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Fava Beans, Levodopa, and Parkinson's Disease

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Fava Beans, Levodopa, and Parkinson's Disease

Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD

Copyright 2001-2010


Ms. Holden is a registered dietitian specializing in Parkinson's

disease. She has published research, books, articles, and manuals on

nutrition and PD, including "Eat well, stay well with PD." For more

information you may call (USA) 877-565-2665, or 888-281-5170; or visit

her website: http://www.nutritionucanlivewith.com/


Beans and Parkinson's disease

In the past few years, I've been increasingly asked for information

about fava beans as a source of levodopa. It's clear that many people

are trying fava beans without fully understanding their properties. This

article is designed to answer questions that have arisen about fava and

Parkinson's disease (PD). I hope this may clear up some of the confusion

about the bean, and encourage people to discuss its use with their

doctors and dietitians.


This bean is a legume called "fava" (fah-vuh), faba, broad bean, and

horse bean. Its botanical name is "Vicia faba." There are many species

of faba; however, the "faba major"is the bean of concern here. It grows

in a long pod, like a giant green bean, with large, flat seeds inside.

It has been eaten for thousands of years throughout the world,

especially in the Mediterranean region.


How are fava beans related to PD?

Fava beans contain levodopa, the same chemical in Sinemet, Madopar,

Dopar, Larodopa, and other levodopa-containing medicines used to treat

PD. In fact, the entire fava plant, including leaves, stems, pods, and

immature beans, contains levodopa.


The amount of levodopa can vary greatly, depending on the species of

fava, the area where it's grown, soil conditions, rainfall, and other

factors. It appears that the young pod and the immature (green) beans

inside the pod contain the greatest amount of levodopa, and the mature,

or dried bean, the least. Three ounces (about 84 grams or ½ cup) of

fresh green fava beans, or three ounces of canned green fava beans,

drained, may contain about 50-100 mg of levodopa. If using the young pod

as well as the beans, the amount of levodopa may be greater than that in

the fresh beans alone.


What effect do fava beans have on PD?

Some small studies have shown that the levodopa in fava beans can help

control the symptoms of PD, just as medications containing levodopa do.

In fact, a few people report that the effects from fava last longer than

the effects from medications. Some researchers believe fava beans may

contain other substances besides levodopa that could be helpful for PD

symptoms. However, although some people report good effects, others find

no antiparkinson effect from fava beans at all; and still others report

adverse effects, such as nausea and dyskinesia. Much more research needs

to be done to determine how effective fava beans may be.


Are there any problems associated with eating fava beans?

Yes, there are a number of concerns to be aware of:


Variable levodopa amounts. Because fava plants have varying amounts of

levodopa, it's possible to get either too much or too little levodopa.

Too little levodopa will not relieve PD symptoms; and too much levodopa

can cause overmedication effects, such as dyskinesia - particularly if

other PD medications are being used at the same time. Also, the levodopa

can cause nausea in some people.


Allergies. Raw fava beans can produce an allergic reaction in some

people, including discomfort, and occasionally, coma. Cooking may

prevent allergic reactions.


Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) use. Another consideration is the use

of fava for people who take MAOIs. These include: isocarboxazid

(Marplan); phenelzine (Nardil); tranylcypromine (Parnate); rasagiline (Azilect) and

selegiline (deprenyl, Carbex, Eldepryl).


MAOIs taken in combination with pressor agents (foods high in dopamine,

tyramine and phenylethylamine), can bring about a dangerous, and

sometimes fatal, increase in blood pressure. Levodopa in medications or

in fava can convert to dopamine in the bloodstream. It should be noted

that selegiline and rasagiline are a different type of MAOI (MAOI-type B), and in the

amount normally used by people with PD, are not thought to pose a risk when used

with dopamine. However, people using any MAOI should discuss foods containing

pressor agents with their physicians and dietitians.


Favism (G6PD deficiency). Favism is an inherited disease in which a

person lacks an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD).

When these people eat fava beans, they develop a condition called

hemolytic anemia. This anemia causes red blood cells to break apart and

block blood vessels. When such blockage occurs in the kidneys, it can

result in kidney failure and even death. Although favism is usually

detected in childhood, adults can be affected as well.


G6PD deficiency is rare, occurring mostly among people of Mediterranean,

African, and Southeast Asian descent, but others can be affected as

well. Your physician can perform a blood test for G6PD to determine

whether you are at risk. If you find you have inherited G6PD deficiency,

your dietitian can help you locate other foods that may be of concern,

and can help you plan safe and healthful menus. For more information on

favism, see "Resources" at the end of this article.


Should you eat fava beans if you have Parkinson's disease?

Many people with PD can benefit from use of fava beans. If you'd like to

try them, discuss it with your physician first. Besides MAOI use and

risk for favism, your doctor may want to adjust the amount and/or timing

of your PD medications.


If your doctor agrees that you should try using fava beans, he or she

will probably ask you to start out with a very small amount at first, to

see what effect, if any, fava has for you. An ounce (about 28 grams, or

two tablespoons of beans) a day is probably right for most people to

begin with. After a week you should notice whether there is any effect,

and if not, your doctor may suggest that you increase the amount. If the

fava beans reduce PD symptoms, your doctor may want to adjust your other

PD medications.


