Mucuna pruriens, or velvet bean, is a tropical legume that might boost dopamine levels. This “magical bean” has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Recent studies suggest it may help reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and infertility in men. It is also being researched for improving depression, sleep, and snake venom poisoning. Read on to learn what the research says about this curious plant.
What is Mucuna pruriens?
The Dopamine Bean
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume also known as velvet bean. In herbal medicine and Ayurveda, Mucuna has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for male infertility, nervous disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and as an aphrodisiac .
Like Jack’s magic beans in the fairytale, mucuna beans are sometimes called “magical velvet beans.” For researchers, this “magic” refers to mucuna’s potential to improve brain health. For users, this bean’s “magical properties” span from its alleged aphrodisiac effects, while others yet allude to the plant’s subjective simultaneously relaxant and stimulating effects .
Mucuna is also known as the “dopamine bean” since it is a good source of L-Dopa (4 – 7%), from which dopamine is made in the body .
The high L-dopa content offers additional benefits to the plant itself: it protects the seeds from insects and pests. Mucuna seeds are also a major source for commercially extracting pure L-dopa, which is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease .
How much do we know?
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH) states that “There is some limited evidence that Mucuna pruriens may have beneficial effects on some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as motor function.” 
Nonetheless, Mucuna pruriens supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective.
Mucuna pruriens should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Recent research uncovered that mucuna might also boost antioxidants and scavenge free radicals in the body, but this hasn’t been proven in humans .
Plant Origins & Traditional Use
Mucuna pruriens is originally from southern China and eastern India but is now cultivated throughout the tropics.
In the Himalayas and Mauritius, both the green pods and the mature beans from Mucuna pruriens are traditionally boiled and eaten. In Guatemala and Mexico, it is roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute widely known in the region as “Nescafé” .
The taste of Velvet bean powder is bitter and somewhat similar to coffee.
Note: The term “mucuna” refers to a plant family of about 150 different tropical legumes of which Mucuna pruriens has the highest medicinal value. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll use “mucuna” to refer only to Mucuna pruriens in this article .
Nutritional Value & Active Compounds
Aside from its L-dopa content (~5%), the velvet bean has a good nutritional value. Although a legume, it is easily digestible and rich in the following nutrients :
- Dietary proteins (25 – 30% proteins) and essential amino acids
- Fatty acids such as linoleic acid
- Mildly-hallucinogenic tryptamines
- Psychoactive serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine)
- D-chiro-inositol, a rare plant component that may help with diabetes and PCOS
- Newly-discovered antioxidants and potentially neuroprotective substances (of still unknown structure)
- Tannins, which may bind to proteins and reduce their digestion
- Trypsin inhibitors, which reduce the activity of trypsin that helps digest proteins and other digestive enzymes
- Phytates, which can bind to minerals and block their absorption in the gut
- Cyanogenic glycosides, plant toxins that form a small amount of cyanide in the body
- Lectins, a significant source of food sensitivities according to some theories
- Oligosaccharides (FODMAPS), which can cause flatulence
- Alkaloids (such as mucunine) and saponins
The tannins in mucuna, being polyphenols, are not just “bad.” Although they can reduce the absorption of proteins and cause digestive problems in sensitive people, they may be beneficial in people without gut problems and autoimmune issues .
Although more research is needed, scientists think that tannins from mucuna may help fight viruses and other microbes, inflammation, and high blood pressure .
Also, these antinutrients are much lower in standardized extracts than in the whole bean.
- Natural source of L-dopa
- May boost dopamine in the brain
- May protect the brain and reduce stress
- May boost fertility in men
- Mild aphrodisiac
- Whole beans contain anti-nutrients, including lectins
- Excessively increasing dopamine with mucuna can be harmful
- Possible drug interactions and not suitable for everyone
- Long-term safety is unknown
Potential Health Benefits of Mucuna Pruriens
Insufficient Evidence For:
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies.
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of Mucuna Pruriens for any of the below-listed uses.
