Mucuna pruriens – also known as velvet bean, monkey tamarind, cowage, lacuna bean and kapikacchu — is a plant which has been used in Ayurvedic medicine since at least 1500BC. In the past few decades, it has gotten a lot of attention as a natural treatment for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are many other health benefits of mucuna pruriens.
Here are the main mucuna pruriens health benefits which are actually backed by research, and how it works.
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1. Regulates Mood
Mucuna pruriens contains a natural chemical called levodopa, which the body converts into dopamine. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in the body. It is involved in the brain’s reward pathway and is crucial for regulating mood, pleasure and even motivation. Low-levels of dopamine are linked to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
Research shows that taking mucuna pruriens can increase dopamine levels and thus help regulate mood and alleviate symptoms of mood-disorders like depression.
Further, there is evidence that mucuna pruriens can increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which is another key neurotransmitter for mental health and mood.
2. Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases
In neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, the cells that produce dopamine die off, leading to decreased dopamine levels. Because it contains high levels of levodopa, which is converted into dopamine, mucuna pruriens can help alleviate the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases.
3. Improves Memory and Cognition
Dopamine is also essential for cognition and memory. Thus, by increasing dopamine levels, mucuna pruriens can increase cognitive function and memory recall. There is also evidence that mucuna pruriens increases focus and even can help treat ADD and ADHD.
Further, mucuna pruriens also contains many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. These protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function.
4. Improves Sleep Quality
Dopamine has an important role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Thus, taking mucuna pruriens can help improve sleep quality.
Further, mucuna pruriens also contains numerous compounds which has sedative and relaxing properties. These include: serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), Beta-sitosterol, and Trigonelline.
5. Boosts Testosterone Levels
Mucuna pruriens may increase testosterone levels, which can lead to improved muscle growth, increased libido, and enhanced fertility.
It does this through several mechanisms. The first is by increasing dopamine levels. Dopamine has been shown to stimulate the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland, which in turn stimulates the production of testosterone in the testes. In addition to stimulating LH release, dopamine also directly stimulates the Leydig cells in the testes to produce testosterone.
Mucuna pruriens also reduces levels of prolactin, a hormone that inhibits the production of testosterone. By reducing prolactin levels, mucuna pruriens may help increase testosterone production
6. Regulates Blood Sugar
Mucuna pruriens has been shown to inhibit the activity of alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates into glucose. By inhibiting alpha-glucosidase, mucuna pruriens may help slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thereby reducing blood sugar levels.
Mucuna pruriens inhibits the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are harmful compounds that form when glucose reacts with proteins in the body, and they have been implicated in the development of diabetic complications.
The levodopa in mucuna pruriens also increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by facilitating the uptake of glucose into cells. By increasing insulin sensitivity, mucuna pruriens helps improve glucose metabolism and regulates blood sugar levels.
7. Reduces Inflammation
Mucuna pruriens contains compounds such as flavonoids, phenols, and alkaloids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds may help reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, thereby reducing inflammation in the body.
The antioxidants in mucuna pruriens reduce oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress has been shown to contribute to the development of inflammation, and by reducing oxidative stress, mucuna pruriens may help reduce inflammation.
Mucuna pruriens has been shown to inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme that is involved in the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.
8. Improves Skin Health
Mucuna pruriens has been shown to stimulate the production of collagen, a protein that provides structure and elasticity to the skin. As we age, the production of collagen declines, leading to skin aging and wrinkles. By promoting collagen synthesis, mucuna pruriens may help improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
The antioxidants in mucuna pruriens are also beneficial to skin health. Oxidative stress can damage skin cells and contribute to the development of skin aging and skin cancer. The anti-inflammatory properties of mucuna pruriens also help treat acne, rosacea and eczema.
9. Digestive Health
Mucuna pruriens may help regulate gut motility, or the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the digestive tract that move food through the system. By regulating gut motility, mucuna pruriens may help prevent constipation and diarrhea, and promote healthy bowel movements.
The anti-inflammatory compounds in mucuna pruriens are incredibly important for gut health. Inflammation in the digestive tract can contribute to the development of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Likewise, the antioxidants in mucuna pruriens protect cells in the digestive tract from oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation, ulcers and gastritis.
Further, mucuna pruriens has antimicrobial properties. This can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.
Antiparkinsonian and Antioxidant Effects of Hydroalcoholic Extract of Camellia sinensis, Asparagus racemosus, Mucuna pruriens and their Combination,
A review on natural memory enhancers (nootropics),
Androgenic and anabolic possibilities of mucuna pruriens,
effect of ethanol extract of seed of mucuna pruriens on gastric ulcers,
studies of immunomodulatory activity of mucuna pruriens (PDF),