Mucuna pruriens is the Velvet bean. Also known as cowage or cow-itch due to the fact that it’s spines can cause irritation to a cows mouth. Due to the high amount of serotonin and dopamine precursors, the cows generally just keep on chewing. Velvet bean has some studies backing it up as an effective adjunct against Parkinson’s disease and for fertility issues. When supplementing with whole velvet beans, a dosage of 5 grams of the dried powdered is suggested. Mucuna can also be supplemented through the diet, but cooking it will destroy the L-DOPA content (one of the most active ingredients the Velvet bean is sought after for).
Mucuna is originally sourced from regions in India, the Caribbean and Africa. It causes itching upon contact with the hairs on the plant. It is an actual bean, so it does have some other nutritive properties including 20-35% protein content per caloric weight. Mucuna pruriens contains L-DOPA (or Levodopa) which is a direct precursor to dopamine and eventually adrenaline. Mucuna contains some content of the three catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin). Mucuna beans also contain nicotinic, 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin), beta-carboline and other nutrients. Several of these have some activity, but L-DOPA is considered the active ingredient.
Mature Velvet beans contain between around 3-6% Levodopa content. This is on average, certain beans have been shown to have up to 12.5%. This is a reason why standardized extracts may be more reliable if accurate dosages are required. L-DOPA, the active ingredient, is actually both an amino acid and a hormone, in addition to being a neurotransmitter precursor. It can be made naturally by multiple plants and animales, through biosynthesis of the amino acid L-Tyrosine. L-DOPA is a precursor to Dopamine, Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline) and Epinephrine (Adrenaline). These are the catecholamines and some studies suggest they are more important to mood than serotonin alone. L-DOPA is used for focus, anti-aging and life extension as well as for mood and cognitive decline. Dopamine levels decrease as you age, and dopamine is connected to the amino acid l-lysine which is responsible for healthy skin tone.
Parkinsons symptoms can appear once the inevitable decrease of L-DOPA reaches something like 70% depleted. One theory has it that anyone, given a long enough time span, would contract Parkinsons due to lower dopamine levels. L-DOPA not only staves off Parkinsons potentially, but may have other anti-aging benefits as well. L-Dopa seems to be involved in mood, attention as well as movement. Some users have anecdotally reported an increased general sense of wellbeing with L-Dopa or Mucuna bean supplementation. Attention span and awareness may also be affected by L-Dopa as well as energy and motivation levels due not only to increased dopamine but increased norepinephrine and epinephrine activity.
Add to this the fact that L-Dopa is believed to be a potent antioxidant, a detoxifying agent that may remove toxins such as free radicals and other oxidative damage. Plasma HGH levels may also be increased by supplementation. Increased plasma HGH levels may lead to overall improved body health as we age and less growth hormone is produced. This would be most noticable possibly in those who are attempting to slow or reduce certain aging processes. L-DOPA is also considered a psychoactive and may be useful as an adjunct to boost mood, stave off cognitive decline, enhance energy levels and focus. Dopamine itself is tied closely to motivation, energy, wakefulness, arousal and focus.
According to a study referenced at Examine.com, Levodopa (L-DOPA) and Mucuna pruriens both seem effective. Mucuna may actually be superior in some cases due to the molecule not being in isolation. There aren’t any specific studies comparing Mucuna bean to Levodopa and Carbidopa, but the study at Examine suggests that Mucuna is at least comparable to standard Levodopa/Carbidopa therapy. Levodopa treatment is considered standard therapy in treating those who have developed or are developing Parkinson’s symptoms. In some cases Levodopa is considered preferable due to being a single molecule without any other constituents affecting the action, whereas whole Mucuna pruriens possesses a whole list of active ingredients that may have multiple types of reactions with various other substances.
