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Velvet bean (Mucunapruriens) – a hope for Parkinson’s Disease
Tuesday, 25 May, 2021, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Roopa B Patil, Dr Vijayalakshmi, D, and Bhavana A
Parkinson's disease: Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second-most neurological disorder that occurs after Alzheimer's disease. PD is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders. It is both chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, progressive and its symptoms grow worse over time. As nerve cells (neurons) in parts of the brain become impaired or die, people may begin to notice problems with movement, tremor, stiffness in the limbs or the trunk of the body, or impaired balance. As these symptoms become more pronounced, people may have difficulty in walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. No cure for PD exists today, but medications or surgery can often provide substantial improvement with motor symptoms.
PD has been known for over 4,000 years. In 1810, British sailors exposed to mercury showed signs of ‘‘trembling, paralysis and sialorrhea, followed later by more changes’’, example of Parkinson’s due to mercury poisoning. In 1817, the British doctor James Parkinson described the disease in his ‘‘Essay on Shaking Palsy’’. Other names for Parkinson's disease are shaking palsy, paralysis agitans, and Parkinsonism.

Parkinson’s disease around the world
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder of the nervous system. It is a progressive disease with a mean duration of between 10 and 13 years, affecting more men than women. PD usually presents in the elderly due to recent increases in life expectancy, the number of PD patients will double by 2030, turning the disease into a public health problem. Worldwide, it is estimated to affect between 4.1 and 4.6 million individuals over the age of 50 years, with a prevalence of between 0.3% and 2% in the over-60 age group. It is most prevalent among Caucasians aged between 60 and 84 years,, and less so among black, Hispanic and Asian people. Studies from China, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore have reported a higher prevalence in individuals aged between 69 and 79 years.
Factors affecting PD
  •  Lewy bodies-deposits: The affected brain cells of people with PD contain Lewy bodies-deposits the protein alpha-synuclein.  
  • Genetic Factors: There are several genes that, when mutated, can increase the risk of PD. One of these, called LRRK2. Other genes are GBA gene, the parkin gene and the DJ-1 gene.
  • Certain environmental factors: Significant exposure to pesticides, herbicides, proximity of industry or certain heavy metals and repeated head injuries can increase the risk of PD.
  • Mitochondria: Oxidative stress-related changes, including free radical damage to DNA, proteins, and fats, have been detected in the brains of individuals with PD.  Some mutations that affect mitochondrial function have been identified as causes of PD.
  • Other Risk Factors: The main risk factor is age, because PD is more common in older adults (>50 years of age). Men also have a higher risk of PD than women. PD affects Caucasians more often than African Americans or Asians.
Symptoms of the disease
Motor symptoms are Bradykinesia (slowed movements), Distal tremor (shaking) and Rigidity (stiffness) and Common non-motor symptoms are Sleep disturbances, Depression, Constipation, Ortho static hypotension, Swallowing problems, Memory problems or dementia.

Lifestyle of Parkinson’s disease
Exercise and Daily Activity: Several research studies have shown that regular exercise routines of walking, strength training, or Tai Chi can help to maintain, or even improve, mobility, balance, and coordination in people with Parkinson’s disease. People with PD also report the physical (and mental) benefits of swimming, cycling, dancing, and even non-contact boxing. Whatever you enjoy to stay mobile is the best activity. The APDA Rehabilitation Resource Center at Boston University was established to help people with Parkinson’s disease access information on exercise recommendations. There is no one diet that is recommended for PD, but healthy eating in general is always a good choice. For example, eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day increases fibre intake and can help alleviate constipation, in addition to promoting general health. Also, drinking plenty of water or other non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages ensures adequate hydration and may reduce the likelihood of muscle cramping. There has been much attention given to the use of antioxidants to prevent or slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. In some people with PD, dietary protein (e.g. yogurt, meat) may affect the absorption of levodopa.

Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) of natural Levodopa
L-3, 4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (l-dopa) is the principal drug considered as a gold standard for the management of PD. There are several sources of l-dopa (synthetic and biological). Plants are the most popularly used source to treat PD due to their advantage of comprising several other metabolites including phenolics, flavonoids and alkaloids.

