A vigorous legume, velvet bean is an invasive vine native to tropical regions. It is recognisable by the yellowy-brown hairy pods which encase the plant’s beans. The populations who first encountered these beans were quick to study and consume them.
In Sanskrit, Mucuna pruriens is known as Atmagupta and is considered to be an important plant in Ayurveda. This age-old system of traditional Indian medicine is a key source of inspiration for Western naturopathy, a natural approach to health care which has become increasingly popular over recent decades.
So it is that cowhage (another name for velvet bean) has been used by humans in many ways for thousands of years. Some of its effects are still being investigated today by those studying nutrition and medicine.
It was in 1937 that an Indian scientist, who was analysing the plant’s effects on the body to understand its traditional use in Ayurveda, succeeded in identifying one of its most important active ingredients. We now know that velvet bean’s efficacy is primarily due to its high concentration in L-dopa, the dopamine precursor, (with levels of between 3% and 7%) (1).
As you’re no doubt aware, dopamine is one of the ‘happy hormones’ secreted by the hypothalamus (2). Our bodies produce it, for example, during exercise, when we eat chocolate ... and during sex.
Velvet bean also contains a number of molecules which maximise the effects of this active ingredient.
These include inhibitors of dopa-decarboxylase, which prevent the peripheral conversion of L-dopa without impairing its central conversion to dopamine. Mucuna pruriens also contains specific alkaloids such as prurienine, prurieninine and prurienidine.
Last but not least, this legume contains proteins, oleic acid, linoleic acid and palmitic acid, NADH, coenzyme Q10 and sterols (3).
With all these beneficial compounds, velvet bean thus helps to:
The intake generally recommended is between 300 and 2000mg of velvet bean a day, standardised to 15% L-dopa. It is available in the form of a powder for mixing into a drink.
To control your intake more accurately, you can also take pre-dosed vegetarian capsules (such as the product Mucuna pruriens, a formulation which provides a significant 2000mg of Mucuna pruriens extract per daily dose, standardised to 15% L-dopa).
Velvet bean also features in certain synergistic formulations. One such product is Natural Anti Prolactin Support, a supplement rich in Mucuna pruriens, included here primarily for its role in converting prolactin. This natural supplement also contains maca root, extract of American ginseng, etc.
It is also one of the ingredients in Prosexual Booster Formula, which along with Mucuna pruriens extract, contains fenugreek as well as arginine and citrulline, two amino acids popular with athletes.
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