal system, mucuna is acknowledged as a Yang and Jing herb, that helps to restore the kidney/adrenal systems, reproductive abilities, hearing and cognitive functions.
The mucuna pruriens plant is a fast growing vine and member of the Fabaceae legume family. It is native to various tropical locations in South America, India, Africa and the West Indies.
The seeds or beans are either a beige, brown or black color and grow inside a 2-3
inch long curved velvety pod that is known to cause irritation to the
skin when touched.
The word mucuna comes from the Tupi Amazonian tribe
and Portuguese word "mucunán" and the Latin word prurire (pruriens)
which makes reference to the itchy substance in the pod hairs.
Being a legume nitrogen fixer, the plant has been used as an experimental cover crop to restore soil fertility that has been destroyed from agricultural use.
The oily heavy qualities of the mucuna seed are a well known Ayurvedic herb for nervous disorders, working specifically to tonify the nervous system and strengthen weakness. It's energizing restorative nature is traditionally used with other adaptogens and rasayana herbs often taken as a hot drink with honey and milk.
Mucuna or kapikachhu is one of the highest natural sources of a unique amino acid called L-dopa (levodopa), an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Adequate levels of dopamine are essential for mental functions, emotional health, sleep, memory, motor skills and muscle coordination.
Dopamine is known to calm and relax the nervous system, basically providing a shield and buffer that helps to "dope" up the body against stress. It is often referred to as the "feel good hormone" and can be naturally stimulated through various gratifying activities like dancing, exercise and pleasurable sexual experiences.
Dopamine may be present in the body but is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, unlike L-dopa.
Once in the brain, L-dopa converts into dopamine through a process called decarboxylation. This conversion was originally scientifically proven by George Cotzias and his team of scientists, who won the Lasker Prize in 1969 for this discovery.
"L-dopa is metabolized into dopamine by both the heart and brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter without which communication among the nerves within the brain would be impossible." Vital Man by Stephan Buhner
There are several significant diseases of the nervous system associated with low levels or absence of dopamine. Using mucuna derived L-dopa can be very helpful for any individuals with nerve-anxiety issues, mild to severe neurodegenerative disease or reduced cognitive capacities.
Some health experts feel that mucuna is more effective when taken with
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which is required for proper production and
synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. However, it is
important to note that mucuna pruriens benefits have been successfully achieved in the ancient Ayurvedic system without the use of B6 supplementation.
Additionally, some people believe that combining chlorella (high in B6) with mucuna allows the body to utilize the seed powder more efficiently. Mucuna powdered extracts should always include at least 15% L-dopa for maximum effectiveness.
Mucuna pruriens benefits are now gaining significant attention in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, a condition characterized by a gradual reduction of dopamine in the brain. Because dopamine is necessary for healthy motor skills and proper nerve functioning, lack of dopamine-secreting neurons, specifically in the "substantia nigra" mid-section of the brain, cause the muscles to tense up and tremble rather than relax, leading to involuntary muscle movements and classic Parkinson's symptoms.
Because L-dopa can be effectively converted to dopamine in the brain it is one of the most widely used treatments for Parkinson's. The most popular synthetic drug version of L-dopa, called Levodopa, is known to come with a number of side effects that may include nausea, vomiting and headaches. It is often used in conjunction with the drug Carbidopa to lessen these symptoms but has shown to lose effectiveness when used over a longer period of time.
The L-dopa in mucuna pruriens has been recognized in some studies as a safer and more effective alternative for controlling Parkinson's disease than these pharmaceutical medications.
