L-DOPA (levodopa, L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) is an amino acid synthesized in your brain by the amino acid l-tyrosine. L-DOPA is a precursor of several neurotransmitters including dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are essential for memory, cognition, and a positive mood. A lack of either of these neurotransmitters can lead to a lower mood state, loss of memory, brain fog, poor energy, and more. And if left unchecked will eventually result in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
- Brain Health. L-DOPA helps to increase growth hormone levels in the brain. Boosting the production of neurons and glia cells affecting the formation of memories, and overall brain health.
- Neurotransmitters. L-DOPA is a necessary precursor for your brain to make dopamine. And dopamine is then synthesized into the neurotransmitters epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Affecting cognition, learning, memory, movement, motivation and pleasure.
- Neuroprotection. L-DOPA produces neuromelanins which are similar to the melanin pigment in your skin. In your brain they absorb toxic quinones, and chelate heavy metals like mercury and lead.
Table of Contents
L-DOPA (levodopa, L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) is an amino acid that’s naturally synthesized in your brain by the amino acid l-tyrosine.
L-DOPA is a necessary precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Called a catecholamine, dopamine is then synthesized into the other catecholamines epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).
Dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, but L-DOPA can. This is why we supplement with L-DOPA rather than dopamine.
And for a dopamine boost, neurohackers use Mucuna Pruriens, which contains high levels of L-DOPA.[i] This legume, native to the tropical regions of India, Africa and the West Indies, and also known as velvet bean, has been used in Ayurveda medicine since 1500 B.C.
The ancients used Mucuna Pruriens to treat things like snakebite, intestinal problems, sexual issues, and a melancholy mood.
Mucuna Pruriens vs. L-DOPA: What’s the Difference?
Mucuna Pruriens is an extract of the velvet bean plant that grows 3 – 18 meters in height. L-DOPA (levodopa) is usually synthetic and made in the lab.
The natural version of L-DOPA from Mucuna Pruriens is generally well-tolerated by most people. And the compounds in the plant are bio-identical to those chemicals naturally made in your body. Not so with synthetic L-DOPA.
Synthetic L-DOPA is metabolized into dopamine in your body by an enzyme called aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC). And the majority of synthetic L-DOPA will be converted peripherally (not in the central nervous system and brain). This can cause problems.
So when used therapeutically, as in treating Parkinson’s Disease, L-DOPA is administered in combination with an inhibitor of peripheral AADC. Drugs like carbidopa (or other AADC inhibitors) ensure most of the L-DOPA is preserved for conversion to dopamine in the brain. And not the rest of your body.
This is critical for nootropic users to keep in mind. Chronic, or prolonged use of synthetic L-DOPA can lead to things like dyskinesia. This is a movement disorder where neurological discoordination results in uncontrollable, involuntary movements.[iii]
We’re not telling you this to dissuade you from using L-DOPA. Stick with an extract of Mucuna Pruriens and you should be fine.
How does L-DOPA Work in the Brain?
L-DOPA boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
- L-DOPA improves memory. It’s metabolized into dopamine in your body by an enzyme called aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC). This increases dopamine levels in your brain.
Researchers at the University of Münster in Germany conducted a study with 40 healthy people. In this randomized double-blind study, they gave one group 100 mg of levodopa daily for 5 days. The other group took a placebo.
90 minutes later on each day, subjects were given a memory test based on vocabulary. The study found that levodopa significantly enhanced the speed, overall success, and long-term retention of novel words.[iv]
- L-DOPA promotes brain health. Research suggests Mucuna Pruriens protects your brain by regulating cognitive and neural functions. And even encouraging neural activity.
Researchers in India showed that Mucuna Pruriens is a potent antioxidant. They performed assays to evaluate the enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants in extracts. They found high levels of flavonoids, alkaloids, tannic acids, gallic acids, quercetin equivalents, and sitosterol equivalents.[v]
Your brain is equipped to eliminate some of these free radicals on its own. But especially in today’s environment in which we live, your brain is overwhelmed. Free radicals cause inflammation which damages and can kill brain cells. Affecting memory, learning, recall, cognition and mood.
Mucuna Pruriens has been proven to be a very effective brain inflammation fighter. It even has the ability to chelate heavy metals like mercury and lead in brain cells. And it’s antibacterial.[vi]
Mucuna Pruriens helps your brain make naturally occurring neuronal pigments called neuromelanins. They’re similar to the melanin found in your skin. And they’re often found in regions of your brain where dopamine is active.
The synthesis of neuromelanins in the various regions of your brain is an important protective process. The melanic component is generated through the removal of reactive/toxic quinones that would otherwise cause neurotoxicity.
This melanic component promoted by Mucuna Pruriens is what chelates and accumulates toxic, heavy metals like mercury and lead.[vii] Preventing them from damaging brain cells.
How things go bad:
As we get older, our brain chemistry and energy metabolism changes.