Remember to speak with a doctor before taking Mucuna pruriens supplements. Mucuna should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
1) Parkinson’s Disease
Limited evidence suggests that Mucuna pruriens may have beneficial effects on some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, there’s still insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness and safety.
L-Dopa in Mucuna pruriens is the main active component that may reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease .
People with Parkinson’s have low dopamine content in parts of the brain due to impaired conversion of tyrosine to L-dopa.
Studies suggest L-Dopa from Mucuna may cross the blood-brain barrier and be used to make dopamine, restoring its brain levels and neurotransmission. Other antioxidants in this plant’s seeds may enhance brain protection [6, 2].
However, others have pointed out that a large part of L-Dopa from Mucuna may be broken down before it reaches the brain .
To counter this argument, some scientists hypothesize that Mucuna Pruriens may affect additional pathways in the brain – unlike pure L-Dopa – or that it contains compounds that help prevent L-Dopa breakdown. These hypotheses have yet to be confirmed .
In another study, Mucuna pruriens was just as effective as levodopa treatment but was absorbed and reached peak levels faster .
Similarly, a single lower dose of Mucuna powder worked just as well as the standard drugs (levodopa + benserazide) in 18 advanced Parkinson’s patients but caused fewer adverse effects. Higher Mucuna doses were even more effective and longer-lasting than the standard drugs .
These three studies suggest that Mucuna pruriens may be used as a complementary strategy in the management of Parkinson’s Disease.
However, a 2018 randomized pilot study with 14 Parkinson’s disease patients suggested that Mucuna pruriens powder may have more side effects than levodopa/carbidopa, the typical drug treatment .
In the study, daily intake of Mucuna pruriens resulted in 50% of patients discontinuing use due to either gastrointestinal side-effects or worsening of motor performance. No one in the medications group discontinued use. For patients who tolerated Mucuna pruriens, clinical response was similar to levodopa/carbidopa .
2) Male Infertility
Dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters for sexual behavior and libido in men. Its effects are pretty straightforward: an increase in brain dopamine levels increases the libido, while a decrease in dopamine and similar neurotransmitters (catecholamines) reduces the libido and sexual function in men .
Mucuna pruriens is commonly used as a supplement for male infertility because of its dopamine-boosting and antioxidant effects. However, few clinical trials support its use for male infertility.
In one study of 60 infertile men, Mucuna powder (5 g/day) improved sperm count, motility, and overall quality .
In two other studies of over 250 infertile men, Mucuna also increased testosterone levels, aside from improving sperm quality. It could also boost antioxidants and balance other sex and stress hormones linked to infertility in men. Large-scale studies are needed to confirm these findings [13, 14].
What’s more, the effects of Mucuna on fertility in healthy, fertile, or subfertile men are unknown. All of the above studies administered Mucuna only to infertile men.
3) Stress (Linked to Infertility)
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that Mucuna pruriens reduces stress, though early findings seem promising.
In one trial, Mucuna pruriens seed powder reduced psychological stress and cortisol levels in 60 infertile men after 3 months. Researchers believe this plant may help better manage stress, but this is limited to infertile men and may be linked to its fertility-enhancing effects .
4) High Prolactin Levels (Linked to Infertility)
Mucuna pruriens decreased prolactin and FSH levels in two clinical trials of over 250 infertile men. Mucuna probably balances these hormones by boosting dopamine levels, which reduces the production of prolactin and FSH [13, 14].
High levels of prolactin may also be a result of low thyroid hormones, pituitary tumors, psychiatric drugs (such as antipsychotics), or other causes. Whether mucuna can help reduce slightly increased levels in conditions other than male infertility hasn’t been tested .
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that Mucuna pruriens improves sleep.
In a study of 18 people, a combination of Mucuna pruriens with another tropical herb (Chlorophytum borivilianum) improved sleep quality by 50% after about 4 weeks .
Despite various traditional anecdotes about the ability of these herbs to improve sleep quality, this was the first human study to investigate their effects. It’s still unknown what effect Mucuna alone might have on sleep quality.
