Kapikacchu, also known as Mucuna pruriens or “velvet bean”, is a legume which is native to Africa and tropical Asia where it is widely naturalised and cultivated. It is one of the most popular green crops in the tropics where the beans are cultivated for food and the leaves are used for animal fodder.
As well as being a useful energy source it has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine as an aphrodisiac, to treat nervous disorders and arthritis, and the bean, if applied as a paste on scorpion stings, is thought to absorb the poison. The biochemical therapeutic constituents which are possessed by the plant are becoming more and more understood.
In this blog we explore the properties of this useful plant and identify mechanisms of action which may support its therapeutic use1.
It has been identified that kapikacchu is the best known natural source of L-dopa2, produced by the seeds, leaves and roots of the plant3. L-dopa (L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) is an amino acid which is utilised in plants for its phytotoxic properties, as it is a precursor to alkaloids, catecholamines, and melanin which are released in the soil to prevent the growth of other plants.
In humans L-dopa is produced from the amino acid tyrosine in the blood stream via the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase, the action of this enzyme is dependent on iron and NAD from vitamin B3. L-dopa has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and is transported into the brain via a protein-like carrier. Once it has entered the brain it is converted to the neurotransmitter dopamine via dopa decarboxylase, this enzyme requires vitamin B6 and COMT enzymes. Dopamine can be further converted into the hormones norepinephrine and then epinephrine, which are involved in the stress response4. Kapikacchu has been shown to increase circulating levels of dopamine9.
L-dopa is therefore a precursor to dopamine and is important as it has the ability to be transported across the blood brain barrier whereas dopamine itself cannot. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and plays many essential roles in the brain5.
Functions of Dopamine:
Movement – dopamine is the predominant neurotransmitter in the basal ganglion which is responsible for movement. Dopamine deficiency in the brain is associated with delayed or uncoordinated movements.
Pleasure reward seeking behaviour – dopamine is released during pleasurable experiences and therefore also encourages the pursuit of pleasurable activities or occupation. It therefore plays a very important role in mood and motivation.
Memory – a good balance of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex is important for memory – too low or too high levels are associated with reduced memory capabilities. Inhibition of dopamine receptors has shown that dopamine plays a role in learning-related cognitive functions5.
Attention – vision triggers a dopamine response which in turn helps to focus attention to where it is required. Low levels of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex are also associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Cognition – dopamine is well known to play an important role in complex cognitive functions such as working memory and cognitive control. Such functions are critically important for a wide range of cognitive abilities such as reasoning, language, comprehension, planning, and spatial processing and have been associated most commonly with the prefrontal cortex7.
So you can see that dopamine plays many roles – supporting cognitive function, mood, motivation and memory.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder in which initial pathology leads to the degeneration of neurons in the substantia nigra. These neurons are responsible for the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a critical signalling molecule involved in the control of movement and emotional response. Levels of dopamine continue to fall slowly during the disease progression; however, the body appears to continue to function with a reduced availability of dopamine. It is believed that symptoms of Parkinson’s appear when approximately eighty percent of dopamine has been lost.
Conventional treatment of Parkinson’s disease is to increase brain levels of dopamine. As dopamine is unable to cross the blood brain barrier patients are given a synthetic form of L-dopa known as levodopa. L-dopa has been extracted from the seeds of kapikacchu to provide commercial drugs for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Some studies indicate that L-dopa derived from M. pruriens has advantages over synthetic L-dopa, as the latter can have several side effects when used for many years1. However kapikacchu should not be taken alongside prescribed Parkinson’s medications, unless a doctor has been consulted about the combination.
Kapikacchu may also have a beneficial effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and has been used not only as an aphrodisiac but also to improve sperm quality in stressed males. Treatment with M. pruriens significantly ameliorated psychological stress and seminal plasma lipid peroxide levels along with improved sperm count and motility. Treatment also restored the levels of antioxidants superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, glutathione and ascorbic acid in the seminal plasma of infertile men. The study concluded that M. pruriens not only reactivates the antioxidant defence system of infertile men but also helps in the management of stress and improves semen quality9.
