People sometimes have to try a number of treatments for depression before they find one that works for them. The complex nature of treating depression may lead you to consider novel treatments for the illness, such as fava beans. Before adding fava beans to your diet, it is important to know whether research supports eating fava beans to alleviate depressive symptoms, as well as the risks associated with such a dietary change.
In the article “Fava Beans, Levodopa, and Parkinson’s Disease,” registered dietitian Kathrynne Holden says that fava beans contain high amounts levodopa, also called l-dopa. According to Medline Plus, a National Institutes of Health website, your body converts levodopa into the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate your mood along with other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
In an article in Primary Psychiatry, Dr. Donald Robinson says that research points to lower than normal levels of dopamine as a possible factor in depression. Some antidepressant medications raise levels of dopamine along with serotonin and norepinephrine. The dopamine-boosting effect of levodopa from fava beans may help alleviate depressive symptoms. However, Robinson says that psychiatric researchers have not established a direct link between dopamine levels and depression.
Holden says that the concentration of levodopa in fava beans varies. Therefore, you may not receive a consistent amount of levodopa from fava beans. Holden also says that some people can have an allergic reaction to raw fava beans. Cooking fava beans thoroughly reduces the risk of such a reaction. However, the risk of experiencing an allergic reaction to fava beans may outweigh the potential benefits, given the speculative nature of the beans' effect on depression.
Oregon State University’s Micronutrient Information Center website states that levodopa interferes with your body’s ability to metabolize vitamin B6. The high amounts of levodopa contained in fava beans can result in a vitamin B6 deficiency. The Micronutrient Information Center says that a deficiency in vitamin B6 may lead to depression because vitamin B6 aids in the production of serotonin and norepinephrine. Consuming fava beans may increase depressive symptoms due to a vitamin B6 deficiency.
According an article by Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic, avoid fava beans if you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, for depression. Fava beans contain high amounts of tyramine. MAOIs block an enzyme that eliminates excess tyramine from your body. Therefore, your tyramine levels can become excessively high if you eat fava beans while undergoing treatment with MAOIs. Hall-Flavin warns that excess tyramine levels cause a rapid increase in blood pressure that could necessitate emergency treatment.