Can the extract of a bean boost your brain power? Can the same bean help you sleep, or improve your mood? When it comes to Mucuna pruriens (also called the velvet bean), then the answer is yes. Mucuna pruriens has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, which is a traditional methodology from India that focuses on creating balance in the body.
Mucuna pruriens is traditionally used to elevate a person’s mood. It can help increase motivation, energy and even libido. It’s also an adaptogen that helps your body handle stress more effectively. If you find yourself envious of people that seem to get more done in a day than you do in a month, Mucuna pruriens might be your answer!
What is Mucuna Pruriens Extract?
Originally grown in eastern India and southern regions of China, the Mucuna pruriens vine prefers a tropical climate. It’s cultivation has since spread to the Caribbean and some parts of Africa. The plant itself is a vine that creeps along other surfaces and can grow up to 50 feet long, with roots that are over twice that length. The flowers can display a range of purples and pinks.
The seed pods are an eye-catching orange and have a fuzzy, hair-like coating that can cause persistent itchiness after it’s been touched. These woolly pods create such an intense sensation that they’ve been used to make itching powder. The active compound that causes this reaction is called mucunain, and it is not present in Mucuna pruriens extract.
It’s the seeds from this plant that hold the magic, which are actually beans. These legumes can be either black or white and are eaten as food in some parts of the world, though in small amounts. Water extraction method is used to make Mucuna pruriens extract.
The extract of this bean contains bioactive compounds that work with the body to aid in the management of certain maladies. The first and most abundant compound is L-DOPA. This is an amino acid that the body converts to dopamine and to smaller amounts of adrenaline and norepinephrine. Mucuna pruriens also contains high amounts of antioxidants that can help reduce free radical damage in the body (x).
Mucuna Pruriens Extract Benefits
Relief From Stress and Anxiety
Stress can build up faster than you realize. From a rough meeting at work to sitting in traffic, lots of things can add to your stress level. But stress isn’t just a psychological thing. It takes a toll in a very physical way, such as hormone imbalances, decreased immune function and elevated blood pressure (x).
Stress relieving strategies like meditation or yoga are a good start, but might not be enough. They may also take more time than your busy schedule allows. This is where the adaptogenic Mucuna pruriens comes in. The L-DOPA combined with the antioxidants in Mucuna pruriens may help provide relief from physical and mental stress. Studies show that it not only reduces feelings of stress, but helps to rebalance the hormones that are triggered by these feelings, most notably by decreasing cortisol (x).
Cognitive Health Improvements
Improving physical health is an essential piece of the puzzle to living a full and active life. It’s easy to focus on the visible, tangible results you can get from foods, supplements and lifestyle choices, but the effects on your brain are sometimes harder to keep track of. Cognitive decline used to be considered a problem only for the elderly. However, research shows people are losing cognitive abilities earlier in life (x).
Research focuses on the neuroprotective effects of L-DOPA to support cognitive function. What studies are showing, though, is that Mucuna pruriens extract is more powerful than L-DOPA alone. This suggests that there are other compounds contained within the extract that work synergistically to create a stronger effect (x).
Mucuna pruriens can help maintain and improve the ability to learn new things, recall things from memory and think more quickly.
It is also successfully being used in clinical settings for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. This serious neurological condition involves a severe dopamine deficiency in the brain. Interestingly, the L-DOPA from the plant extract seems to be more effective and cause fewer side effects with long term use than isolated L-dopa (x).
Relieves Symptoms of Depression
Could your less than cheery disposition be caused by a deficiency of dopamine in the brain? It’s quite possible since low dopamine has been linked to depression in studies. Dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine work in combination to keep your mood stable, help you feel upbeat and more easily motivated. Having too little of these neurotransmitters can negatively impact your mood, sometimes to an extreme degree (x).
The L-DOPA in Mucuna pruriens converts to dopamine in the body, helping the brain achieve or maintain healthy levels. In this way, Mucuna pruriens extract helps to balance your neurotransmitters to achieve a more stable mood. Studies indeed support this claim of antidepressant effects (x).
While the connection between the L-DOPA in Mucuna pruriens extract and increased dopamine levels in the brain is clear, it’s interesting to note that it can also raise serotonin and norepinephrine. These two neurotransmitters, when out of balance, can cause feelings of anxiety and depression and can negatively impact one’s mood. Since this extract can help bring these back into balance, Mucuna pruriens may help you have more stable mental energy overall (x).
Mucuna pruriens extract doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on men who are fertile or have a normal libido. However, it can be of great benefit to men who are struggling in this area. For men who are suffering from infertility, Mucuna pruriens extract can improve levels of testosterone. Men can also experience a significant increase in sperm count as well as sperm motility (x).
Thanks to the dopamine increasing effect of Mucuna pruriens extract, men, and most notably older men, can enjoy a more robust libido. As dopamine declines, so does sex drive, and this has a lot to do with neurotransmitter balance. An increase in dopamine due to the L-DOPA content can help to restore interest and stamina in the bedroom (x).
Improves Sleep Quality
Whether it takes you longer than you’d like to fall asleep each night, you wake up multiple times or you just don’t feel rested after you’ve slept, Mucuna pruriens extract can help. Studies have shown that you can enjoy up to 50 percent better sleep after daily use of this herb for four weeks. You can expect to feel more relaxed when you take Mucuna pruriens extract, so not only will you fall asleep more easily, but your mind will be more calm so you can drift off peacefully, feeling more rested the next day (x).
Mucuna Pruriens Extract Dosage and Side Effects
Mucuna pruriens is likely safe for most people. However, those experiencing the following issues should consult with a healthcare provider prior to use:
- Low blood sugar
- Cardiovascular disease
- Taking antidepressant or antipsychotic medications
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
Side effects of Mucuna pruriens extract are rare but can include:
- Digestive upset
- Elevated blood pressure
- Neurological effects such as headaches, sleepiness, confusion, hallucinations and delusions.
To ensure that Mucuna pruriens is a good choice for you, make sure to start with a small dose to see how it makes you feel.
This extract has an earthy, nutty flavor. Instead of water, you can mix this powder into juice or coffee if you don’t enjoy the taste. Many people add Mucuna pruriens extract to a smoothie with fruits, vegetables and other superfoods. Try adding it to a savory stew. This powder is ideal for filling capsules for convenience or travel.
The Bottom Line
Mucuna pruriens extract is very unique. The substances contained in it are neuroprotective and can improve mood, symptoms of anxiety and depression and even help in the management of Parkinson’s disease. It can help you improve how quickly you think and how effectively you can learn new information.
The benefits of Mucuna pruriens extract are not limited to your brain, though. Those who take this extract can have an improved libido and greater fertility. It can help one manage stress and even help improve sleep habits.
By: Heather L. Makar