Other properties of Kapikacchu
L-dopa is a phenolic compound. Polyphenols have been shown to have benefits to both cognitive health and to act as prebiotics to support the health of the digestive flora. The plant, kapikacchu, also possesses phenols, polyphenols and tannins, independently of L-Dopa, which again provide antioxidant, cognitive supporting and digestive supporting properties10. Independent of the effect of L-dopa on Parkinson’s disease (PD) polyphenols may also be beneficial. Studies have shown that polyphenols can reduce neural inflammation and oxidative stress – both of which are drivers in the progression of PD1.
Other studies have demonstrated that kapikacchu may have effects on multiple aspects of brain health and has also been shown to possess analgesic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity1.
Additionally kapikacchu is one of the plants that have been shown to be active against snake venom and, indeed, its seeds are used in traditional medicine to prevent the toxic effects of snake bites, which are mainly triggered by potent toxins such as neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, cytotoxins, phospholipase A2 (PLA2), and proteases1.
It can be seen that kapikacchu possesses many neuroprotective attributes as well as being a rich source of L-dopa. Therefore it may be useful in supporting cognitive function as well as mood, motivation and to protect against certain toxins.
- Kapikacchu is a rich natural source of L-dopa, the precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is involved in memory, movement, cognitive function, mood and motivation.
- In studies, kapikacchu has been found to increase circulating dopamine levels.
- Kapicacchu has been shown to improve sperm quality and fertility in otherwise healthy males.
- Kapikacchu is also rich in polyphenols which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and prebiotic properties and which have been shown to support cognitive function and the gut microflora.
- Kapikacchu has been shown to have analgesic and anti-microbial properties.
- It is additionally used as an anti-toxin for snake bites and scorpion stings.
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by phone or email at any time.
[email protected], 01684 310099
Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Relevant Cytoplan Products:
Organic Kapikacchu Plus – 300mg of kapikacchu and additionally contains the adaptogenic herbs Bacopa Monnieri (100mg) and Ashwagandha (100mg). See our Blog: The beneficial effects of Ashwagandha and Bacopa for more information.
- Lampariello, Lucia Raffaella et al. “The Magic Velvet Bean of Mucuna Pruriens.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine2.4 (2012): 331–339. Print.
- Pulikkalpura H, Kurup R, Mathew PJ, Baby S. Levodopa in Mucuna pruriens and its degradation. Scientific Reports. 2015;5:11078. doi:10.1038/srep11078.
- Soares AR, Marchiosi R, Siqueira-Soares R de C, Barbosa de Lima R, Dantas dos Santos W, Ferrarese-Filho O. The role of L-DOPA in plants. Plant Signaling & Behavior. 2014;9:e28275. doi:10.4161/psb.28275.
- Leader L, Leader G. 1997. Parkinson’s Disease. The New Nutritional Handbook; A guide for doctors, nutritionists, patients and carers. London: Denor Press
- Puig MV, Antzoulatos EG, Miller EK. Prefrontal Dopamine in Associative Learning and Memory. Neuroscience. 2014;282:217-229. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.09.026.
- Gold MS, Blum K, Oscar-Berman M, Braverman ER. Low Dopamine Function in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Should Genotyping Signify Early Diagnosis in Children? Postgraduate medicine. 2014;126(1):153-177. doi:10.3810/pgm.2014.01.2735.
- Cools R, D’Esposito M. Inverted-U shaped dopamine actions on human working memory and cognitive control. Biological psychiatry. 2011;69(12):e113-e125. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.03.028
- Shukla KK, Mahdi AA, Ahmad MK, Jaiswar SP, Shankwar SN, Tiwari SC. Mucuna pruriens Reduces Stress and Improves the Quality of Semen in Infertile Men. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2010;7(1):137-144. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem171.
- Carrera-Quintanar L, López Roa RI, Quintero-Fabián S, Sánchez-Sánchez MA, Vizmanos B, Ortuño-Sahagún D. Phytochemicals That Influence Gut Microbiota as Prophylactics and for the Treatment of Obesity and Inflammatory Diseases. Mediators of Inflammation. 2018;2018:9734845.