Mucuna pruriens, pronounced: moo-KOO-nuh, proo-REE-yens, an annual climbing herb, is native to South and Southeastern Asia. Self-pollinating, it bears seeds in long pords with pubescent hairs called "spicules."
In India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil and Malawi, the seeds are used as food and in traditional folk and Ayurvedic medicine. More recently, M. pruriens has been used as an alternative treatment for Parkinson's disease in Western countries.
Mucuna Pruriens Fights Parkinson's Disease
In a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover study by Katzenschlager and colleagues, published in a 2004 issue of the "Journal of Personality Assessment," eight Parkinson's disease patients received 200 mg of standard levodopa and 15 and 30 mg of Mucuna supplements in a random order every other week. The results showed that subjects who received the herbal remedy experienced faster and longer relief from dyskinesia than participants given the standard L-dopa. Dyskinesia is the distortion of voluntary movement as in tic or spasm. The researchers concluded that the speed of M. pruriens' action and the longevity of beneficial effect without accompanying dyskinesia indicate that Mucuna pruriens may be more beneficial than standard L-dopa in the long-term treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Mucuna Pruriens Protects Neurons
Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative illness without a known neurorestorative treatment, is believed to be linked with oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a condition in which pro-oxidants and free radicals overwhelm the body's defense system.
In an animal investigation led by Dhanasekaran, et al., reported in "Phytotherapy Research" in 2008, M. pruriens scavenged DPPH radicals (stable radicals that attract and trap radicals), ABTS radicals, and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Radicals are highly reactive compounds that pull electrons from other molecules in a bid to become stable. Mucuna pruriens also prevented fat and deoxyribose sugar oxidation, while protecting plasma DNA; these effects were attributed to the herb's antioxidants.
In a 2004 issue of "Phytotherapy Research," B.V. Manyam, et al., found that M. pruriens restored endogenous levodopa, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels in experimental rat brains.
Due to limited human studies, Mucuna pruriens' safety, ideal dosage and frequency of use have not been established. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists Mucuna pruriens as a poisonous plant.
Mucuna pruriens formulations are marketed widely in varying potencies. They are sold as powder (used in decoctions), tablets or capsules. Product information must be clearly stated on the label and a monograph enclosed.
Parkinson's disease patients taking levodopa, dopamine agonists, dopamine antagonists or dopamine reuptake inhibitors should consult their physician before taking the supplement to avoid toxic psychosis. Toxic psychosis is any major mental disorder characterized by personality derangement, loss of contact with reality, delirium, hallucinations, incoherent speech and agitation.
Pregnant and lactating women should not take M. pruriensis, which inhibits prolactin secretion. Prolactin is a pituitary hormone that initiates secretion and is therefore key to a successful pregnancy and lactation.
Because M. pruriens is a pro-coagulant (decreases bleeding time and increases platelet count), it counters the effects of anticoagulants such as warfarin and coumarin.
Mucunain, a protein in Mucuna pruriensis, causes itching.
Mucuna pruriensis is an established herbal remedy in some societies. However, due to the paucity of robust scientific evidence as to its safety and effectiveness, its use in the U.S. requires medical supervision.