Mucuna pruriens (M. pruriens), commercialised for l-dopa extraction and successfully exploited for the Parkinson's disease management which is a medicinal and underutilised legume plant commonly known as velvet bean or cowitch or cowhage or Alkushi. Mucuna is called “pruriens” because of the intense itching by their contact and constituent of more than 200 indigenous drug formulations. Found all over the world in the woodlands of tropical areas especially in tropical Africa, India and the Caribbean. In India, 14 species are found in foothills of the Himalayas, the plains of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Andra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Mucunais grown as kharif crop in India. Flowering begins in 45 to 50 days after sowing. Seed yield ranged from 700 to 1100 kg ha-1 in India. The crop matures in about 140 days after sowing. The pods harvested from the field are dried in the sunlight for 4-7 days; The seeds are stored in gunny bags made of jute and covered with polythene to protect from atmospheric moisture. Fully matured seeds of velvet bean contain 3.6 to 11.5% of Levodopa.

Velvet beans in human diet and animal feed:
As Human Food: Viable source of dietary proteins due to its high protein concentration (23–35%). In India, the mature seeds are consumed by a South Indian hill tribe, the Kanikkars, after repeated boiling to remove anti-nutritional factors. In Guatemala and Mexico, use VB as a coffee substitute; known as “Nescafé”. According to Dr Buckles, many people in Ghana eat VB as a soup thickener. The toxic principle can be removed by boiling and soaking the seeds in several changes of water. In  parts of Asia, seeds are sometimes roasted before being eaten. In Java seeds boiled, seed-coat removed, soaked in water and then chopped, steamed, and left to ferment bean cake, 'tempebenguk', which resembles tempe produced from soybeans.

Velvet beans for soil fertility improvement and soil cover and as ruminant feed: Important forage and green manure crop and fixes nitrogen and fertilises soil. It controls soil fertility loss and soil erosion. Biological control for problematic Imperatacylindrica grass processed before eaten, that is, the leaves must be soaked to leach out the L-DOPA and seeds are also cracked open and soaked, otherwise it is toxic to non-ruminant mammals.

Medicinal uses of Mucuna pruriens
Anti-Parkinson’s activity: The clinical syndrome of Parkinsonism was identified in ancient India even before the period of Christ and was treated methodically. According to Bhasavarajyam, the Parkinsonism was treated by the administration of powdered seed of M. pruriens containing 4 to 6% of levodopa (Ovallath and Deepa, 2013). Hussian and Manyam (1997) indicated that for the dose, M. pruriens showed twice the anti-Parkinsonian activity of synthetic L-DOPA. Katzenschlager et al. (2004) revealed that 30 g Mucuna seed powder preparation faster action in treating long term management of Parkinson’s disease patients than conventional standard drugs, namely, Levodopa or Carbidopa.
Anti glycaemic effect:Using a combination of chromatographic and NMR techniques, the presence of D-chiro-inositol and its two galacto-derivatives having antiglycaemic effect was demonstrated in M. pruriens seeds.

Hypoglycemic activity: The aqueous extract of the seeds of M. pruriens (100 and 200 mg/kg body weight) was investigated in normal, glucose load conditions and streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic rats. In normal and STZ diabetic rats - significantly reduced the blood glucose levels 2 h after oral administration of seed extract. It also significantly lowered the blood glucose in STZ diabetic rats after 21 days of daily oral administration of the extract.

Antioxidant activity: In vitro assays  - whole plant of ethyl acetate and methanolic extract of M. pruriens, containing large amounts of phenolic compounds, exhibited high antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities. They served as a significant source of natural antioxidant, which might be helpful in preventing the progress of various oxidative stresses.

Anti venom activity: About 0.16 and 0.19 mg of M. pruriens seed extracts were able to completely neutralise the lethal activity of 2LD50 of cobra and krait venom, respectively.

Aphrodisiac activity:Studies say that oral administration of 5 g of Mucuna seed powder once in a day for men not only reactivates the antioxidant defence mechanism, but also helps in the management of stress and improves semen quality.

Antimicrobial activity:M. pruriens is also used for antimicrobial properties for extracting plant metabolites against plant pathogenic bacteria and fungi. The methanolic extract showed high antibacterial activity against Erwiniacarotovora, Pseudomonas syringae, Pseudomonas marginalis, Pseudomonas acruginosa, Xanthomonascampestris and High anti fungal activity against Curvularialunata, Fusariumoxysporum, Pencilliumexpansum, Rhizoctoniasolani, Tiarosporellaphaseolina, Ustilagopomaydis.

Safe dose : 15 to 30g Mucuna seed powder preparation has considerable faster action in treating PD patients than conventional standard drug.

(Patil is Scientist (Home Science), ICAR- Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Tumkur; Vijayalakshmi is Emeritus Scientist, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bangalore; and Bhavana is Scientist (Home Science), ICAR- Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kurbur farm, Chintamani. They can be reached at
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