Tucked away under the jungle’s canopy, you find Mucuna, a caterpillaresque vine with prickly legumes that happens to be one of nature’s most interesting foods and medicine. Also called velvet bean, these long prickly legumes have been a staple food and medicine for indigenous people for thousands of years. In Central and South America, you find these pods growing wildly everywhere, and it’s an essential food for animals as well.
Indigenous peoples in Central America have traditionally used mucuna beans as a coffee substitute and called “nescafé.” They roast the bean, grind them and drink it as a decoction. In Guatemala to this day it’s a staple food in tribal diets. The beans are also immensely popular throughout India and Southeast Asia. It could be easily said that all tropical culture on the planet uses Mucuna pruriens in some way, either medicinally, or as food in daily life.
Mucuna (Mucuna pruriens) is one of the only naturally occurring sources of L-Dopa aka dopamine. Dopamine is a a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that essentially dictates how we feel and experience pleasure. The high concentrations of L-Dopa cause the brain to release dopamine in the anterior portion of the pituitary, and thereby secreting all sorts of essential hormones, such as human growth hormone (also known as the ‘anti-aging hormone’), which reduces stress - anxiety, promotes muscle growth, increased strength, and has been proven to raise levels of testosterone, hence its famed ability to enhance fertility in men.
L-DOPA + PARKINSON’S. Mucuna is so rich in L-Dopa, that it is used as an alternative treatment for Parkinson’s disease, which Doctors believe to be a lack of this essential neurotransmitter. And although it’s received its fame in the medical community due to its high amount of dopamine, it is also rich in serotonin and tryptamine… and just about every other mood enhancing neurotransmitter ever known! Mucuna could perhaps be one of the safest, non-addictive antidepressants and mood elevators ever found in Nature.
ANCIENT USES. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, Mucuna has recorded use within Ayurveda, Daoist and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s classified as a ‘jing’ enhancing herb, which within TCM is one of the three treasures that loosely translates to ‘life force’, or ‘vital essence.’ In Ayurvedic pharmacology, Mucuna is classified as an aphrodisiac, and a rasayana (rejuvenative). From an Ayurvedic perspective, an ‘aphrodisiac’ does more than just increase sexual desire, it directly tones the organs that contribute to rejuvenation, otherwise known as ‘ojas.’ Ojas is the subtle essence of all vital fluids that are responsible for harmony, health and strength, being that which gives our tissues endurance and resilience. Naturally both ‘ojas’ and ‘jing’ directly contribute to the health of our immune system.
IN THE CASE OF MUCUNA, it restorative effects can be witnessed in the brain, nervous and hormonal systems.
Mental + Spiritual Effects
Many of you ask, but wait a minute, is Mucuna psychedelic? First off, no! Secondly, like many plants in nature, it contains trace amounts of psychoactive compounds along with essential neurotransmitters many of which we naturally produce within our brain, such as dimethyltryptamine (“DMT”), Psychoactive serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenine. And although its makeup contains many parallels to powerful psychoactive plants like the Ayahuasca brew and Peyote, the amounts are tiny within Mucuna (you can find it even sold at most grocery stores.) Because Mucuna directly targets the pituitary-pineal glands, known to be the master organs that essentially regulate consciousness in the body, and believed to control how we perceive life, it has long been associated as a spirituality and consciousness enhancing plant. Anecdotal reports of those who intake Mucuna regularly, express more vivid dreams, clarity, a lightness of being, better cognition, longer concentration, higher sex drive, a general sense of well being, less stressed, better sleep, and more. Regular consumption has shown to help balance the hormonal system and protect the brain.
Scientific Studies on Mucuna:
Nutritional Value + Active Compounds
Aside from its L-dopa content (~5%), the velvet bean has a good nutritional value. Although a legume, it is easily digestible and rich in the following nutrients
- Dietary proteins (25 – 30% proteins) and essential amino acids
- Fatty acids such as linoleic acid
- Natural source of L-dopa
- May boost dopamine in the brain
- May protect the brain and reduce stress
- May boost fertility in men
- Mild aphrodisiac
- Brain Protective
- Excessively increasing dopamine with mucuna can be harmful
- Possible drug interactions and is not suitable for everyone
- Long-term safety is unknown
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 [R]:
- 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 (or a psychotic disorder)
If you have any of the conditions above, avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
The following drug interactions are possible, based on the information about L-dopa [R]:
- Some antidepressants and anti-Parkinson’s drugs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOI) – people taking these drugs should avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements. 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)
For Parkinson’s Disease. In the two studies that showed a decrease in PD symptoms with MP supplementation, used dosages of 30 grams and 15 grams of a standardized dried extract (~33 mg L-dopa/g). Most standardized extracts contain 3 – 5% L-dopa.
Other studies used lower doses, starting with 5 g/day.For Infertility in Men
5 grams of Mucuna pruriens powder daily increased sperm motility, count, and overall quality [R]. Mucuna was taken with water
(5 grams = 1 teaspoon).For Regular Supplementation
5grams, 1tsp, per day. Best in the AM to utilize its nootropic effects, although in a smaller amount (1/2tsp) before bed has proven to be very relaxing and fuel creative dreaming.
Thanks for reading! For any questions, inspiration or ways you love to intake Mucuna, share with us below.