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that Mucuna pruriens improves autism symptoms.
It’s well-known that dopamine is important for focus. In one study of 85 children and teenagers with ADHD, a combination of Mucuna pruriens with vitamins, minerals, and other supplements (vitamin C, calcium citrate, vitamin B6, folate, L-lysine, L-cysteine, and selenium) improved symptoms in 77% of the cases. This study had a high risk of bias, however .
Additionally, the protocol and supplement combination used in this study was envisioned to naturally increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain. The contribution of Mucuna to the observed effects is unknown.
Lacking Evidence For:
No clinical evidence supports the use of Mucuna pruriens for any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
7) Snake Venom Poisoning
Mucuna pruriens extracts are traditionally used by Nigerians to prevent snake poisoning.
The powder is prescribed by traditional healers as a pretreatment (prophylactic) for snakebites. The healers claim that a person who swallows the intact the seeds will be protected for one full year against the effects of any snake bite .
No clinical studies back this up but some studies in tissues and animals provide some early clues.
In one study on rat hearts, Mucuna powder protected from the heart-damaging effects of cobra venom. In another study, mice pretreated with a Mucuna extract secreted more antibodies against a viper venom [19, 20].
Mucuna contains a sugar-bound protein, similar to snake venom proteins, which stimulates the production of antibodies .
Scientists hypothesize that these antibodies may stay in the body for long periods of time and prime the immune system, similar to vaccines. They might be able to “cross-react” with the actual snake venom once they come into contact with it, potentially protecting against serious poisoning .
8) Mood & Mental Health Effects
We talk about serotonin and norepinephrine much more often than about dopamine when it comes to depression. But scientists are starting to realize that dopamine, usually associated with motivation and feelings of reward, may play an equally important role .
It’s not so much that low dopamine, in general, can trigger low mood. Rather, its deficiency in specific parts of the brain is what might trigger symptoms.
Low dopamine in the brain’s emotional (mesolimbic) centers may cause the inability to feel pleasure, which is common in depression. Low dopamine in cognitive (mesocortical) areas may trigger a lack of motivation that people with depression often suffer from .
Scientists suspect that the dopamine-boosting action of Mucuna pruriens extract improved mood and symptoms of depression in mice. It also reduced their stress levels, showing all the desired characteristics of a good antidepressant .
Although interesting, these results are limited to animals. Clinical studies would need to determine the effects of Mucuna pruriens on mood in humans.
9) Effects on Parasites and Microbes
Mucuna pruriens is traditionally used to help fight parasitic infections, but clinical studies are completely lacking to support this use.
Folk healers claim that Mucuna a mild anti-parasitic. They often use it alongside other parasite cleanses/treatments. Such claims and protocols are unproven.
In lambs, Mucuna seeds slightly reduced the number of parasites but didn’t clear the infection. In goats, it improved digestion but didn’t reduce the parasite infection. In cells, its seed oil could paralyze but not also kill parasites .
The leaves of Mucuna pruriens are probably higher in potentially antibacterial compounds than the seeds. Mucuna leaf extracts were active against some bacteria in cells (probably due to their higher phenol and tannin content). We can’t draw any conclusions from cell-based studies, though .
Scientists are exploring whether it has any anti-seizure effects due to the mixed effect of its L-dopa, serotonin, and antioxidant components. Further studies are needed .
Mucuna pruriens contains an inositol called d-chiro-inositol, which can mimic the effects of insulin and might help lower high sugar levels. A high dose of the seeds reduced blood sugar levels in mice .
12) Skin Health
Thanks to its antioxidant potential, Mucuna pruriens extracts are being researched for protecting skin cells. Scientists are hoping to see creams and gels with Mucuna for skin diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema, but many more studies are needed before this becomes a reality .
Is Mucuna a Psychedelic?
Velvet “magical” beans do contain some tryptamine compounds, which are known psychedelics. Their concentration is probably very low in most available supplements, though. In some animal studies, mucuna had mild hallucinogenic and sedative activity.
