With modern science, we can create all kinds of amazing things in the laboratory. But sometimes the most amazing things are found in nature.
One of these amazing things is mucuna pruriens. This is a tropic bean that grows naturally in parts of Africa and Asia. And it has a number of powerful nootropic properties.
The reason that mucuna pruriens is so powerful is because it contains a large amount of l-dopa, which is a well-known substance with tons of medicinal properties.
L-dopa is actually a prescription drug in the United States and abroad. It’s used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, Restless Leg Syndrome, and several other conditions.
When taken by healthy individuals, it can significantly improve mood, motivation, and reduce anxiety. It may also increase testosterone and growth hormone (HGH) levels. Because of this, mucuna pruriens is popular in both nootropic and bodybuilding communities.
We’re gonna look at what exactly mucuna pruriens is, how it works, its benefits, potential side-effects, effective dosages, and more.
What Is Mucuna Pruriens?
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that grows naturally in several parts of Africa and Asia. It goes by many names: velvet bean, cowitch, cowage, lacuna bean, Lyon bean, Florida velvet bean, Yokohama velvet bean, Muritius velvet bean, and Bengal velvet bean. To avoid confusion, we’ll just call it “mucuna” from here onward.
This interesting bean contains a number of different substances that are known to have physiological effects. By far the most significant is l-dopa. We’ll get into what that is in the next section.
But mucuna also contains a number of other psychoactive substances, in much smaller amounts. These include serotonin, 5-HTP, bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), nicotine, beta carboline, and 5-MeO-DMT. It is unlikely that these have any noticeable effect, though, as they are only found in very small quantities.
In recent years, mucuna has become popular in nootropic and bodybuilding/fitness communities. For many users, it provides a noticeable improvement in mood, increased motivation, and a reduction in anxiety.
This makes it a great part of any nootropic stack, or as a preworkout supplement. There is also some research to suggest that it may increase testosterone and HGH levels. For bodybuilders, this is potentially an added benefit.
Most of these positive effects are due to mucuna containing the dopamine precursor, l-dopa. Let’s look at what exactly that is.
What Is L-Dopa?
L-dopa is the substance in mucuna pruriens that gives it all of its nootropic properties. Improved mood, increased motivation, and reduced anxiety are all effects of l-dopa.
L-dopa (levodopa or levo-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) is a chemical that is naturally found in the body. It is a direct precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. A precursor is a substance used by the body to make another substance.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is known to play a crucial role in motivation, attention, libido, mood, pleasure, and anxiety. Low levels of dopamine are correlated with depression, anxiety, low sex drive, lack of pleasure (anhedonia), and lack of motivation.
Taking l-dopa increases dopamine levels in the brain. This often results in an increase in motivation, improved mood, and reduced anxiety. Since mucuna contains large amounts of l-dopa, taking it in supplement form should also produce all these effects.
Benefits of Mucuna/L-Dopa
Improved Mood/Increase Sense of Well-Being – There are tons of reports around the internet of this. Mucuna users are reporting an improvement in mood and of overall well-being. This has also been noted in at least one scientific study.
Decreased Anxiety – This is another effect that is commonly reported with mucuna supplementation. While we couldn’t find any studies that looked at the effect mucuna or l-dopa have directly on anxiety, there were a couple studies that showed mucuna supplementation reduced several stress parameters. And there are numerous case reports of reduced anxiety levels in people taking mucuna.
Increased Motivation – This is another effect that is widely reported with mucuna/l-dopa use. We couldn’t find any studies that explored this directly. However, there are numerous case studies of Parkinson’s patients that report increased motivation and goal-oriented behavior after starting l-dopa.
Increased Testosterone and Growth Hormone (HGH) – There are 2 studies that showed that mucuna supplementation increased levels of testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and growth hormone (HGH), while decreasing levels of prolactin and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in infertile men. Whether or not all these effects are seen in men without fertility issues has not been studied. However, a significant increase in HGH has been seen in multiple studies involving healthy men given l-dopa.
