Thousands or millions of Parkinson’s patients have been treated with mucuna for millennia in Hindu medicine. From what we know, the results have been good and with few side effects.
That experience has drawn the attention of several neurologists since 1990, and launched serious clinical studies which have subsequently confirmed the benefits of Indian herbs.
Experiments with rats have also shown that natural levodopa improved symptoms and produced less neurological damage than the synthetic version. It was concluded that extracts of Mucuna pruriens contain high concentrations of levodopa and it are more effective and better tolerated with fewer side effects.
My conversion to the expectations of mucuna became definitive when I discovered that two very famous neurologists (Dr. C. Warren Olanow and Dr. Andrew Lees) had patented these extracts in Germany and the United States. These physicians are recognized worldwide as the foremost experts on Parkinson’s disease. Ergo… something important is hidden in the mucuna.
Obviously, no one can, at this point, “invent” Mucuna pruriens treatment as it has existed in India for thousands of years. Some, however, have patented certain techniques for extracting levodopa and other substances which are ingredients of these legumes. These physicians provide documentation in their patents which conclude that the use of these extracts of mucuna have advantages over the orthodox treatment with synthetic levodopa (Sinemet or Madopar).
And they aren’t the only ones. Other prestigious neurologists (B.V. Manyam, S.C. Pruthi and others) have also recorded separate patents of mucuna extracts, with few variations. Mucuna must represent something important because everyone wants to endorse it.
One can assume that a there is a strong commercial competition in the running, and we can only hope that it will result in the benefit of patients.
These two neurologists are almost legendary models for all those interested in Parkinson’s disease.
- Warren Olanow was educated at The University of Toronto and Columbia University and is now a professor at the Ichan School of Medince at Mount Sinai. He has served as president of the Movement Disorder Society and a member of the NASA Committee of Biomedical Research. He is the author of over 300 publications on Neurodegeneration and Parkinson’s disease. In the last decade Olanow has been the most frequently cited researcher in the field.
Andrew Lees shows a hint of audacity and unorthodoxy in some of the topics he chooses: I remember with delight his lectures on “hedonistic homeostasis” (the internal balance of emotions and pleasure). So it did not surprise me to find that he is interested not only in new horizons for treatment of Parkinson’s disease but also, in this case, Ayurveda herbs.
A more prudent and orthodox neurologist would probably have discarded such an idea, but Dr. Lees sensed its possibilities and advantages.
He is a Professor at National Hospital, Queen Square, London, he defined the criteria for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease currently in use and he was the most cited researcher in this field around the world in 2011.
The people who have proprietary over certain techniques of Mucuna extracts -WO 2004039385-A2 (86) and U.S. 7470441-B2-1 are not amateurs.
Neurologists Lees and Olanow are world leaders in Parkinson’s disease and I haveve seen them at many medical conventions. Of the remaining signers I recognize Hildebert Wagner, Editor for the International Journal of Phytomedicine. The fourth, R. van de Giessen, publishes articles related to the pharmaceutical industry.
These four researchers, a great team, have developed specific techniques to extract various substances from mucuna, not only levodopa. As they have detailed, many of the ingredients are indicated “…for preventing, alleviating or treating neurological diseases “, for general use as “a pharmaceutical combination for neuroprotection or neurostimulation” and, more specifically, “for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease“. They have left little to chance.
The previously mentioned Zandopa brand from Zandu Laboratories, which owns the patent for mucuna powder product known as HP-200, was used in important clinical trials 2 3 and has been marketed for several years.
Som C. Pruthi has patented 4 a combination from the Ayurveda tradition that mainly contains mucuna (between 55 and 99%), together with Piper longum and Zingiber officinalis.
He described a woman diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 51 that did not tolerate conventional medicines. She took Pruthi’s combination of mucuna for 12 years. In this long period it was found that progression of the disease was very slow, and side effects were not detected.
The drawback of mucuna powder and primitive extracts is the large volume of legume one needs to consume in order to achieve sufficient blood levels of levodopa. This produces overeating and gastrointestinal upset, and causes many to abandon this therapy.
To avoid this trouble, Manyam has patented a method5 involving the removal of grease from the cotyledons of the seeds. Using ethanol as a solvent, the concentrated extract is isolated, and finally freeze-dried.
With this technique, it is possible to process 2.5 kilograms (over 5 pounds) of mucuna powder, which is then reduced to just 46 grams (1.6 ounces). In this conversion the relative proportions of levodopa are maintained (or even increased). So the amount of vegetable to be ingested is reduced to less than 2%. In this way, it can be supplied as tablets, capsules or syrup; and even diluted for injection5. On the other hand, its efficacy has been demonstrated in vitro and in animals: when this concentrated extract is supplied to rats with “induced parkinsonism” their symptoms improve twice as much as compared to treatment with synthetic levodopa7. The advantages are significant.
The foundations of the patent, based on the references provided, reveal that, in relation to standard levodopa-carbidopa medications (Sinemet) or levodopa-benserazide (Madopar), the extracts of mucuna have important advantages that confirm those listed in the previous chapter.
