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Mucuna pruriens plant is an annual, climbing shrub with long vines that can reach over 15 m in length. The leaves are tripinnate, ovate, reverse ovate, rhombus shaped or widely ovate. The sides of the leaves are often heavily grooved and the tips are pointy. The flower heads take the form of axially arrayed panicles. M. pruriens bears white, lavender, or purple flowers. Its seed pods are about 10 cm long. Mucuna pruriens is also known as ‘‘the cowhage’’ or ‘‘velvet’’ bean in India. It is a climbing legume endemic in India and in other parts of the tropics including Central and South America. Since ancient times it has been used in the treatment of medical ailments.
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Botanical Names
Mucuna pruriens
Indian Names
Sanskrit : Atmagupta, Kapikacchu Hindi : Kiwanch, Konch Marathi : Khaajkuiri Bengali : Alkushi Tamil : poonaikkaali
Chemical Constituents
Mucuna pruriens is the best natural source of L-Dopa (levodopa). In addition to levodopa, it also contains serotonin (5-HT), 5-HTP, nicotine, N, N-DMT (DMT), bufotenine, and 5-MeO-DMT. The mature seeds of the plant contain about 3.1-6.1% L-DOPA, with trace amounts of 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin), nicotine, DMT-n-oxide, bufotenine, 5-MeO-DMT-n-oxide, and beta-carboline. The leaves contain about 0.5% L-DOPA, 0.006% dimethyl tryptamine (DMT), 0.0025% 5-MeO-DMT and 0.003% DMT n-oxide (1). The main plant chemicals found in velvet bean include alkaloids, alkylamines, arachidic acid, behenic acid, betacarboline, beta-sitosterol, bufotenine, fatty acids, flavones, gallic acid, genistein, hydroxygenistein, 5-hydroxytryptamine, mannose d, 6-methoxyharman, mucunain, myristic acid, prurienidine, prurienine, saponins, stizolamine, vernolic acid and amino acids (2). The chemical composition and nutritional characteristics of seeds of Mucuna pruriens were investigated and the mature seeds contained high amount of crude protein, crude fiber, crude fat, and carbohydrates. Potassium, phosphorus, and calcium registered higher concentrations compared with the most commonly consumed pulses. The globulins and albumins together constituted the major storage proteins. When compared with globulins, albumins appeared to be a rich source of valine and tryptophan. Both oleic and linoleic acids constituted the predominant fatty acids along with a substantial quantity of palmitic acid.
Pesticide Limits
A limit for pesticide is one of the major issues in standardization of medicinal plants and products in view of the worldwide widespread use of pesticides in cultivated plants. The presence of pesticides in extracts increase the health risk by many folds. The pesticides can be extremely irritant on skin as well as in the internal organs, it is essential to monitor its concentration as a part of GMP. Various analytical methods for the quantitative determination of pesticides by gas chromatography coupled with mass-spectrophotometer are in use. Konark Research Foundation (KRF), a NABL certified lab is well equipped with the latest technology and instruments and monitors the pesticide limit as part of its GMP.
Chromatographic Profile
From the pharmacopoeial perspective, a better quality control of raw material can be achieved by specifying quantitative test procedure for the determination of the range or a minimum content of the active ingredient or marker substances. A chromatographic finger profile represents qualitative/ quantitative determination of various components present in a complex plant extract, irrespective whether or not their exact identity is known. Thin layer chromatographic technique is the simplest and least expensive method that provides plenty of information on the composition of raw herbs and its preparation. For quantitative analysis of active ingredients or marker substances with simultaneous separation and detection High Pressure liquid chromatography is the best technique. We use the latest model of HPLC for all its analysis.
Limits of Impurities
A test requirement for foreign organic matter would ensure the extent of contamination of extraneous matters such as filth and other parts of botanicals not covered by the definition of the herbal drug. Since sand and soil are predictable contaminants of botanicals, test requirements for ‘total ash’, water soluble ash’, ‘acid soluble ash’, residue on ignition and sulphated ash would be expected to limit such contaminants. Test requirement for heavy metals in botanical raw material are probably more relevant for parts of plants growing under ground than for the aerial parts of the plant. The presence of high levels of minerals interacts with the final product there by affecting its keeping quality.
