Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Wisdom Wednesday: The Magic Velvet Bean
Mucuna pruriens (Velvet Bean) seeds are well established as an herbal remedy for the management of male infertility, nervous disorder, and also as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Indian medical system, Ayurveda, traditionally used M. pruriens to treat Parkinson’s disease. Velvet bean has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, which may be related to its antioxidant activity. In vitro studies demonstrate its ability to scavenge free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
There are approximately 150 species of annual and perennial wild legumes. One of them, Velvet bean is found throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. However, the plant originated in southern China and eastern India. It actually is a good source of protein, comparable to soy, rice and lima beans.
Velvet bean contains a high concentration (4-7%) of L-dopamine. This amino acid can be converted in L-dopa by the human body. Velvet bean is the commercial food source for the drug L-dopa used in western medicine to treat Parkinson’s disease.
In my practice I commonly use herbs based on Ayurvedic medicine. Clinically, I use velvet bean in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and often in cases of intention tremor that have not (yet) been diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. Chemically, L-dopa cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, but L-dopamine can. So the trick is to supplement L-dopamine, let it cross the blood-brain barrier, then be converted into L-dopa. The conversion of L-dopamine to L-dopa is facilitated by vitamin B6. So we eliminate all supplementation of vitamin B6 and even limit some dietary sources.
I also use velvet bean in the treatment of Restless Leg syndrome. However, in this condition, I want the L-dopamine to convert to L-dopa in the blood stream rather than in the brain to supply increased levels of L-dopa to the muscles in the legs. So I supplement additional vitamin B6, typically in its bioavailable form, pyridoxal-5-phosphate, to aid in conversion.
Often, patients with have symptoms of both conditions – the intention tremors of Parkinson’s disease and Restless Leg syndrome. Improving brain chemistry is the priority, so we start with velvet bean and eliminate vitamin B6 until we see adequate neurological improvement, then slowly add small doses of vitamin B6 (beginning with 2mg per day) until we strike a balance between the two conditions. I believe that the two conditions are related and symptoms of one prompt me to look for the other.
The connection between vitamin B6 and Parkinson’s disease is very controversial. Some alterative physicians recommend vitamin B6 to reduce the side effects of L-dopa but there is real concern about reducing the effectiveness of L-dopa with vitamin B6 supplementation. I have long suspected that fortifying grains with vitamin B6 may be associated with the onset of the disease. However, I could not find any studies on this subject, just medical guidelines that suggest that fortified grains can limit the effectiveness of L-dopa in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
The Bottom line:
Velvet bean can be an effective supplement in the treatment of both Parkinson’s disease and Restless Leg syndrome. However, it must be used correctly. Medically, they dismiss the use of this herb claiming the dosage is too low. However, velvet bean is the commercial source used to prepare the drug L-dopa.