Synonyms: Carpopogon pruriens, Dolichos pruriens, Mucuna aterrima, M. atropurpurea, M. cochinchinensis, M. cyanosperma, M. deeringiana, M. esquirolii, M. prurita, M. utilis, Stizolobium aterrimum, S. deeringianum, S. pruriens, S. pruritum, S. niveum, Negretia pruriens
Common Names: velvet bean, mucuna, nescafé, pó de mico, fava-coceira, cabeca-de-frade, cowage, cowhage, cow-itch, bengal bean, mauritius bean, itchy bean, krame, picapica, chiporro, buffalo bean
Parts Used: Seeds
From The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs:
HERBAL PROPERTIES AND ACTIONS
Main Actions Other Actions Standard Dosage
is L-Dopa alternative
Decoction: 1/2 to 1 cup
Capsules: 1-2 g twice daily
lowers blood sugar
lowers blood pressure
Follow label instructions
Velvet bean is an annual climbing vine that grows 3-18 m in height. It is indigenous to tropical regions, especially Africa, India, and the West Indies. Its flowers are white to dark purple and hang in long clusters. The plant also produces clusters of pods which contain seeds known as mucuna beans. The seed pods are covered with reddish-orange hairs that are readily dislodged and can cause intense irritation to the skin. The species name “pruriens” (from the Latin, “itching sensation”) refers to the results to be had from contact with the seed pod hairs.
TRIBAL AND HERBAL MEDICINE USES
In Central America, velvet beans have been roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute for decades; its goes by the common name of “nescafé” in these regions, as well as in Brazil, for this reason. It is still grown as a food crop by the Ketchi indigenous people in Guatemala; the bean is cooked as a vegetable. In Brazil the seed has been used internally for Parkinson’s disease, edema, impotence, intestinal gas, and worms. It is considered a diuretic, nerve tonic, and aphrodisiac. Externally it is applied to ulcers. Velvet bean has a long history of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, where it is used for worms, dysentery, diarrhea, snakebite, sexual debility, cough, tuberculosis, impotence, rheumatic disorders, muscular pain, sterility, gout, menstrual disorders, diabetes, and cancer. In India it is considered an aphrodisiac, menstrual promoter, uterine stimulant, nerve tonic, diuretic, and blood purifier.
The seeds of velvet bean are high in protein, carbohydrates, lipids, fiber, and minerals. They are also rich in novel alkaloids, saponins, and sterols. The seeds of all mucuna species contain a high concentration of L-dopa; velvet bean seeds contain 7-10% L-dopa. Concentrations of serotonin also have been found in the pod, leaf and fruit. The stinging hairs of the seed pods contain the phytochemical mucunain, which is responsible for causing skin irritation and itch.
The main plant chemicals found in velvet bean include: alkaloids, alkylamines, arachidic acid, behenic acid, betacarboline, beta-sitosterol, bufotenine, cystine, dopamine, fatty acids, flavones, galactose d, gallic acid, genistein, glutamic acid, glutathione, glycine, histidine, hydroxygenistein, 5-hydroxytryptamine, isoleucine, l-dopa, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, lysine, mannose d, methionine, 6-methoxyharman, mucunadine, mucunain, mucunine, myristic acid, niacin, nicotine, oleic acid, palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid, phenylalanine, prurienidine, prurienine, riboflavin, saponins, serine, serotonin, stearic acid, stizolamine, threonine, trypsin, tryptamine, tyrosine, valine, and vernolic acid.
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AND CLINICAL RESEARCH
Velvet bean has demonstrated little toxicity; however, it has been documented in animal studies to cause birth defects and should not be used during pregnancy. Traditionally, velvet bean has been used as a nerve tonic for nervous system disorders. Due to the high concentration of L-dopa in the seeds, it has been studied for its possible use in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a common age-related neurodegenerative disorder affecting more than four million people worldwide. It is associated with progressive degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in specific areas in the brain. Dopamine does not cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore cannot be used directly as a treatment. However, L-dopa (levodopa) does gain access to the brain-where it is converted to dopamine. There are two controversies surrounding side-effects of the current pharmaceutical supplementation of L-dopa. Over the long term, supplemented L-dopa appears to lose its effectiveness. A second area of controversy questions whether L-dopa is toxic to dopamine neurons; there is little evidence, though, to support this statement.
Velvet bean is now being considered as an alternative to the pharmaceutical medication levodopa. In one case study it was given to a Parkinson’s patient for 12 years instead of the pharmaceutical L-dopa medication. It was found to slow the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms (such as tremors, rigidity, slurring, drooling, and balance), and to have none of the side-effects of the current pharmaceutical L-dopa. Numerous in vivo studies also have been conducted in rats and humans. In one human study, the bean powder was given to 60 patients (26 previously treated with L-dopa and 34 had never taken L-dopa). There were statistically significant reductions of Parkinson’s symptoms in all study subjects. In addition, a (2002) U.S. patent was awarded on Velvet bean citing its use “for the treatment of disorders of the nervous system, including Parkinson’s disease.”
Several in vivo studies have been conducted on the blood-sugar-lowering effect of Velvet bean. These studies all validate the traditional use of the plant for diabetes. An ethanol-water extract of the root, fruit, and seed dropped blood sugar levels in rats by more than 30%. At 200 mg an ethanol extract produced a 40% fall in blood glucose within one month, and a 51% reduction at four months. In other studies a decoction of the leaf reduced total cholesterol in rats; the seed had the same effect.