Microbial Limits
If the raw herbs are to be used directly without boiling in water prior to consumption, restrictive limits on microbial contaminants are required for pathogens such as Salmonella sp. Enterobacter and E. coli which are causative agent for various gastrointestinal diseases. A lower level of yeasts and molds and a limit on total aerobes are considered appropriate in plant material for topical use. The presence of aflatoxins detected by chemical means is generally independent of the number of viable molds that are detected using microbiological methods. Aflatoxins in microgram quantity are capable of giving serious hypersensitivity reactions which can be extremely harmful to human health.
Pharmacology
Levodopa (L-dopa) was first isolated from the seeds of M pruriens and when the value of L-dopa for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease became known, scientific interest in plants rich in L-dopa was revived. According to the Ayurveda, roots of Mucuna pruriens are bitter, thermogenic, diuretic, emollient, stimulant, aphrodisiac, purgative, febrifuge, and tonic in nature. It is considered useful to relieve constipation, nephropathy, elephantiasis, dropsy, neuropathy, consumption, ulcers, and fever. Seeds are astringent, laxative, anti helmintic, aphrodisiac, alexipharmic and tonic in nature (4). Scientific studies reported significant improvements in Parkinsonism with Mucuna pruriens. The Mucuna extract showed twice the antiparkinsonian activity compared with synthetic L-DOPA in inducing CLR in the parkinsonian animal model. This study suggests that the extracts may contain unidentified antiparkinsonian compounds in addition to L-DOPA, or it may have adjuvants that enhance the efficacy of L-DOPA. Studies also suggested that tolerability might be better with mucuna seeds than with standard L-dopa preparations (5). Traditionally, M. pruriens has been used as an effective aphrodisiac. M. pruriens seeds have also been found to have antidepressant properties in cases of depressive neurosis when consumed.
Health Benefits
Formulations of the Mucuna pruriens seed powder have shown promise in the management and treatment of Parkinson disease. M. pruriens seeds contain high concentrations of levodopa, a direct precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine for diseases including Parkinson's disease. In large amounts it has been shown to be as effective as pure levodopa/carbidopa in the treatment of Parkinson's disease (7). Mucuna pruriens have also shown varying degree of hypoglycemic and anti-hyperglycemic activity (8). In Ayurvedic medicine it is also said to increase sperm count. It contains Dopamine which has a profound influence on sexual function. The plant and its extracts have been long used in tribal communities as a toxin antagonist for various snakebites. Research on its effects against Cobra; Saw scaled viper, Malayan Pit viper and Krait have shown that it has potential use in the prophylactic treatment of snakebites.
Research References
1. Perumal S., Karuppanan V. and Karnam J. Chemical Composition and Protein Quality of the Little-Known Legume, Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC.) J. Agric. Food Chem., 1996, 44 (9), pp 2636–2641 2. Presence of Compounds in Nescafé (Mucuna pruriens) 3. R. Mary Josephine. and K. Janardhanan. Studies on chemical composition and antinutritional factors in three germplasm seed materials of the tribal pulse, Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC Food Chemistry 1992. 43(1):13-18 4. N. Nagashayana P. Sankarankutty M.R.V. Nampoothiri P.K Mohan K.P Mohanakumar Association of L-DOPA with recovery following Ayurveda medication in Parkinson’s disease Journal of the Neurological Sciences 2000 176(2):124-127 5. Ghazala H. and Bala V. M. Mucuna pruriens proves more effective than L-DOPA in Parkinson's disease animal model Phytotherapy Research 1997 11(6):419–423 6. R Katzenschlager, A Evans, A Manson, P N Patsalos, N Ratnaraj, H Watt, L Timmermann, R Van der Giessen, A J Lees Mucuna pruriens in Parkinson’s disease: a double blind clinical and pharmacological study J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2004;75:1672–1677 7. Bala V. M., Muralikrishnan D., Theodore A. and Hare. Neuroprotective effects of the antiparkinson drug Mucuna pruriens Phytotherapy Research 2004 18(9):706–712 8. J.K.Grover., S.Yadav. and V.Vats. Medicinal plants of India with anti-diabetic potential Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2002 81:81-100 9. Soares, Andreimar M., Ticli, Fabio K., Marcussi, Silvana., Lourenco., Miriam V., Januario., Ana H.., Sampaio., Suely V., Giglio., Jose R., Lomonte., Bruno., Pereira., and Paulo S. Medicinal Plants with Inhibitory Properties Against Snake Venoms Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2005 12(22):2625-2641