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Mucuna Pruriens: The Mood-Boosting Productivity Pill You’ve Been Looking For

By: Emily Mahler
May 23, 2018

Mucuna Pruriens: The Mood-Boosting Productivity Pill You’ve Been Looking For

  • Known as the dopa bean, this natural herbal supplement is an adaptogen used in Ayurvedic medicine that lowers stress, improves focus, boosts the libido and elevates mood.
  • Mucuna pruriens contains high levels of naturally occurring L-dopa, which is the precursor to dopamine.
  • Read on to learn about how this may be the “magic bean” to help your mood and so much more.

Is mucuna pruriens the mood- and libido-boosting productivity pill you’ve been looking for?

Known as the dopa bean, mucuna pruriens is a natural herbal supplement used in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient practice from India, that lowers stress, reduces anxiety, improves focus, boosts the libido, and elevates mood.[1]

“Mucuna pruriens has an almost magical ability to improve motivation, well-being, energy, and sex drive along with decreasing the tendency to overeat,” says acupuncturist Karen Kurtak, LAc, co-author of “The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Living Forever,” and department head of Longevity Nutrition at Grossman Wellness Institute, in Denver.

Mucuna pruriens is a type of adaptogen, healing plants that regulate hormones to help your body better handle stress. Specifically, mucuna pruriens contains high levels of naturally occurring L-dopa, the precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a major role in motivation, pleasure, and emotions. Without enough dopamine, you wind up lethargic, unfocused, and even depressed. People with Parkinson’s disease also lack dopamine. Too much dopamine, on the other hand, is linked to impulsive, thrill-seeking behavior.[2]

If this latter personality sounds like you, probably best to pass on a dopa bean supplement. For everyone else, here’s what you need to know about this therapeutic bean before buying.

Related: Hack Your Stress and Sex with these 7 Adaptogens

What is mucuna pruriens?

Mucuna pruriens, widely known as “velvet bean,” is actually a legume (not an herb) that grows in the tropics, originally from southern China and eastern India.[3] While the bean is highly beneficial, you don’t want to touch the pod because it causes severe itching and irritation of the skin. In fact, one of its English names is “Cowitch.”

The dopa bean possesses an active compound known as L-dopa, which is a non-protein amino acid, in high concentration.[4] Because it boosts dopamine levels in the brain, it’s often used to treat Parkinson’s disease in Ayurvedic medicine. Western medicine uses a synthetic form of L-dopa to treat Parkinson’s patients’ symptoms, but clinical trials have shown the use of mucuna pruriens to have equivalent (or better) results without the side effects.[5]

L-dopa and dopamine: How mucuna pruriens works

Mucuna pruriens contains high levels of naturally occurring L-dopa, which is the precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is essential for sleep, memory, mood, mental functions, and calming the nervous system.
By using this dopa bean supplement, you can support the body’s production of dopamine naturally. L-dopa crosses the blood-brain barrier and aides the body in creating this fantastic feel-good hormone.

As with everything, the right amount of dopamine is crucial. Normal levels keep your nervous system working properly. It promotes healthy levels of motivation, sex drive and appetite. Novel and pleasurable activities — like eating at a new restaurant, taking in a beautiful landscape, or going sky-diving — trigger the release of dopamine. It tells your brain, “I like this. Do it again.” The same thing happens when you conquer a long-term goal, like writing a book or getting a promotion.

Engaging in addictive behaviors like smoking, drinking, gambling, and overeating also heightens your dopamine levels. The problem is, too much dopamine can lead to your receptors not working correctly. Over time, addictive behaviors alter your brain cells, resulting in severe dopamine deficiency.

Related: Make Bad Decisions? Blame Dopamine

Mucuna for anxiety, depression and mood

mucuna pruriens benefitsWith dopamine being essential for mental function, emotions, and mood, it’s no wonder this magic bean also boosts the mood. Dopamine regulates the release of various hormones and is known to calm the nervous system.

In 2014 researchers studied the effect of mucuna pruriens for reducing anxiety in rats. They used three different experimental models and chronic administration of mucuna pruriens. The results of the study showed a significant anti-anxiety effect in each of the models they studied.[6]

Mucuna also shows promise in treating stress and depression.[7] However, cautions Kurtak, there is the chance that giving mucuna to people who suffer from depression caused by low serotonin could make the depression more severe. That’s because dopamine in large enough doses may interfere with the production of serotonin, she explains.

Mucuna for ADHD, focus and learning

mucuna pruriens benefitsIf you feel like you have ADHD tendencies, mucuna may help you stay on task. Adderall, the attention deficit drug, keeps you focused by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, so there’s more of it floating around your nervous system.

A few studies show L-dopa works as a way to boost learning and reaction time.

One of the studies tested 8 adults between the ages of 21-28 with a single 200mg dose of levodopa (synthetic L-dopa) before a visual reaction time test. The results showed “Levodopa improved RT performance in a specific way: it interacted with signal intensity, but its effect was additive with those of stimulus-response mapping and foreperiod duration.”[8]

Another study showed L-dopa to enhance new-word learning in adults. This study divided participants into two groups. One group received five doses of 100mg L-dopa before each of the five learning sessions over the period of one week. Each session involved a study phase and a test phase and the results showed a superior recall accuracy of the new words for those who took the L-dopa, as well as continued accuracy at a one-month follow-up.

Mucuna for fertility and libido

mucuna pruriens benefitsA study involving 120 men showed Mucuna pruriens to reduce stress and improve quality of semen in infertile men. Sixty men were undergoing infertility screening, and the other 60 were healthy men who had initiated at least one pregnancy. The men were given 5 grams of mucuna pruriens powder a day for 3 months. They were also given a psychological stress assessment, and their cortisol levels were tested. After the 3 months, the results showed a significant decrease in cortisol levels and an increase in sperm count to the same level as the fertile men.[9]

Mucuna pruriens dosage and how to take

mucuna pruriens benefits dosageAs with any supplement you are taking to upgrade your performance, look for a high-quality powder or tablet, like NOW Foods mucuna extract containing 15% L-dopa.

How much: Take 200 – 500 mg with food, up to 1,000 mg a day. Taking more than 1 gram per day can lead to side effects like sweating, nausea, high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

Cycle on and off: While this supplement could be the magic pill you’ve been looking for, be cautious of dosage to ensure you don’t become tolerant or dependent on it. It’s recommended to cycle this supplement and only take it 4-5 days a week.

Fix your receptors: According to Kurtak, mucuna can be used as a natural remedy. However, she recommends taking it while rehabilitating the dopamine receptors.  “Otherwise, it actually exacerbates the problem and causes further damage.”

Her suggested stack of supplements to take alongside macuna:

  • L-tyrosine: 1000 mg two times per day on an empty stomach
  • Rhodiola: 50 mg twice a day
  • Serotonin-Dopamine drops
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine: 1000-2000 mg of to support glutathione production and prevent loss of the naturally occurring dopamine

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