The root, fruit, leaf, and seed has shown significant in vivo antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and fever reducing activities in various clinical research with animals. Traditionally the seed has been used by indigenous peoples throughout the world for snakebite and several in vivo studies validate this traditional use. In rats, a water extract of the seed inhibited venom-induced blood and coagulation alterations, and reduced lethality of the venom. The antivenin effect of velvet bean is thought to be due to an immune mechanism, as proteins in the seed were documented to raise antibodies against the venom.
Velvet bean has a long history of traditional use in Brazil and India as an aphrodisiac. Clinical studies in India have validated that the plant does indeed have aphrodisiac activity. It also has reported with anabolic and growth hormone stimulant properties. The anabolic effect of the seed is due to its ability to increase testosterone. In 2002, a U.S. patent was filed on the use of velvet bean to stimulate the release of growth hormone in humans. Research cited in the patent indicated that the high levels of L-dopa in mucuna seed were converted to dopamine which stimulated the release of growth hormone by the pituitary gland. L-dopa and dopamine are also effective inhibitors of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland; increased levels are considered to cause erection failure in males. In one study, oral intake of the seeds in 56 human males was able to improve erection, duration of coitus, and post-coital satisfaction after only four weeks of treatment. The seed also has documented fertility promoting and sperm producing effects in human males (being able to improve sperm count and motility).
CURRENT PRACTICAL USES
Velvet bean has been gaining in popularity over the last few years in the natural products market – especially the sports nutrition industry. With its documented ability to increase testosterone and stimulate growth hormone (thereby increasing muscle mass), several companies have launched new products using mucuna beans, including several which are standardized to the L-dopa content. It is also showing up as an ingredient in various weight loss, libido, brain/memory, anti-aging, and body builder formulas. Consumers should be aware however, altering the levels of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin also affect many other hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals which keep the body in balance. The long-term impacts on healthy humans taking high levels of L-dopa are unclear and warrant further research. It is best to proceed with caution when taking mucuna extracts and to follow the labeled dosages. It is a powerful plant with many biological actions that should be respected. In other words. . . the belief system of some people taking herbals supplements of: “if some is good, more is better,” does not apply with velvet bean.
Velvet Bean Plant Summary
Main Preparation Method: capsules or standardize extract
Main Actions (in order):
anti-Parkinson’s, androgenic, aphrodisiac, hypoglycemic, anabolic
for Parkinson’s disease (contains natural L-dopa)
for impotency and erectile dysfunction
as an aphrodisiac and to increase testosterone
as a muscle builder and anabolic/androgenic aid to stimulate growth hormone
as a weight loss aid
Properties/Actions Documented by Research:
anabolic, androgenic, analgesic (pain-reliever), anti-inflammatory, anti-Parkinson’s, antispasmodic, antivenin, aphrodisiac, febrifuge (reduces fever), hormonal, hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol), hypoglycemic, immunomodulator, nervine (balances/calms nerves), neurasthenic (reduces nerve pain)
Other Properties/Actions Documented by Traditional Use:
antilithic (prevents or eliminates kidney stones), antiparasitic, cough suppressant, blood cleanser, carminative (expels gas), central nervous system stimulant, diuretic, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), menstrual stimulant, uterine stimulant, vermifuge (expels worms)
Cautions: It contains L-dopa and has androgenic and hypoglycemic activity. See further cautions in next chapter.
Traditional Preparation: One half to one cup of a seed decoction twice daily. Alternatively 1-2 g twice daily of seed powder (tablets or capsules) daily can be substituted. For standardized extract products: follow the labeled dosages provided. See Traditional Herbal Remedies Preparation Methods page if necessary for definitions.
The seed may cause birth defects and has uterine stimulant activity. It should not be used during pregnancy.
Velvet bean has shown to lower blood sugar. Those with hypoglycemia or diabetes should only use Velvet bean under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Velvet bean is contraindicated in combination with M.A.O. inhibitors.
Velvet bean has androgenic activity, increasing testosterone levels. Persons with excessive androgen syndromes should avoid using Velvet bean.
Velvet bean inhibits prolactin. If you have a medical condition resulting in inadequate levels of prolactin in the body, do not use Velvet bean unless under the direction or your healthcare practitioner.
The seed contains high quantities of L-dopa. Levodopa is the pharmaceutical medication used for Parkinson’s disease. Those with Parkinson’s should only use velvet bean under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
May potentiate androgenic medications.
May potentiate insulin and antidiabetic medications.
Will potentiate levodopa medications.
WORLDWIDE ETHNOMEDICAL USES
Brazil as an aphrodisiac, diuretic, and nerve tonic, and for edema, intestinal worms
Germany for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, intestinal gas, muscle pain, rheumatism, worms
India for abortions, cancer, catarrh, cholera, cough, debility, delerium, diabetes, diarrhea, diuretic, dysentery, edema, fertility, gout, impotency, kidney stones, menstrual disorders, nervousness, scorpion sting, snakebite, sterility, tuberculosis, worms, and as an aphrodisiac and uterine stimulant
Elsewhere for asthma, burns, cancer, cholera, cough, cuts, diarrhea, diabetes, dog bite, edema, insanity, intestinal parasites, menstrual problems, mumps, nerves, pain, paralysis, pleurisy, ringworm, snakebite, sores, syphilis, tumors, wind-burns, worms, and as an aphrodisiac
The above text has been printed from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor, copyrighted © 2005
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