This is not a book of Hindu medicine so, with a blatantly practical approach, I’ll strip the mucuna, this amazing herb, from everything that reminds one of Ayurveda.
I respect this ancient health system but, in this book, I wish only to tap into the experience accumulated over the centuries during which many people have been treated with mucuna extracts. These contain useful substances for Western medicine, in particular for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Ayus (r) means life and veda is knowledge. Ayurveda is “knowledge of life”. It is a holistic system about man, health, and longevity that was developed in India three or four thousand years ago.
This Hindu health system considers the body as a whole in which disease is caused by intrinsic or external harmful elements. Therapy is based on special diets and practices, especially the application of a variety of herbs and very interesting drugs.
The Hindus used a root extract of Rauwolfia serpentina to lower blood pressure and as a tranquilizer.
Without discussing the theories of Ayurveda, laboratories CIBA (Basel, Switzerland) analyzed the plant and acquired reserpine, a drug that was a milestone and that launched a revolution in the treatment of arterial hypertension1 2.
That is what we intend to do with mucuna, a forest vine, actually a legume, which contains, naturally, levodopa, the main treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
We will study the experience of current practice in the use of mucuna, and we will try to take advantage of the potential benefit for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Thousands. or hundreds of thousands, of patients treated with mucuna for centuries are evidence that the side effects of these seeds are not frequent or severe.
Panacea, the daughter of the physician-god Asclepius, had accompanied him with a sort of kit bearing different remedies for all diseases. This is similar to features attributed to mucuna, which is recommended in Ayurveda to treat more than 200 diseases: as a vital tonic, an aphrodisiac, a remedy to reduce stress, a good diuretic… and is also used against parasites, to control diabetes and lower cholesterol. And, of course, it is a treatment for kampavata (the equivalent of Parkinson’s disease).
Western science seems to confirm many of these effects. Mucuna improves libido, semen quality… and even works against snake bites.
Mucuna increases the adaptation and regeneration of tissues in general, and has been shown to increase growth hormone3.
It has an anabolic effect and increases muscle mass; it also has antioxidant properties and favors the protective functions of the liver4.
LOWERING OF CHOLESTEROL AND GLUCOSE
Diabetics and people with high cholesterol may benefit from mucuna5.
In rats has been shown to lower cholesterol by 61% and glucose was reduced by 39%6 7. Mucuna enhances the recovery of diabetic neuropathy induced in animals8 In humans it delays the onset of diabetic nephropathy. Mucuna also protects the stomach to relieve gastric mucosal lesions induced experimentally in rats9.
Mucuna increases libido, or sexual drive, in men and women due to its dopamine-inducing properties; dopamine is the substance of desire and profoundly influences all appetites.
In male animals Mucuna raises testosterone levels and increases sexual activity10 11 12. In men with fertility problems mucuna clearly enhances sexual drive and power while improving the quality of the sperm: it increases the number of cells and also gives them greater mobility13 14.It is assumed that it act on the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis.
Researchers can cause status epilepticus or catalepsy in experimental animals by various techniques: electroshock, pilocarpine or Haloperidol). These improve if treated with velvet beans15.
This is not an exaggeration or a myth. Mucuna is a good antidote for snake bites, possibly by a direct effect on the venom, attributed to its glycoprotein antitrypsin content16 but also because it is procoagulant and prevents cardio-respiratory depression induced by poison.
Mucuna contains prurienine which increases intestinal peristalsis and is a good remedy for constipation, so prevalent in Parkinson’s patients.
It usually enhances motility and gastric emptying, although some patients assert otherwise.
In India there were Parkinson’s patients three thousand years before the birth of James Parkinson. These were diagnosed as Kampavata, a disease characterized by trembling (Kampa in Sanskrit). In Ayurveda this process was classified within the group of neurological disorders (Vata Rogas)22 23.
They obviously lacked Sinemet and Madopar but were treated naturally with levodopa, obtained by crushing mucuna seeds, which they later diluted and administered as a beverage22 25. For thousands of years this therapy has worked, these patients have improved and, above all, according to that we know, showed fewer side effects than people taking synthetic drugs.
It has become popular to call the plant “mucuna”. This word is of Guarani origin (after the name of a vine in the Amazon) but in India the original denomination of this plant is Atmagupta or Kapicachhu, and it is still sold on some websites under this name.
Different extracts of its seeds were used against tremor or rigidity; and also as an aphrodisiac or an antidote to the venom of the cobra or other snakes.
There are other herbs that Hindus used to treat different symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as constipation, insomnia, anxiety and others: Plantago psyllium, Ulmus fulva, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Withania somnifera, etc.
As we said, we will not delve into Hindu medicine, but some general aspects of Ayurveda may be useful in Parkinson’s patients.
For this disease, along with herbal remedies, full therapy requires a change of lifestyle and daily regimen in order to be in harmony with one’s personal constitution. The true intention is that the patient achieve a physical and mental balance, and this in some way helps cure the disease.
In an interesting clinical trial, 18 Parkinson’s patients were treated according to the criteria of Ayurvedic medicine.
They received a concoction of powder of Mucuna pruriens cooked in cow’s milk along with other traditional plants (Hyoscyamus reticulatus, Withania somnifera, Sida cordifolia)26.
The results found that this treatment improved rigidity and bradykinesia, tremor was diminished and cramps subsided; however sialorrhea (drooling or excessive salivation) worsened.
Later, the powder of plants which had been added to the milk was analyzed and it was found that each dose used contains 200 mg of levodopa(68).
The Hindu mucuna extract contains a small amount of levodopa that fails to justify the significant clinical improvement of parkinsonian symptoms.
This suggests that in the mucuna there are other substances that enhance the role of levodopa (such as carbidopa, entacapone or tolcapone) or other active ingredients with antiparkinsonian effects25 28 29.
This is the same as we have discussed regarding common beans. In them, the amount of levodopa is too low but it is effective because the legume has other substances that enhance its effects; it is also possible the beans are associated with some ingredients that inhibit the enzymes that metabolize the levodopa, maximizing its effectiveness.
Similarly, and possibly to a greater extent, we see the effect of the Mucuna pruriens itself: apart from natural levodopa, it has other substances that, one way or another, improve the parkinsonian symptoms and reduce side effects28.
In another chapter we will study some of the substances that accompany levodopa in mucuna, although there are others that are not yet known.
One important thing is guaranteed by Ayurveda: after thousands of years of using these plant extracts, thousands or millions of patients have continued to improve their symptoms without significant adverse effects.