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Dianne James

Mucuna pruriens as a natural L-dopa alternative

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I have come across some research that states that taking Mucuna pruriens (velvet beans) is beneficial to people with Parkinsons.  It apparently is a naturally occuring L-dopa.  I was wondering whether you knew about this, and whether you are aware of how it is taken, and how much to take.  Thanks.

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Hi Dianne, and yes, I am familiar with both fava beans and mucuna as natural sources of levodopa. Here is some information that may help:


Beans (Mucuna Pruriens) For Parkinson’s Disease:
An Herbal Alternative

Bala V. Manyam, M.D., NPF Center of Excellence Plummer Movement Disorders
Center Department of Neurology
Glenn R. Cryer, Scientific Publications and Biomedical Communications
Scott & White Clinic and Texas A&M University Health Science System
College of Medicine Temple, Texas

Parkinson’s disease drugs like most other drugs used today, are chemicals
synthesised in the laboratory and then manufactured. Making drugs in the
laboratory is a slow, expensive and tedious process. This is one reason
why drugs are expensive. Large numbers of chemicals exist
in plants and other natural sources but only five percent of them have
been explored to-date. Plant based drugs for Parkinson’s disease, include
L-DOPA containing sources such as the seeds of Mucuna pruriens (Figure 1 :
Mucuna pruriens plant showing pods) and Vincia faba, the same chemical
compound that has been used for Parkinson’s disease in the last 30 years.
Seeds of Datura stramonium have an anticholinergic effect, similar to
Artane and Cogentin. Banisterine from Banisteria caapi and Nicotiana
tabacum has monoamine oxidase inhibitor that is similar to selegiline
(deprenyl). In this article, we will discuss more about Mucuna pruriens.

Before explaining how the powder from the Mucuna pruriens plant is being
used as an alternative therapy, it should be noted that Parkinson’s
disease affects more than one million people in the U.S. alone, and new
and effective treatments for this particular disease are goals of many
researchers. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disease
that primarily impacts the part of the brain that produces dopamine, a
chemical substance that allows neurologic impulses to be sent from one
terminal end of a nerve cell to the beginning of another nerve cell
terminal. In Parkinson’s disease, however, there is not enough dopamine
produced by the brain for its needs. The simple act of walking may not be
so simple. The disease can effect the body in many ways. The most common
symptoms of the disease include trembling (shaking), stooped posture,
muscular stiffness, short shuffling steps, speaking softly and rapidly,
poor balance, poor handwriting, and of course, slowness of body movements.
The cause of the disease is not known, however, a variety of medications
can control the symptoms.

Physicians in ancient India first used Mucuna seeds in the treatment of
Parkinson’s disease over 4500 years ago. The Indian medical system is
called Ayurveda, which is the world’s oldest system of medicine based on
scientific principles. Ayurveda is founded on scientific principles. It
has a long history of use of herbal remedies and has documented data on
mechanism of action, specific action, short-term and long-term toxic
effects, drug-drug and drug-diet interaction with a long history of use in humans. As per historical evidence, Parkinson’s disease existed in ancient India and was called
Kampavata. This was over 4500 years ago even though the disease acquired
its present name from James Parkinson who redescribed the disease in 1817
A.D. In the Ayurvedic system, powder of Mucuna is used for treating
Parkinson’s disease and is subjected to special processing. The English
name "cowage" plant (Mucuna pruriens) is derived from Hindi Kiwach. In
Sanskrit, it is called Atmagupta. Mucuna is a twiner with trifoliate
leaves, purple flowers, and turgid S-shaped pods covered with hairs that
cause intense itching on contact with the skin. The plant belongs to the
family Leguminosae, which is indigenous to India and has long been used in
Ayurveda since ancient times. Overdose effects of Mucuna were also
recognized in Ayurveda. These included headache, dystonia, fatigue,
tremor, syncope, and thirst. Many of these could also occur from synthetic
L-DOPA. In the modern times, two Indian scientists isolated L-DOPA from
Mucuna in 1936 and published their results. However, at that time the role
of L-DOPA in Parkinson’s was not known, hence not much attention was given
to the discovery. Subsequently, when dopamine deficiency was linked to
Parkinson’s disease in the 1960’s, scientists got interested in finding a
source of L-DOPA for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Because, the
presence of L-DOPA was known to be present in the legume, initial
attention was paid to extract levodopa from various Mucuna seeds and in
fact, over a thousand plants were screened for the high content of L-DOPA.
As L-DOPA was synthesized, further work on extraction of L-DOPA from beans
was abandoned.

