What Researchers Discovered About Cowhage.

The Mucuna pruriens plant which is also known among the Igbo speaking parts of Nigeria as "Ijelekpe" or "Agbara" is a tropical legume native to Africa and tropical Asia and widely naturalized and cultivated.
In English, it has a wide variety  of nomenclatures such as: Velvet bean, Bengal velvet bean, Florida velvet bean, Mauritius velvet bean, Yokohama velvet bean, cowage, cowitch, lacuna bean, and Lyon bean.

The plant is notorious for the extreme itchiness it produces upon contact with particularly the young foliage and the dry seed pods. It has shown to posses both agricultural and horticultural value and is used in herbalism. The most commonly used parts of mucuna pruriens include the seeds, the beans or the hair on the bean pod. Velvet bean (mucuna pruriens) powder seems to work in case of Parkinson’s disease because it contains significantly high amount of L-dopa (or levodopa).

Although, according to a study conducted by Manyam et al., Oral administration of Mucuna pruriens endocarp in the form of HP-200 had a significant effect on dopamine content in the cortex with no significant effect on levodopa, norepinephrine or dopamine, serotonin, and their metabolites- HVA, DOPAC and 5-HIAA in the nigrostriatal tract. The failure of Mucuna pruriens endocarp to significantly affect dopamine metabolism in the striatonigral tract along with its ability to improve Parkinsonian symptoms in the 6-hydorxydopamine animal model and humans may suggest that its antiparkinson effect may be due to components other than levodopa or that it has an levodopa enhancing effect.

The phytochemical composition of the plant was analysed by a nutritional expert as follows.
The levodopa content in the entire mucuna pruriens beans is about 3 to 6%. The highest amount of levodopa, as much as 5.3%, is found in the inner layer of the pericap- also known as endocarp.
The Endocarp has been experimentally used to see the effects of mucuna pruriens beans on patients with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous disorder that emerges due to the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. One of such neurotransmitters is the dopamine, which acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Dopamine being a larger molecule cannot directly cross the blood-brain barrier but L-dopa (precursor of dopamine) can. To be effective for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease enough L-dopa must cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain, where it is decarboxylated and is converted into its active form dopamine. But of all the L-dopa concentration only 1% manages to reach to the brain because remaining L-dopa gets metabolized in the peripheral tissues of the body. Velvet bean powder or cowhage powder appears to lessen most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease at a dose lower than conventional L-dopa products.
There are also some speculations that some constituents of mucuna pruriens, in addition to L-dopa, may add to its anti-Parkinson effect. Another important constituent of velvet bean powder is prurieninin. This chemical is believed to mitigate blood pressure, slow down the rate of heart and trigger the motility of intestine.

Ijelekpe is also believed to have inhibitory activity against helminth (worm) infection. It can also lower blood cholesterol and flatulence. But these effects of cowhage powder have not been verified in human studies. Researchers are experimenting using the plant for the treatment of snakebite.

In a report published by Amazon Discoveries the plant extracts of showed pro-coagulant effects against the venom of Echis carinatus (saw scaled viper), when given at least one day (24 hours) before the exposure to the venom.

The dangers involved in handling the plant is that it can induce: redness, itching, swelling and irritation.
These effects can be observed when the hair on mucuna pruriens pod or the bean itself comes into direct contact with the epidermis. Upon contact, a number of chemicals are release into the skin. These chemicals include serotonin and mucunain, which can cause abnormal dilatation of the skin vessels, redness and swelling (inflammation). Mucuna pruriens beans are boiled repeatedly so that their irritant and rubefacient properties can be nullified.

By: Onwordi Ngozi Fortune.

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