↓ Dopaminergic neurons are damaged or die
↓ Dopamine levels decline
↑ Stress levels increase
↓ Long-term memory and mood decline
All of these age-related changes are contributing factors to the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Parkinson’s Disease.
L-DOPA to the rescue
Mucuna Pruriens extract contains high levels of L-DOPA, the precursor to the crucial neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is further synthesized into the neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).
Dopamine plays a critical role in learning and absorbing new information. Increasing brain levels of dopamine helps regulate mood and boosts cognition.
Research also suggests that Mucuna Pruriens provides antioxidants that defend against oxidative damage caused by free radicals.[viii]
How does L-DOPA feel?
Neurohackers report that using Mucuna Pruriens helps in multi-tasking, improving motivation, more focus, less stress, and a sense of calm.
You could find your energy levels increase, less brain fog, and a boost in overall mood. A more positive outlook on life. And an increase in libido.
Mucuna Pruriens helps reduce stress
A study was conducted to assess the role of Mucuna Pruriens in infertile men. It was done at King George’s Medical University in Lucknow, India. The study included 60 men who were undergoing infertility screening. And no surprise here; were found to be suffering from stress.
The control group in this study were 60 age-matched men who had initiated at least one pregnancy. The infertile men were given 5 grams of Mucuna Pruriens seed powder per day for 3 months. Semen samples were collected at the beginning of the study. And after 3 months of treatment.
The researchers found that treatment with Mucuna Pruriens significantly decreased stress levels. And increased sperm count to the same level as the fertile control group of men.
They “concluded that M. pruriens not only reactivates the anti-oxidant defense system of infertile men but it also helps in the management of stress and improves semen quality.”[ix]
L-DOPA improves learning
This study in Germany was done with 40 healthy subjects. They were given 100 mg of L-DOPA or a placebo for 5 days in a randomized, double-blind trial.
Subjects were trained on artificial vocabulary using a high-frequency, repetitive approach. This was done 90 minutes after L-DOPA administration on each day of the trial.
The researchers found that L-DOPA significantly enhanced the speed, overall success, and long-term retention of the words.[x]
L-DOPA as an anti-depressant
Increasing dopamine in your brain also boosts your mood and libido. This study was done in India with mice. Researchers used the well-known Forced Swimming Test (FST), Tail Suspension Test (TST), and Chronic Unpredictable Mild Stress (CUMS) test.
The mice were fed Mucuna Pruriens seed extract, and then evaluated while performing, well… what mice do in the lab. The research team found that Mucuna Pruriens seed extract has significant antidepressant qualities. Which would simply verify what we already know in humans.[xi]
Using Mucuna Pruriens extract is a great anti-depressant.
L-DOPA (Mucuna Pruriens 98% extract) suggested dosage for cognitive benefits is 250 – 500 mg per day.
L-DOPA is produced naturally in your body. So is considered well-tolerated and safe. And L-DOPA from Mucuna Pruriens extract is particularly well tolerated by most people.
Research shows that the natural form of L-DOPA from Mucuna Pruriens compared to synthetic versions of L-DOPA provides similar results. But without the common side effects of nausea, vomiting, and involuntary muscle movement.[xii]
But be very careful when working with dopamine. Too much and you can experience symptoms like hair loss, auditory or visual hallucinations, psychosis, Dyskenesia and more.
Of course, if you begin to experience any of these side effects, stop supplementing with L-DOPA (Mucuna Pruriens) immediately.
Like any natural supplement, it’s always better to find an organic source.
Mucuna Pruriens is typically available in powder, capsule or tablet form. Some are pure, dried Mucuna Pruriens powder.
Several manufacturers offer Mucuna Pruriens extracts ranging from 15% – 98% L-DOPA. Or they tell you how many mg of L-DOPA is in each capsule or tablet.
A few manufacturers call it “Velvet Bean Extract” with the percentage of L-DOPA in each capsule or tablet. It’s the same as Mucuna Pruriens.
Try to find “organic” or “certified organic” if you can. And for Nootropic use, avoid synthetic L-DOPA which is typically used to treat Parkinson’s Disease.
Nootropics Expert Recommendation
L-DOPA (Mucuna Pruriens) 250 – 500 mg per day
We recommend using L-DOPA as a nootropic supplement.
But as you get older, dopamine receptors die. Or your body doesn’t convert the necessary amino acids well enough to supply the neurotransmitters you need for an optimized brain.
L-DOPA is helpful to boost energy and motivation levels, memory, clear brain fog, improve mood and libido.
L-DOPA is especially helpful for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. And the natural form of L-DOPA from Mucuna Pruriens often offers better results with fewer side effects than prescription drugs.
We suggest starting with a dose of 100 – 250 mg daily for nootropic use. L-DOPA should be cycled. Use it for 4 or 5 days and take a break. Tolerance is often a problem when working with dopamine. As is dependence or addiction.