Long before chemicals, labs, and appointed health authorities, natural plants and practical knowledge formed the foundation for medicine. Indian Ayurvedic medicine, one of the oldest holistic medical modalities, cataloged the therapeutic properties for thousands of plants. While pharmaceutical marketing might make us wonder how we ever survived without prescription drugs, ancient knowledge has made its way back into the conversation. More than ever before, research is beginning to focus on ancient plants, herbs, flowers, and roots.
Mucuna pruriens, a tropical legume also known as velvet bean, has been used by ancient healers and is making waves in the scientific community. Ayurvedic herbal medicine has relied on Mucuna pruriens since 1500 BC to support ailments such as snakebite, intestinal disorders, sexual response, and melancholy mood. Let’s take a look at the recent studies that have evaluated how this uncommon plant can support brain health and stress management.
What are the Active Compounds in Mucuna pruriens?
The magic of every therapeutic plant resides in its beneficial, active compounds. The interaction between these compounds is typically responsible for the plant’s favorable effects. In Mucuna pruriens, levodopa, or L-dopa, is one of these compounds .   This bioactive chemical is a precursor to several neurotransmitters, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine.
Mucuna pruriens has significant antioxidant action that works in tandem with L-dopa to promote brain health.  When L-dopa crosses the blood-brain barrier, it helps to increase brain levels of dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter associated with regulating mood and cognition.  Research also suggests that antioxidants are helpful for defending against oxidative damage by free radicals. 
How Does Mucuna pruriens Influence Brain Health?
Research suggests Mucuna pruriens protects the brain by keeping cognitive and neural functions in check, even encouraging neural activity.  Studies on animals have echoed this, placing the focus on its antioxidant action. The mechanism behind this is simple — all free radicals have an unpaired electron that makes them unstable in the body. Antioxidants donate an electron to the free radical to neutralize its effects, particularly on the brain. Mucuna has an added benefit in that it fights systemic redness in the brain, which is often a factor in brain degradation. 
Does Mucuna pruriens Affect the Effects of Stress?
Ayurvedic tradition uses Mucuna pruriens to positively promote mental health and stress response. A study involving 120 men who suffered from psychological stress reported that supplementation with Mucuna significantly eased stress.  Oddly enough, the men also had fertility issues and supplementation appeared to promote sperm quality and count. Researchers also concluded that Mucuna pruriens reactivates the antioxidant defense system, an essential biological mechanism necessary for maintaining homeostasis within the body.
Is a Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease on the Horizon?
Parkinson’s disease is partially characterized by decreased brain production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter. Because Mucuna pruriens positively influences dopamine levels, it’s been an Ayurvedic therapy for centuries. Preliminary research indicates that the natural form of L-dopa in Mucuna pruriens provides equivalent (or better) results compared to synthetic levodopa; and without the common side effects of nausea, vomiting, and involuntary muscle movement.   Now, should it be inferred that Mucuna pruriens is a cure or treatment for Parkinson’s? Not in the least. Is this study interesting in a hopeful sense though? Absolutely.
Supplementing with Mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens has a rich history of use for promoting mental health. Current research supports its traditional application and hopefully additional research will gain insight into future uses. If you are considering supplementing with Mucuna pruriens, like any supplement, it’s a good idea to find an organic or wild crafted source. If you have supplemented with Mucuna pruriens, please leave a comment below and share your experience with us!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.