The amount of Mucuna powder used by Ayurvedic physicians was small
compared to the amount of synthetic L-DOPA used to produce the same
benefit; if one looks at the amount of L-DOPA alone. This is what led to
one of the authors (BVM) to further study how such a small quantity of
levodopa in Mucuna could have helped and thought possibly that there could
be other undiscovered drugs in Mucuna that may enhance either the activity
of L-DOPA such as carbidopa as seen in Sinemet or there may be an
independent compound in Mucuna that may have a direct effect on symptoms
of Parkinson’s disease. This idea led to collaboration between Drs. Manyam
with Dr. K. M. Parikh, President of the Zandu Pharmaceutical Works, a
leading Ayurvedic manufacturing company located in Bombay, India. Their team
conducted a series of experiments to establish and to develop a drug for
Parkinson’s disease from Mucuna (Figure 2 : Mucuna beans with skin (left),
beans with skin removed (right) and powder). The initial work required
making the drug from Mucuna palatable. They developed a preparation and
named it HP200, which is a powder form and has to be mixed with water just
before administration. This is the first "liquid levodopa" preparation
ever made. They also established that when mixed with water the
preparation remained stable for several hours. The powder was also tested
so that there was no loss of active compounds during storage.

Despite the fact Mucuna was used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease
in ancient times, it is still important today to establish that the drug
dose not have adverse effects on various vital organs. This was
accomplished by administering low to very high doses of the drug in rats
and rabbits and testing the effect of Mucuna on blood chemistry and blood
count (such as the one that many physicians perform in their offices and
the hospitals) and various organs. Some of the tests were done for as long
as one year and the results indicated no adverse effects were present from
Mucuna preparations.

To establish how Mucuna would compare to synthetic L-DOPA, experiments
were undertaken in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. Two different
doses of synthetic L-DOPA and two different doses of Mucuna were
administered making sure that the amount of L-DOPA present is the same in
Mucuna as was the doses of synthetic L-DOPA. The effects of the drugs were
tested using a specially designed instrument called "Rotometer." Dose for
dose, Mucuna was two to three times more effective than equivalent amounts
of synthetic L-DOPA. This suggests that Mucuna may contain compounds that
make L-DOPA function better such as carbidopa, tolcapone (Tasmar), or
entacapone (COMTan). It may also suggest that Mucuna independently improve
symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Although quite encouraging, more research
is needed to confirm these findings. This work was done at the time when
the United States Congress established the Office of Alternative Medicine
in the National Institute of Health and the work was one of the first to
receive funding for alternative medicine.

Additional studies in India were undertaken to establish the benefit of
HP200 in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Four medical centers were
selected involving sixty patients and several neurologists. The studies
were conducted for three months. During that time, the patients received
HP200 while no concomitant L-DOPA preparations were administered. Trained
neurologists monitored changes in the degree of patent’s symptoms and any
side effects. At the end of the study, it was determined that the HP200
was highly beneficial in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The side
effects were minimal. HP200 was approved by the Indian Food and Drug
Administration and is available in India under the brand name Zandopa.
Further, the cost of the drug was much cheaper compared to the synthetic
drugs; thus it became more affordable to the patients. The United States
Food and Drug Administration approve the drug for clinical studies,
however, it is not available from the pharmacist.

Work on the Mucuna for Parkinson’s disease is being continued. The
importance of this particular study is not that Mucuna is an alternative
to L-DOPA, rather it is that compounds occurring naturally in plants for
example, may contain biologically active components that can be isolated,
tested, and used to provide safer and better treatments for Parkinson’s





I hope this is useful, let us know.

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