Therefore, it’s theoretically possible – but still unproven – that mucuna beans might have mildly relaxing and psychedelic effects. Animal and clinical studies are needed to confirm this .
Some people report “dreamy” feelings from taking mucuna, but it’s unknown if mucuna actually has these properties, what its content of tryptamines and other psychoactive is, and what effects are possible, until more studies come out.
Mucuna Pruriens Side Effects & Safety
The following side effects were reported in clinical studies :
- Abdominal discomfort
- Vomiting (rare)
- Insomnia (rare)
Serious side effects or changes in blood test values were not reported but can’t be ruled out.
Mucuna overdose can cause headaches, movement disorders, fatigue, tremors, fainting, and thirst .
The long-term safety of Mucuna pruriens has not yet been established.
Mucuna has a high L-dopa content, which can raise dopamine levels in the brain and body. Increasing dopamine levels or using L-dopa could be dangerous in some people, including those with the following conditions :
- Glaucoma (narrow-angle glaucoma), as L-dopa can increase eye blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmias
- Chronic nerve pain (neuropathy), as L-dopa may worsen it
- Stomach ulcers (now or in the past)
- Psychosis, as L-dopa may cause a worsening in people already diagnosed with schizophrenia (or a psychotic disorder)
If you have any of the conditions above, avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
Due to their lectin content, mucuna beans may not be suitable for people with certain food sensitivities.
The following drug interactions are possible, based on the information about L-dopa :
- Some antidepressants and anti-Parkinson’s drugs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOI) – people taking these drugs should avoid Mucuna pruriens supplements. The use of both may dangerously increase dopamine levels and cause very high blood pressure.
- Other medications for depression (tricyclic antidepressants)
- Some antipsychotics (D2 antagonists) can reduce the effects of Mucuna
- Guanethidine (Ismelin)
- Antidiabetic drugs
- Medications used during surgery (Anesthesia)
The safety of Mucuna pruriens has not been established in children, pregnant, or breastfeeding women.
People with low MAO enzyme activity may be more sensitive to the effects of Mucuna. This also means low MAO producers may be more likely to experience excessively high dopamine levels with this supplement.
People with high MAO activity, on the other hand, may be less responsive to Mucuna as they likely break down dopamine faster.
Clinical research is needed to confirm these hypotheses.
Mucuna Pruriens Dosage & Supplements
For Parkinson’s Disease
In the two studies that showed a decrease in PD symptoms with MP supplementation, used dosages of 30 grams and 15 grams of a standardized dried extract (~33 mg L-dopa/g). Most standardized extracts contain 3 – 5% L-dopa.
Other studies used lower doses, starting with 5 g/day.
For Infertility in Men
5 grams of Mucuna pruriens powder daily increased sperm motility, count, and overall quality . Mucuna was taken with water (5 grams = 1 teaspoon).
Mucuna is available in many forms:
- Raw seeds/beans
- Seed Extracts
- Roasted beans
If you’re looking to buy and eat raw Mucuna beans, higher pressure and temperatures are recommended to reduce their antinutrients (including lectins).
On the other hand, it’s important to find a high-quality, standardized supplement if you’re taking Mucuna as part of a complementary approach to improving Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.
Mucuna pruriens or “velvet bean” is a tropical leguma that contains L-dopa. The body uses L-dopa to create dopamine, a neurotransmitter.
Most of the research on mucuna has focused on its use in Parkison’s disease. Published findings are encouraging, but it’s still too early to say whether supplementation is beneficial for Parkison’s patients or not.
One study showed that mucuna may cause more side effects than typical Parksinson’s disease therapy, which warrants further safety trials.
Other studies investigated mucuna’s potential health benefits on infertility in men, sleep, and ADHD. There’s currently insufficient evidence to rank mucuna for these uses.
Importantly, mucuna may interact with many prescription medications. It’s also not safe for people with certain health conditions. Anyone wishing to supplement should carefully consult their healthcare provider first.