How often should I eat fava beans?

There is too little information available to give an exact answer; also,

each person with PD is different, and has different medication needs.

Some people report a half cup (4 ounces, 112 grams) of fava a day, or

even every other day, gives good results. Begin with a small amount,

increasing gradually under your doctor's supervision, until you find the

combination of fava and/or PD medications that's right for you.


Even if fava beans help, you shouldn't eat too much. If you fill up on

fava, you'll be too full for other foods, and will miss out on the

benefits they offer. A dietitian can help you plan menus that include

fava beans and will best meet your personal needs.


Where can I get fava beans?

Fresh pods and/or green fava beans are available in season at specialty

produce markets and some specialty foods shops. They may also be found

at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets, and farmers' markets.


Grocery stores may be willing to special order the fresh pods or beans

in season, frozen pods/beans, or canned green fava beans, such as

produced by Krinos or Cortas. Be sure to specify "green fava beans," not

dried or mature beans. For more information, see "Resources."


Nutrient information for fava beans

Besides levodopa, fava beans are rich in valuable nutrients. Fava pods

with beans are a good source of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc,

copper, selenium, and many vitamins. The beans alone are also good - 3 ½

ounces (98 grams) of cooked fresh beans contain 56 calories, 20 grams

carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, and substantial amounts

of iron, magnesium, and vitamin C.


How do I prepare fava beans?

The pods, including beans, are best eaten when very young, before a

"string" forms along the side. They can be steamed or boiled until

tender. Add some olive oil or butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and

serve as a vegetable side dish, like snow peas.


To use the fresh green fava beans alone, shell the beans from the pods,

like green peas. Then boil or steam them till tender - usually two to 10

minutes, depending on size and age. Add butter, salt and pepper, or your

own favorite seasoning, and serve as a side dish. You can also add the

cooked beans to salads. If the beans seem too chewy, cook for 8-10

minutes, then cool and slip off the outer skins; cook a few more minutes

if needed. Some people like to eat the skins, others find them too tough.


In conclusion, fava beans are an excellent food, as well as a possible

way to help fight the effects of PD. Discuss use of fava with your

doctor and registered dietitian. Here's to your good health!




Sources for fava beans: (Be sure to ask for green, or immature, fava

beans, either the beans themselves or the entire pod. The pods may be

fresh or frozen; the beans may be fresh, frozen, or canned.)


International Gourmet


32907 Mesa Drive

Lake Elsinore, CA 92530


Email: info@intlgourmet.com

Will ship fresh (in season), frozen green (immature), or canned green

(immature) fava beans



123 Lexington Ave.

New York 10016


Tel: 212-685-3451

FAX: 212-683-8458

Email : sales@kalustyans.com

Carries Cortas green broad fava bean



2650 University Blvd.

Wheaton, MD 20902

Maryland: (301) 942-9726

USA: (800) 880-6062

Fax: (240) 337-6468


Carries: KRINOS - Cooked Broad Beans ( also known as Green Fava Beans )

24 OZ .

CORTAS - Cooked Green Fava Beans. To serve: Heat contents and serve with

rice. Ingredients: Broad beans, Water, Salt and citric acid . Imported

from Lebanon. 30 OZ


For more information on fava beans:


The Fava Bean Project



Cornell University Division of Nutritional Services



For information on Favism:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

1600 Clifton Rd.

Atlanta, GA 30333


(404) 639-3311




G6PD deficiency



The Favism Website: www.rialto.com/favism/




Burbano C, Cuadrado C, Muzquiz M, Cubero JI. Variation of

favism-inducing factors (vicine, convicine and L-DOPA) during pod

development in Vicia faba L. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1995; 47(3): 265-75.


Rabey JM, Vered Y, Shabtai H, Graff, E; Korczyn, AD. Improvement of

parkinsonian features correlate with high plasma levodopa values after

broad bean (Vicia faba) consumption.

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1992 Aug; 55(8): 725-7.


Rabey JM, Vered Y, Shabtai H, Graff E, Harsat A, Korczyn AD. Broad bean

(Vicia faba) consumption and Parkinson's disease. Adv-Neurol. 1993; 60:



Apaydin H, Ertan S, Ozekmekci S. Broad bean (Vicia faba)--a natural

source of L-dopa--prolongs "on" periods in patients with Parkinson's

disease who have "on-off" fluctuations. Mov Disord. 2000; 15(1): 164-6.


Food Fact Finder: nutrient data for Beans, fava, in pod, raw



Fava Bean: The Vegeman Files www.geocities.com/NapaValley/7514/f101.html


Nutritional Anemias (from Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, 2nd ed.,

edited by Frances J. Zeman). Macmillan Publishing Co., NY NY, 1991.

Favism, pp. 698-99.


Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency (from Hematology, edited by

W.J. Williams, E. Beutler, A.J. Erslev, and M.A. Lichtman). New York:

McGraw-Hill 1990, p. 591-606.


Mehta A, Mason PJ, Vulliamy TJ. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase

deficiency. Baillieres Best Pract Res Clin Haematol 2000 Mar;13(1):21-38.


The Fava Bean Project



Cornell University Division of Nutritional Services


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