Richters InfoSheet D4115  


Mucuna: Potential for Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

The CBC television program, “The Nature of Things” (Oct. 19, 1995), reported on research that showed that the ancient Indian herb, mucuna, has shown promise as a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. This report is a summary of the findings reported on the program and information from other sources. This information is provided for study and research purposes only; anyone contemplating using this or any other herb for medicinal use is strongly advised to consult a professional health care giver first.

Mucuna prurita (also known as M. pruriens) is a twining annual found throughout India. It is a legume with edible pods, seeds and young leaves. In Ghana, it has been a traditional food crop for more than a century, being consumed in soups and stews by a majority of farmers in parts of the country. The taste of the seeds has been compared favourably to the English bean and the tender fleshy pods have been described to be equal to the garden bean of Europe and North America.

In India, a strong infusion of the roots with honey is used to treat cholera. A syrup thickened with the hairs of the pods was used in Europe to expel worms. In the West Indies, a decoction of the roots is used as a diuretic and cleanser of the kidneys, and is made into an ointment for elephantiasis. The leaves are applied to ulcers and the beans are regarded to have aphrodisiac properties.

According to the U.S. government’s AGIS ethnobotanical database, mucuna has been used for the following properties or conditions: Aphrodisiac, asthma, bite(dog), bite(snake), cancer, cholera, cough, diarrhea, dropsy, dysuria, fracture, madness, mumps, pleuritis, ringworms, rubefacient, sore, syphilis, vermifuge, resolvent, aphrodisiac, ascaricide, nervine, tumor(abdomen).

Mucuna has been used in India for thousands of years. It was described in a 5000-year old Ayurveda medical text as being useful for the treatment of a condition that may be the same as what is now known as ‘Parkinson’s Disease’. In India today, the beans are still considered useful as a nervine tonic.

The seed contains large quantities of L-dopa, glutamate, aspartate, alanine, glycine, soleucine, leucine, lycine, linoleic acid and palmitic acid.

The beans is a natural storehouse of levadopa (L-dopa). L-dopa is the immediate precursor for the brain neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine does not cross the blood-brain barrier, but L-dopa does. L-dopa is the most effective drug against Parkinson’s Disease.

Dr. Bala Manyam, a neurologist at the Parkinson Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic at the Southern Illinois University Medical School (Springfield, Iliinois, U.S.A.), has been studying the effects of mucuna on patients suffering from parkinsonism. He conducted clinical trials comparing the effects of crushed mucuna beans with the effects of administering the pure L-dopa drug, the conventional treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

Patients receiving L-dopa orally in combination with other drugs regained some mobility. The treatment is expensive and their was a range of side effects. Patients receiving crushed mucuna beans orally also regained some mobility but the treatment resulted in fewer side-effects, and was less costly and easier to take. Each treatment took about 30 minutes to show effect.

Mucuna holds much promise, but it must be handled and used with care. The pods can cause an intolerable itch from the stinging hairs if they are incautiously touched. Contact with the eyes can cause blindness. There is one report of an outbreak of acute toxic psychosis attributed to Mucuna pruriens (letter to the editor from researchers in Mozambique: Lancet 336(8723):1129). We have not seen the Lancet report, but it seems to be inconsistent with mucuna’s long use as food and medicine.

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