Mucuna pruriens or the velvet bean has been recognized for hundreds of years for its aphrodisiac properties, ability to enhance mood, improve libido and increase the production of testosterone. Native to Asia and Africa, this plant comes under the legume family and has been valued immensely for its use in horticulture, agriculture and medicine. Special care is needed while handling this plant as it is known to cause severe itching when it comes in contact with the skin, especially the seed pods and young foliage. This is because of the presence of chemical compounds such as mucunain, serotonin and a protein. Mucuna pruriens is also known by other names such as cowitch, cowhage, buffalo beans, sea beans and many more.
Compounds in Mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens contains high amounts of a compound known as L-DOPA (40mg per gram). This compound is a direct precursor to dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps in boosting your energy, improving concentration, increasing the production of testosterone and increasing libido. Mucuna pruriens is also a good source of many amino acids (alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, histidine etc), vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, etc), minerals (iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorus), fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, fat, carbohydrate, protein, alkaloids, saponins, and lipids.
Health Benefits of Mucuna pruriens
The seeds of Mucuna pruriens are mainly responsible for its numerous medicinal properties. Although itchy, the pod, its hairs and the roots of the plant are also used effectively in preparing herbal remedies.
Mucuna pruriens helps in managing Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that commonly affects people in the age range of 55 and 75 years old. It is characterized by muscle rigidity, tremors, slow movement, speech problems, difficulty in walking and balance and difficulty in eating. This is a progressive disease with the symptoms becoming more and more severe over time. Levodopa is one of the most important drugs used for treating the symptoms of this disease. L-DOPA contained in Mucuna pruriens has been found to be more effective and safer for managing Parkinson’s disease when compared to the pharmaceutical drugs such as Levodopa and Carbidopa. In fact, the powdered seeds of this plant have been used for a very long time in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of many diseases including Parkinson’s disease. The paper, “Mucuna pruriens in Parkinson’s disease: a double blind clinical and pharmacological study” gives a more detailed look into the use of this plant as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Mucuna pruriens has anti-snake venom effects
The extract obtained from the seeds of Mucuna pruriens exhibits anti-snake venom properties and hence is considered effective against the poisonous effects of certain types of snake venom. Experiments were conducted by pre-treating rats with Mucuna pruriens seed extract and tested with the venoms of various snake. The results conferred that the pre-treatment with the seed extract offered effective protection against the deadly effects of Naja sputatrix (The Javan spitting cobra) venom and moderate protection against the venom of Calloselasma rhodostoma (Malayan pit viper). The studies revealed the capability of Mucuna pruriens to immunologically neutralize the effects of snake venom poisoning. The details of the study can be found here.
Mucuna pruriens as an aphrodisiac
As mentioned earlier, Mucuna pruriens is a rich source of L-Dopa, which is known to stimulate the brain to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for a number of functions within the brain as well as your body. It controls the pleasure and rewards centers the brain in addition to regulating emotional responses and movement. Dopamine has anti-depressant properties and is also helpful in stimulating sexual desires and improving your mood. Because of these properties, this plant has long been used as an aphrodisiac in traditional medicine. In men, Mucuna pruriens is known to improve the levels of testosterone, improve sexual desire and increase sperm count and motility. In women it functions as a mood enhancer and helps in increasing sexual desire and in preventing depression. The roots of this plant help in regulating menstrual cycle in women.
Mucuna pruriens improves brain health
Several studies on Mucuna pruriens suggest that this plant helps in protecting your brain by making sure that the neural and cognitive functions of the brain are working well. It is even found to stimulate neural activity in the brain. Reasearch on animals suggest that this may be attributed to the antioxidant action of Mucuna pruriens. The harmful free radicals in your body all have an unpaired electron which makes them highly unstable. Antioxidants protect the cells in your body from oxidative stress by donating an electron to the free radicals, thereby neutralizing their effects,. Mucuna has been found to be beneficial in preventing systemic redness in the brain, a key factor that often leads to the degradation of brain.
