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Wonder herb can treat male infertility

Infertile men can be treated effectively with extracts obtained from seeds of Mucuna pruriens, a plant popularly known as velvet bean, a new study has found.

Scientists in the biochemstry department at the Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU) here say they have treated a number of male infertility cases using specific doses of seeds from the plant which is readily available in India.

“We have got encouraging results and observations while offering the treatment to as many as 400 infertile men in a phased manner with the seed extract of Mucuna for at least six months,” Abbas Mahdi, a senior faculty member at CSMMU and a member of the research team.

After the treatment the researchers noticed remarkable improvement in the factors responsible for fertility.

The infertile men were in the age group of 25-40 years.

“We were just elated to observe increased sperm concentration, motility and improved semen quality in the infertile groups,” added Mahdi.

According to researchers, Mucuna’s seed extract also recovered the levels of lipids, anti-oxidants, vitamins and fructose, in the seminal plasma that are essential for normal sperm metabolism.

The researchers say Mucuna seed extract derives its potency to treat male infertility from a number of bioactive constituents, particularly L-DOPA (Dopamine) that acts on the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary portions of the brain that work together in controlling spermatogenesis (formation of sperm).

It’s the dopamine that plays an important role in mediating male sexual behaviour. An increase of dopamine in the brain results in increased libido.

Explaining Mucuna’s role in male infertility treatment, Mahdi said: “Mucuna’s mechanism to treat infertility can be outlined in a few steps. The high-level of L-DOPA in Mucuna stimulates the hypothalamus and forebrain to secrete GnRH (a hormone).

This, in turn, regulates the anterior pituitary gland to secrete the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) causing increased synthesis of testosterone by the testes. Therefore, increased dopamine levels optimize the production of hormones, including testosterone, leading to an increased sexual drive and improved performance.”

According to the researchers, Mucuna also contributes to reducing psychological stress in infertile men by restoring the anti-oxidant levels in them.

Taking into account the therapeutic properties of Mucuna, CSMMU researchers have further undertaken a project to study its benefits in more detail.

“Fertility and Sterility – the official journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine – has accepted our work for publication,” said Mahdi.

‘Mucuna pruriens’ – The Plant

Plant identification characters :

Morphology Description (Habit) — M. pruriesn is an herbaceous twining annual. The leaves are trifoliolate; the leaflets, broadly ovate, elliptic or rhomboid ovate and unequal at the base; the flowers, purple and in axillary, pendulous racemes; the pods, curved, longitudinally ribbed, turgid and densely clothed with persistent pale brown or grey, irritant bristles; the seeds, black 4-6 in pod and ovoid.

Mucuna pruriens, a medicinal plant used by ancient ayurvedic physicians, originated in Southern China and Eastern India, but is now found extensively all over the world. This plant has been mentioned in the treatises of ancient Indian texts such as the ‘Charaka Samhiti’ and the ‘Susrutha Samhiti’. Its Sanskrit name is ‘atmagupta’, while in Hindi it is called ‘kawach’. In southern India it is also known as ‘naikurna’.

Mucuna goes by other names such as cow-itch, cowage, buffalo bean, velvet bean, nescafe, sea bean, deer eye, etc. in different parts of the globe. The name ‘nescafe’ is attributed to it for its usage as a coffee substitute in South America.

The plant is a vigorous climber, bears purple or white flowers and has turgid S-shaped pods, which are covered by numerous stinging hairs.

Mucuna pruriens – Pods

The medicinally valuable parts are the seeds, though studies have revealed the presence of active principles in stems and leaves too.

Mucuna pruriens – Seeds

Mucuna pruriens is documented to contain the highest amounts of L-DOPA and was used by physicians of yore, due to its ready availability in the forests and the better results it yielded when used for the treatment of diseases of the nervous system.

Ancient ayurvedic literature describes Mucuna’s unsurpassed health benefits such as its use as a potent aphrodisiac, geriatric tonic and vermifuge, among a host of others. Yet in modern day times, the focus is on its singular use – in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Constituents :

M. prurita has been found to contain L-DOPA, 40 mg/g of the plant. The plant/seeds contain the bioactive alkaloids alkaloids mucunine, mucunadine, mucuadinine, pruriendine and nicotine, besides -sitosterol, glutathione, lecithin, oils, venolic and gallic acids. The seeds with seed coat showed the presence of a number of bioactive subtances including tryptamine, alkylamines, steroids, flavonoids, coumarins, cardenolides,etc

Part used and uses :

Pharmacology — The total alkaloids from seeds of M.pruriens comprising 5 alkaloidal bases were found to bring about a note-worthy increase in the population of spermatozoa and in the weights of body testes, seminal vesicles and prostrate of the treated rats. The exhibited activity was found to stimulate testosterone-enanthate induced androgenic activity observed in another set of treated individuals.
Lower dose corresponding to the clinical dose significantly decreased the sleeping time, increased the motor activity and gave equivocal results in rotarod test in experimental animals. The high dose (3 times the clinical dose) significantly increased the sleeping time, decreased the motor activity and reduced the time for falling from the rod. Thus the drug possesses CNS stimulant effect at low doses and CNS depressant effect at high doses.
A seed diet produced a hypoglycemic effect in normal rats, however, such a diet had an insignificant effect on alloxan-treated rats.
Clinical Studies — In 15 psychiatric patients, M.pruriens (15 g of of crude seed powder was found to significantly inhibit the prolactin response to chlorpromazine injection, as effectively as 0.5 g of L-dopa). No side effects were observed in these patients.
Sixty patients with Parkinson’s disease were treated with M.pruriens in an open study for 12 weeks. Statistically significant reductions in Hoehn and Unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale scores were seen form baseline to the end of 12 week treatment.
Toxicity — Adverse effects were mild and were mainly gastro-intestinal in nature. No adverse effects were seen in clinical laboratory reports (Ibid, 1995).
Indications — L-DOPA is a neurotransmitter precursor, an effective drug for relief in Parkinson’s disease. The seed is a prophylactic against oligospermia, useful in increasing sperm count, ovulation in women, etc. It prevents male and female sterility and acts as a nervine tonic.

Velvet bean is an annual, climbing shrub with long vines that can reach over 15 m. Leaves are trifoliate, gray-silky beneath; petioles are long and silky, 6-11 cm. Leaflets are membranous, terminal leaflets are smaller, lateral very unequal sided. Dark purple flowers (6 to 30) occur in drooping racemes. Fruits are curved, 4-6 seeded. The longitudinally ribbed pod, is densely covered with loose orange hairs which cause a severe itch if they come in contact with skin. The beans are shiny black or brown. It is found in tropical Africa, India and the Caribbean.

Medicinal uses
: Velvet bean can be beneficial, since it is high in levodopa which helps maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The seed powder of Mucuna pruriens has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine for diseases including parkinsonism, and has proven in medical tests to have equal or superior effectiveness in the treatment of parkinsons disease over conventional, synthetic levodopa medications. Another benefit of Mucuna is that it can increase the production of human growth hormone, and extracts are commonly sold as body-building supplements.

Common name: Velvet bean, Cowitch, Cowhage, Kapikachu, Nescafe, Sea bean • Hindi: Kiwach • Marathi: खाज कुइरी Khaj-kuiri • Malayalam: Naicorna • Telugu: Pilliadugu • Kannada: Nayisonanguballi • Bengali: Akolchi • Tamil: Punaippidukkan
Botanical name: Mucuna pruriens Family: Fabaceae (bean family)

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