Another study has suggested that Levodopa can increase DNA damage through copper ions in the brain. Meanwhile, some comounds in Mucuna seem to protect against this sort of damage due to a metal chelating effect. This would imply that Mucuna extracts or powder may pose less of a potential threat of DNA damage from copper ion excess in comparison to pure Levodopa. Even more protection against this potential damage can be offered through the co-ingestion of antioxidants and metal chelators.
In one study on humans, Mucuna pruriens was compared to standard Levodopa treatment. The results were fewer occurences of dyskinesia in the case of the Mucuna supplementation. One theory for this is the previously mentioned fail-safes, the chelating effect. It is also possible that the Levodopa from Mucuna could be more bioactive compared to isolated Levodopa. This is hypothesized to be due to some activity involving Dopamine Decarboxylase inhibitor in the Mucuna bean. When Levodopa is taken for standard Parkinson’s therapy, it is often paired with Carbidopa to inhibit the enzyme responsible for that and in order to lengthen the duration of effects from the Levodopa.
L-DOPA has been approved by the FDA for Parkinson’s treatment since 1970. L-DOPA itself is metabolized into dopamine through the aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC). Dopamine itself can not pass the blood-brain barrier, but L-DOPA is able to readily. Orally administered L-DOPA can be converted to dopamine within the brain itself. It is the temporary increase in dopamine level that is considered to be the mechanism of action for controlling Parkinson’s symptoms.
Two issues with L-DOPA are that the effects are somewhat short lived and that the efficiency of oral L-DOPA therapy seems to degrade over time as the body becomes more used to the L-DOPA which can result, over time, in diminished production of naturally occurring L-DOPA in the body and brain.
Long term L-DOPA therapy generally leads to a decline in efficacy over the years. This causes the effectiveness of the L-DOPA to lose some of its magic. Some strategies for enhancing it’s usefulness includes combination with carbidopa which works to convert more L-DOPA into dopamine through the AADC content. Rest periods and cycling off are also considered helpful for keeping L-DOPA effective. As little as one dose a day skipped could potentially strengthen the later doses.
Another way of strengthening the effects and duration of effects of L-DOPA includes using MAO inhibitors and or dopamine agonists and potentiators. Be advised, this could strengthen the effects of the L-DOPA to a great enough degree to increase the likelihood of possible symptoms of overload.
Some potential side effects of L-DOPA include Arrhythmia, Gastrointestinal discomfort (taking L-DOPA with low protein snacks may help avoid stomach upset), Breathing disturbances, Confusion, Extreme emotional lability and/or anxiety, Vivid dreams, Hallucinations, Impaired social behavior, Sleepiness, Excessive libido and Compulsive behavior like gambling.
Dopamine agonists combined with L-DOPA could lead to other potential side effects. Euphoria, hallucinations, psychosis, hypotension, weight loss, anusea, insomnia, tiredness or weakness, dizziness and fainting, twitching, twisting and other uncontrolled body movements, addiction and compulsions are also potentially possible when L-DOPA is combined with substances that make its effects stronger
As for dosage, there are hundreds of studies on L-Dopa with several recommended dosages ranging from 100m to 900mg. For most people though, 250mg to 500mg per day may be most effective. This may be split up into a divided dose as well and taken before or after a workout, if so desired. Always start with the lower end of the recommended dosage, perhaps around 100-200mg. Also remember it is best to try a new supplement on its own before combining it with other compounds so you know how it works by itself. If you experience any issues, it is easier to find out what went wrong by cycling one thing out at a time, like using the elimination diet to figure out food sensitivities. L-Dopa may be best cycled off every week or so to prevent tolerance build up which could potentially lead to down-regulation of dopamine production in the long term.
Always supplement safely. This means doing your due diligence and checking out exactly how the supplement works and making sure it doesn’t pose any interaction risks with any other supplements or pharmaceutical drugs you may be taking. Always consult with your personal care practitioner before embarking on any supplement regimen, this is especially important if you’re currently under a doctor’s care for any pre-existing condition or take over-the-counter or pharmaceutical drugs.
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