In a double blind study, included in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, it states, "We have assessed the clinical effects and levodopa (L-dopa) pharmacokinetics following two different doses of mucuna preparation and compared them with standard L-dopa/carbidopa (LD/CD). The mucuna seed powder formulation suggest that this natural source of L-dopa might possess advantages over conventional L-dopa preparations in the long term management of PD." (Another study)
Mucuna extracts can also be used as a potentially helpful Parkinson's
preventative, nourishing healthy dopamine levels before they get
diminished. This can be a valuable supplement if you have a genetic
family history prone to neurodegenerative diseases that involve motor
We always advocate using vitamins and superfoods in their whole natural state as opposed to highly synthesized pills concentrating just the active ingredients. There is a wide spectrum of plant alkaloids and other valuable constituents in mucuna that work synergistically to effectively utilize L-dopa. Moreover, there are additional substances in the herb that may further influence healthy brain function.
A nutrient analysis of mucuna seeds shows about 20% protein, 50% carbohydrates, 10% fiber and 7% crude lipids. In addition to the main active ingredient L-dopa, mucuna pruriens benefits also offer small amounts of other constituents such as tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids, beta-carbolines, D-chiro-inositol as well as trace amounts of serotonin, nicotine, bufotenine and DMT. Some of these components are known psychoactives, but are beneficial in low doses and believed to play a role in enhancing libido, muscle growth and testosterone levels.
In addition, dopamine levels are also depleted by stress, over-use of stimulants, legal and illegal drug abuse and excessive alcohol use. L-dopa helps to replenish dopamine that is deficient in those recovering from these addictive substances.
When our dopamine is drained we get overly restless and jittery, which can cause damage to the neurotransmitter production in the brain. Mucuna pruriens benefits can be helpful for restoring healthy neuron synapses and, as a Jing tonic, could be included in an adrenal rejuvenation protocol after prolonged caffeine use.
Mucuna is an aphrodisiac that promotes fertility in both men and women, increasing male sperm count and testosterone levels, in addition to regulating ovulation cycles in women.
One reason for this effect is because dopamine naturally enhances the production of other hormones. It is known to help increase testosterone as well as stimulate the pituitary gland to produce HGH (human growth hormone). For this reason mucuna has become popular as a natural HGH secretagogue and bodybuilding supplement.
Mucuna pruriens benefits have long been acknowledged as a reproductive tonic in Ayurvedic medicine useful for treating infertility and low sex drive, categorized as a Ojas building substance that improves sexual vitality and functioning. Kapikachhu is also a common component used with other herbs like ashwagandha, shatavari or amalaki in rejuvenation formulas.
A 2009 study concluded that the "Treatment with M. pruriens regulates steroidogenesis and improves semen quality in infertile men."
"L-dopa has also been found to increase sexual interest and activity and to facilitate erections in men. It is used for treating anorgasmia (a woman's inability to have an orgasm)." Stephen Buhner
Mucuna is available as a powder or powdered cold water extract and should contain at least 15% L-dopa for maximum effectiveness. Many Ayurvedic herbalists believe that it is best to taste the herbs as a part of the digestive process and the powder mixed in water is a good way to do this.
Mucuna is also sold in a compressed tablet form to make it more convenient for some people.
The mucuna seeds can be tinctured in an alcohol menstruum for use as a liquid extract.
The powder or tincture can be mixed with water or juices and blended into smoothies, tonic elixirs and herbal tea preparations.
Historically, mucuna pruriens benefits have also been used as an ingredient with cacao, or raw chocolate, in the Amazon for over 2,000 years. It adds a nice calming balance to the theobromine and caffeine in cacao for some people who are sensitive to it.
Mucuna powder has also been stirred into hot water for use as a coffee substitute that natural energizes the body as opposed to overly stimulating it.
The Ayurvedic properties of mucuna are sweet, bitter and hot.
For those new to mucuna, begin by taking smaller doses between 1/8-1/4 teaspoon, eventually building up to 1 teaspoon or more.
1/8t-1/2t powder - Low dose, 1-3 x daily
1t-1T powder - Higher dose, 1-3 x daily
30 - 60 drops liquid extract in water, tea or juice, 1-3 x daily
We like to mix it in water and drink it in the morning before meals, which is a great way to consume any micro-nutrient.