As an herbalist, I have strong concerns about the growing popularity and widespread use of the ancient herb, Mucuna pruriens, as an herbal and dietary supplement. Mucuna pruriens has an almost magical ability to improve motivation, well being, energy and sex drive along with decreasing the tendency to overeat. These properties are a result of its contents of natural L-dopa, a direct precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is always present in the nervous system. Ultra-low levels (or dysfunction of dopamine receptors) lead to conditions like Parkinson’s. Normal levels maintain proper function of the nervous system, promote normal motivation and sex drive and help to regulate the appetite. We experience a stronger sense of well-being when dopamine is released in response to activities such as engaging in something novel or seeing a beautiful sunset. We release even more if we accomplish a long-term goal or have a profound experience. Dopamine is artificially elevated in response chemicals contained in alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin as well as from overeating. Excessive exposure to dopamine results in dopamine receptors not working properly. As the nervous system needs higher and higher levels of dopamine to produce the same response, an individual seeks out more and more of the stimulating substance or activity. This is the heart of addiction.
With its naturally-occurring L-dopa, Mucuna can be carefully used as a natural remedy to treat conditions such as addiction, obesity, dopamine-related depression or Parkinson’s. However this MUST be done in conjunction with rehabilitation of the dopamine receptors. Otherwise, it actually exacerbates the problem and causes further damage. If given to people who suffer with depression from low serotonin, Mucuna can actually make the depression more severe by further lowering serotonin levels. (Dopamine tends to suppress seretonin)
The addition of Mucuna to general dietary supplements and even to some multivitamins is completely irresponsible. It has great capacity for misuse and in the long term could have health consequences. Because of the seemingly magical effects of L-dopa, almost all people notice they feel better on these supplements and notice they feel worse when they stop them. This is no different than creating another addiction.
Because of its effectiveness, I also have concerns about other herbalists and health care practitioners carelessly prescribing it without fully understanding its mechanism of action. I am pro-education and anti-regulation. I think Mucuna pruriens is a natural substance that practitioners need to actively educate themselves and the general public about.by