Increased Dopamine – As mentioned above, dopamine is a chemical in the brain that plays a role in motivation, mood, focus, anxiety, pleasure, goal-oriented behavior, and libido. Taking mucuna/l-dopa has been shown to increase plasma dopamine concentrations. It is thought that most (if not all) of mucuna’s nootropic benefits are because of this.
Mucuna seems to be very well tolerated when taken at recommended dosages. One large double-blind study showed that mucuna had no serious side effects at a dosage of 30 grams for 20 weeks.
Since mucuna pruriens contains l-dopa, the side effects of l-dopa are theoretically possible. However, several studies have shown that mucuna seems to have fewer side effects than l-dopa. This may be due to mucuna containing other substances in addition to l-dopa, which may mitigate certain side effects.
Some users report nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and upset stomach after taking mucuna. This can usually be eliminated by taking mucuna with food.
If you are taking an MAOI (typically prescribed for severe depression) or other psychiatric drugs that affect dopamine levels, you should talk to your prescriber before taking mucuna. In fact, it’s always a good idea to talk to a licensed healthcare professional before starting or stopping any supplement, drug, plant, exercise routine, or making any major lifestyle changes.
Mucuna Pruriens/L-Dopa Dosage
Like all drugs and supplements, you want to use the lowest effective dosage. The reason for this is to minimize the likelihood of side effects while getting all of the benefits.
The optimal mucuna dosage is going to depend on the percentage of l-dopa it contains. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variation between manufacturers. Some mucuna products have as little as 10% l-dopa, while others have as much as 98%.
For best results, you want to use a mucuna product with as much l-dopa as possible. We recommend a mucuna pruriens product that contains 98% l-dopa. Nootropics City, one of out preferred retailers, carries mucuna pruriens capsules with 98% l-dopa. They are available in a number of different quantities, from 20 capsule sample packs to 180 capsule double-bottle packs.
If you are using a 98% l-dopa mucuna product, a good starting point would be 250 milligrams (mg) twice a day. Some acute effects may be noticeable within an hour or two of administration. However, the full benefits of mucuna/l-dopa are usually only seen after several weeks of supplementation.
If you don’t experience the desired results at that dosage, you can increase the dosage as needed. It is recommended that you only increase the daily dosage of mucuna/l-dopa every 4-7 days, by no more than 750 mg at a time.
While there are no established guidelines for optimal mucuna dosing, there are guidelines for l-dopa. L-dopa is typically started at 250 mg twice a day, and titrated (adjusted) slowly up to a maximum of around 6,000 mg a day.
Although the safety of taking high dose (>6,000 mg) l-dopa has been well-established, it is not needed to experience its nootropic benefits.
Lastly, mucuna may work better when taken with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG, commonly found in green tea, is a decarboxylase inhibitor. By taking EGCG with mucuna, it helps to keep more dopamine in your central nervous system (brain). This increases the positive effects of mucuna/l-dopa and reduces the likelihood of side-effects.
It should come as no surprise that mucuna pruriens can be found in the stacks of many nootropic lovers. It can be highly effective by itself, or in combination with other nootropics.
Improved mood, decreased anxiety, and increased motivation are among the benefits of this bean extract. And it may increase testosterone and growth hormone levels, too. Nootropic enthusiasts and bodybuilders alike have been reporting all these positive effects and more.
For optimal results, mucuna should be taken with EGCG. This increases its effectiveness and reduces the possibility of side effects.
Mucuna pruriens will make a great addition to your mood/anxiety/motivation arsenal. Check out these other great mood/anxiety/motivation nootropics:
And lastly, if you’re interested in fitness and exercise, check out this post about Using Nootropics as a Pre-workout Supplement.
Here is a list of all our sources. We decided not to put citations in the article itself, to make it easier to read, since this is for a general audience. All the information in this article came from the following sources, all retrieved February 7, 2016:
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