Can Mucuna Pruriens Help Control PD Symptoms?

Mucuna pruriens, also called the cowhage or velvet bean, is a leguminous plant that resides in tropical climates like Central and South America, as well as in India. The seed powder of the plant has been used in Ayurvedic Indian medicine for thousands of years. One common use of mucuna in ancient India was to treat conditions that presented with parkinsonian symptoms. In 1937, scientists discovered that the seed powder contained L-dopa, and was a natural source of this highly sought after compound. Although modern day treatments utilize synthetic L-dopa, finding and utilizing a natural form of the compound could lead to less adverse effects, more effective treatment, and a reduction in synthetic treatment materials.

Mucuna pruriens for Parkinson's

Very little research has been performed on the effect of mucuna on PD symptoms, and most have only been performed on animals, or with very small numbers of human participants. While animal models have been promising, older studies have concluded that 45g of mucuna can translate to about 1500 mg of L-dopa and show significant improvements in Parkinsonism in 12-20 weeks. More recently, and perhaps the most promising, was a small study published comparing the effects of varying amounts of mucuna to traditional L-dopa/carbidopa treatments.

This study was a double-blind, randomized, controlled, cross-over study in which all participants received single doses of 200/50mg L-dopa/carbidopa, 15g of a mucuna-containing preparation, and 30g of a mucuna preparation. All participants received a different treatment at weekly intervals, meaning they tried each option one at a time and switched weekly. The participants were analyzed using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, as well as the AIMS and Goetz scales for dyskinesias. Their tapping speeds were also obtained at baseline and repeatedly over the four hours following ingestion of each treatment.

The most significant results came from the 30g mucuna preparation treatment which led to faster onset of effects and longer on-time (meaning longer control of PD-related symptoms). Specifically, the onset of effect was 34 minutes quicker with 30g of mucuna preparation, and the total on-time was 37 minutes longer with the 30mg mucuna than with the L-dopa/carbidopa treatment. There were no significant differences found in the ability to control dyskinesias between L-dopa/carbidopa and 30mg of mucuna. There were also no reported differences in the tolerability of and side effects from the 30g mucuna preparation and L-dopa/carbidopa. These findings were not shown as consistently for the 15mg mucuna.1,2

More research needed

Much more research needs to be completed before determining if this is a potential treatment for Parkinson’s with a similar, if not better, efficacy rate than synthetic options. The main study from this article only contained 8 patients, meaning there needs to be a lot more investigating to determine the true safety and efficacy of mucuna. Additionally, just like any natural entity, mucuna can contain other biologically active ingredients that could cause side effects or interact with other medications taken. That’s why it is incredibly important to talk to your provider before starting or stopping any treatments, like mucuna, in order to determine how they might affect your specific situation. Finally, natural compounds like mucuna can vary in their strength based on where or how they were grown. Since natural supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, there is no standardization processes in place to monitor for difference like these. This is another reason you should bring any product you’re interested in using to your provider first.3

Although results from research on mucuna may look promising, much more work needs to be completed before it can truly be classified as an effective and safe treatment.

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