Mucuna pruriens lowers stress and improves semen quality in infertile men
Studies conducted to evaluate the effect of Mucuna pruriens in infertile men who were going through psychological stress revealed that it not only restores the anti-oxidant protection in infertile men but is also helpful in managing stress and in improving the quality of semen. It was found that the by administering Mucuna pruriens orally to infertile men for a period of 3 months, an overall improvement in sperm count and motility was observed. It also helped in reduction of psychological stress by a significant level.
Mucuna pruriens has anti-diabetic properties
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate the anti-diabetic activity of Mucuna pruriens. The seed extract of this plant has been found to lower blood sugar levels in diabetic rats, indicating its potential use in the treatment of diabetes.
Mucuna pruriens has antioxidant properties
Because of the presence of high amounts of antioxidant phenolic constituents, the seed extracts of Mucuna pruriens is often used in managing several conditions like premature aging, diabetes, atherosclerosis, nervous disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and other such diseases that are caused by the harmful effects of free radicals. Oxidative stress on cells brought about by the free radicals plays a key role in causing many of these diseases. The antioxidants help in neutralizing the effects of free radicals and in preventing cell damage and mutation.
Mucuna pruriens shows anti-cholesterol activity
Hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol is one of the most important and common risk factor of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries due to accumulation of plaque), a condition which could eventually lead to coronary heart disease. Mucuna pruriens or velvet bean is considered to have powerful anti-cholesterol effect, which can be attributed to its high antioxidant activity. Studies revealed that Mucuna pruriens extract was effective in reducing LDL or bad cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and also the total cholesterol levels. It also helped in increasing the levels of HDL or good cholesterol. The high level of L- dopa in Mucuna is another factor that contributes to the lowering of cholesterol levels. It also contains phytosterols and saponins that bind to cholesterol and bile acids, thus reducing the absorption of cholesterol and its build up.
Mucuna pruriens stimulates human growth hormone (HGH)
Mucuna pruriens contains large amounts of L-Dopa, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that helps your body in increasing the production of luteinizing hormone and growth hormone. The increased release of these hormones helps in the improving the growth, strength and recovery of muscles. Clinical studies reveal that L-Dopa can be used as an effective and safe supplement for muscle growth. Mucuna is also found to be beneficial in increasing the bone density and bone strength, thereby preventing conditions like osteoporosis.
Mucuna pruriens has diuretic effects
Mucuna pruriens is a diuretic which helps in preventing fluid retention by increasing the frequency of urination. This property is particularly useful in lowering blood pressure, preventing kidney stones, preventing urinary tract infection and also in promoting weight loss.
Mucuna pruriens is used to get rid of intestinal worms
The hairs on the seed pods of Mucuna pruriens are used as a remedy to eliminate parasitic worms that live inside the intestine.
Side effects of Mucuna pruriens
Some of the common side effects that may occur due to the use of Mucuna pruriens are nausea, vomiting, headache, pounding heartbeat, abdominal bloating, insomnia and symptoms of psychosis such as confusion, hallucinations, agitation, and delusions. As mentioned before, the hair found on the bean pod of Mucuna pruriens is a strong irritant that can cause extreme itching, swelling and burning sensation, if it comes in contact with the skin or is taken orally.
Yet another interesting thing about Mucuna pruriens is that it also serves as an alternative to coffee. The seeds of this plant are dried and are then brewed just like brewing coffee. Similar to coffee, this drink is also considered to be extremely stimulating and effective in improving mental alertness. Mucuna pruriens has been fast gaining popularity over the past few years in many fields, particularly the fitness and sports nutrition industry. The amazing ability of this plant to stimulate the production of growth hormone and increase testosterone levels have encouraged several companies to create and launch new products using mucuna beans.Image Credits: Flickr - Ton Rulkens, Flickr - Btortigoza, Flickr - Pravin Kawale