Mucuna pruriens or cowhage seeds have been used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms. Its use can be traced over 4500 years ago when it was first used by Indian physicians practicing traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The benefit of cowhage seeds is due to the fact that these seeds contain 3-4% levodopa, the standard medical treatment for Parkinson’s. Interest in Mucuna pruriens has grown especially amongst individuals searching for a natural treatment.
Because cowhage seeds contain the dopamine precursor levodopa, clinical studies have been preformed to study its use in Parkinson’s disease. One study showed that Mucuna helped Parkinson’s patients with on-off fluctuations and dyskinesia. Motor symptoms improvement was faster with Mucuna 30 grams (Phytrix, manufacturer) than carbidopa/levodopa 50/200. However only eight patient’s were studied and more research needs to be done.
At present, there is no recommended dose as further clinical trials are needed.
The following general principles must be understood when investigating the use of Mucuna pruriens:
1. The proposed active compound, levodopa, found in these seeds is chemically the same as that in standard medicine. Mucuna, therefore, can have the same side effects that are seen with levodopa.
2. Mucuna prurient seeds, like other natural substances, are made up of more than just levodopa. Proposed benefits could be due to other biologically active compounds not yet determined that are present in the seed. Although these compounds may add benefit they can also have additional side effects and drug interactions.
3. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA so any single brand may not have the purity or strength claimed on the manufacturing label. You may find the information in- Shopping for vitamins and supplements- helpful.
4. Natural supplements can interact with you medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement.
Other names for Mucuna pruriens are: velvet bean, cowhage seed.
To learn about other foods that contain levodopa see also fava beans and levodopa.
Journal Neurology Neurosurgery Psychiatry 2004. 75: 1672-1677.
Author: Monique L. Giroux, MD