Mucuna seed extract is obtained from Mucuna pruriens, more commonly known as cowhage. The term “seed” is a bit misleading, since the fruit of this climbing legume is actually bean pods and the so-called seed extract is derived from hairs that surround the pods. Mucuna seed extract is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This therapy may have merit since the plant contains levodopa, the primary prescription drug for Parkinson’s. However, there are several side effects involved as well.
People with a known sensitivity to Mucuna pruriens should not use mucuna seed extract. The pod hairs, from which the extract is produced, contain histamines and may trigger an allergic reaction.
According to the “Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines,” mucuna seed extract contains an active ingredient called prurieninin, which has been shown to reduce smooth-muscle contractions in frogs. As a result, heart rate and blood pressure also decreased. While it is not yet established whether these effects also occur in humans, there is the potential for compounds in this extract to accelerate the activity of anticoagulant medications, or blood thinners. In addition, if you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, the levodopa content in the seed extract may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.
A team of Indian researchers led by Anusha Bhaskar reported in the December 2008 issue of Fitoterapia that mucuna seed extract produces a hypoglycemic effect in diabetes-induced rats. While this suggests that the extract may have future use in the treatment of hyperglycemia in humans, it should not be used if you have diabetes until more is known about the action of this substance. The presence of levodopa in particular may pose substantial risk to diabetics. According to the online drug information database at Drugs.com, levodopa can cause false readings from serum glucose or urine ketones tests.
Altered Brain Chemistry
Levodopa is a precursor to dopamine, a neurotransmitter and hormone that is produced by neurons in the region of the brain called the substantia nigra. This brain chemical is involved in regulating movement, emotional response and the perception of pain and pleasure. In Parkinson’s patients, the neurons responsible for manufacturing the chemical slowly deteriorate, which leads to a deficiency of dopamine. Administering levodopa can help these patients. However, certain other individuals taking mucuna seed extract are less likely to experience a “feel good” response. If you are taking tricyclic antidepressants, for example, you may develop involuntary muscle movements. According to a 1990 paper published in Lancet, mucuna seed extract may cause toxic psychosis in schizophrenia patients. Therefore, if you are taking antidepressant durgs, anti-anxiety medications or dopamine reuptake inhibitors, do not use mucuna seed extract.
- “PDR for Herbal Medicines”; Thomas Fleming, Chief Editor, et al; 2000
- Fitoterapia; Hypoglycemic Effect of Mucuna Pruriens Seed Extract on Normal and Streptozotocin-diabetic Rats
- Drugs.com: Carbidopa/Levodopa
- “Lancet”; Outbreak of Acute Toxic Psychosis Attributed to Mucuna Pruriens; Infante ME et al.; 1990 Nov. 3