A therapeutic window is what we call the range of dosage in which a drug can be used without causing toxic effects, and this window is wider in mucuna. That means that there is a large margin between the minimally effective dose of mucuna and one that could cause damage in the body.
Researchers gave patients a tablet of Sinemet and they noticed the “on” effect after 54 minutes. But when they took mucuna they were already active after only 23-27 minutes. 8.
In addition to being quick-acting, mucuna (at a dose of 30 grams) has been found to be effective for longer durations: patients were still “on” for 204 minutes after taking the seed extract, beating Sinemet tablet by half an hour8.
Neither acute nor chronic toxic effects have been described. Even with high doses of mucuna there were less adverse effects (nausea, abdominal discomfort) than in patients who received the equivalent of the conventional drugs1.
Other long-term studies of mucuna (in monkeys and rats) have shown that the dreaded dyskinesia and other symptoms associated with continuous treatment with levodopa are lower, and in some cases even tend to improve1112.
This statement appears in the preamble of the documentation supporting the application for the patent. A professor of Phytotherapy and two neurologists believe that mucuna alone may suffice to relieve patients’ symptoms for a period of time, and therefore combination therapy (levodopa plus agonists) can be delayed.
Mucuna seems to work for almost all diseases studied by neurologists. These renowned specialists believe that mucuna extracts may be useful in the treatment of multiple neurodegenerative processes.
Specifically, researchers have recorded the possibility of using extracts of mucuna for chorea, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and vascular dementia1; further applications include many other metabolic disnutritive disorders and, systemic, endocrine and autoimmune dis-turbances (vitamin deficiency, lupus, demyelinating …), as well as neurotoxic, ischemic or traumatic injuries[86. Lees A, Olanow WC, Der Giessen RV, Wagner H. Mucuna pruriens and extracts thereof for the treatment of neurological diseases. Patent WO 2004039385-A2, 2004, May 13.].
Apart from levodopa, mucuna contains a variety of elements (as does the common bean). These are probably carbidopa-like substances (which inhibit decarboxylase), and others with a variety of characteristics.
A patient whose disease has evolved for several years knows that with the same dose of medication their symptoms may vary from time to time and that these changes are often not related to any specific factor. We also know that plasma levels of levodopa in Parkinson’s patients vary depending on many factors (intestinal active transport, gastric emptying, competition in the blood-brain barrier, etc.).
With mucuna, fewer oscillations occur. It is assumed that it must contain certain substances that, in one or more respects, improve the effectiveness of levodopa, and even some components may act as dopamine agonists.
Further studies are needed to discover the hidden ingredients in mucuna which could be all or some of the following: carbidopa or other decarboxylase inhibitors; enzymes similar to entacapone or tolcapone; substances which promote intestinal motility and improve gastric emptying, thus accelerating the absorption of levodopa in the duodenum; or even amino acids that promote intestinal absorption or passage through the blood-brain barrier.
Premature graying of hair is more frequent in Parkinson’s patients, as there are complex relationships between melanin and dopamine.
Popular imagination considers gray hair to be a sign of suffering or a mark of premature aging[90. González Maldonado R. Parkinson y estrés. CreateSpace 2013, Amazon.]14. Classic and romantic novelists sensed this. Poe, for example, in his story A Descent into the Maelström in which the shipwrecked sailor relates how his hair turned gray and he became old in just one night from suffering.
It is surprising to see that in patients treated with mucuna, their gray hair regains its former darker color. This phenomenon has been described in a woman with whose white hair, after three months of treatment with mucuna, turned back to black[92. Munhoz RP, Teive HA. Darkening of white hair in Parkinson’s disease during use of levodopa rich Mucuna pruriens extract powder. Arq Neuropsiquiatr 2013; 71:133.] “like when I was young,” she said. This is food for thought: the threads connecting youth, dopamine, suffering, old age, stress, and gray hair.
The available data has shown that Mucuna pruriens has special properties that distinguish it from synthetic levodopa. These data provide a basis for the patent registered by Olanow and Lees (quoted verbatim): “the Mucuna pruriens formulation seems to possess potential advantages over existing commercially available synthetic L-Dopa formulations in that it combines a rapid onset of action with a comparable or longer duration of therapeutic response without increasing dyskinesias or acute LD toxicity in spite of much higher LD plasma levels…” 1.
Natural ingredients (known or unknown) combined with levodopa may contribute to improvement of parkinsonian symptoms and reduction of dyskinesia11 [86. Lees A, Olanow WC, Der Giessen RV, Wagner H. Mucuna pruriens and extracts thereof for the treatment of neurological diseases. Patent WO 2004039385-A2, 2004, May 13.].
This opens up the anticipation of important therapeutic progress and the hope of further studies to confirm that extracts of mucuna seeds are a safe and effective alternative11.
Currently, patients who are using mucuna under medical advice generally report a lowering of their doses of conventional drugs, and fewer side effects, in both the short and long term.