Levodopa, commonly referred to a L-DOPA, is an immediate precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine and, eventually, adrenaline.
Oral L-DOPA supplementation increases dopamine levels in the body rather significantly, making it a potent nootropic; thus, L-DOPA can help individuals with anxiety and other stress-related conditions.
Nature’s richest source of L-DOPA is the plant species Mucuna pruriens (also known as velvet bean), a legume found natively in the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. Mucuna pruriens is an ancient Ayurvedic herbal medicine that has been used in India since 1500 B.C.
The seeds of the plant contain upwards of 7% L-DOPA (total dry weight). Other plant species contain modest amounts of L-DOPA, but Mucuna pruriens is the only variety that is readily available over-the-counter.
Moreover, Mucuna pruriens contains small amounts of other psychoactive substances, such as inositol and 5-HTP , as well as an abundance of antioxidants.
Read on as this article goes in depth on how L-DOPA works, its research-backed benefits, how it may help reduce anxiety, how to dose it, and any potential side effects and safety concerns to be aware of.
- L-DOPA is the most potent natural ingredient for increasing dopamine levels in the body.
- You can commonly find Mucuna pruriens supplements over-the-counter, which is a rich source of L-DOPA.
- It is best to use L-DOPA earlier in the day as it may induce feelings of arousal.
- Start with a dose of 250 mg of pure L-DOPA taken one time daily, with or without food. Work up to 750 mg to 1500 mg per day if necessary.
- Taking L-DOPA before sexual activity can increase libido and erectile quality.
- L-DOPA is just one of many over the counter supplements that can help your anxiety, to find out about others get our free Anxiety Supplement Guide by clicking the button below!
How L-DOPA Works
As aforementioned, L-DOPA is a direct precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is a rather ubiquitous neurotransmitter that acts throughout both the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Increasing dopamine levels in the body is particularly helpful for treating motor control disorders and seizures. Dopamine is also vital for mental focus and reducing anxiety.
Contrary to serotonin, dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Naturally, many addictive substances work by increasing dopamine activity in the brain.
For example, the increase in feelings of euphoria and pleasure after sexual climax are largely due to a surge of dopamine in the body.
Of course, there are plenty of other examples that apply, such as the pleasurable feelings after eating a satiating meal.
In this regard, increasing dopamine levels in the body can help curb anxiety and boost cognition.
Since serotonin acts throughout different regions of the brain, it is plausible that a nootropic like 5-HTP would balance well with L-DOPA.
Effect of L-DOPA on Stress Hormones Explained
Mucuna pruriens is an adaptogenic herb that helps us cope with stress (whether it’s physical or emotional), largely due to its L-DOPA content.
Research shows that L-DOPA is a mild inhibitor of cortisol production – a primary glucocorticoid/stress hormone in humans.
Glucocorticoids are a class of steroid hormones produced in the adrenal glands that regulate metabolism, development, immune function, and cognition/alertness.
Cortisol is an essential hormone necessary to sustain life, but like with many other hormones, producing too much (or too little) of it can wreak havoc on the body.
Cortisol increases tissue atrophy (loss/breakdown) in the body since it primarily acts as a catabolic hormone with regards to its metabolic functions.
Therefore, people who produce large amounts of cortisol on a chronic basis may feel weak and lethargic (which can lead to other issues such as anxiety and depression).
That being said, L-DOPA increases dopamine levels in the body, which also reacts to stressors on the body and mind. Dopamine eventually converts to noradrenaline and adrenaline – two potent stress hormones (see diagram below).
Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone in humans; the hormone that tells you to either start fist-fighting or running from the cops when you’ve done something bad (note: Do not do either of these).
Research shows that Mucuna pruriens seed powder nearly doubles circulating levels of dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline when taken once daily at a dose of five grams.1
Moreover, L-DOPA absorption actually increases the more you consume it; this is to say that using Mucuna pruriens for long periods of time appears to increase its efficacy.
“Good” Stress Hormones
Note that despite being stress hormones, increasing adrenaline and noradrenaline levels in the body isn’t necessarily a bad thing; these two hormones increase mental alertness and feelings of pleasure.
Stress is not an inherently bad thing, and is actually a good thing in certain circumstances.
Therefore, producing adequate amounts of adrenaline/noradrenaline are key for making you feel better and keeping you active.
Use of L-DOPA for Improving Anxiety Symptoms
A large body of evidence exists showing L-DOPA and Mucuna pruriens dry powder are potent over-the-counter options for reducing anxiety and enhancing mood.
L-DOPA acts through a variety of mechanisms to reduce anxiety, with the most pertinent ways being increasing feelings of pleasure (via dopamine) and decreasing cortisol production.
In fact, a study from Kasturba Medical College shows that rats exhibit a similar decrease in anxiety symptoms after taking either Diazepam (Valium) or a Mucuna pruriens supplement.
Diazepam is a benzodiazepine drug commonly used for panic disorders and other anxiety-related conditions.
The same study notes that the presence of both L-DOPA and 5-HTP as major components in Mucuna pruriens suggest the role of dopamine and serotonin pathways in its anxiety-reducing activities.
Another study of 120 men, between the ages of 30–38 years, shows that serum cortisol levels in the morning and evening decrease by nearly 30% after 3 months of Mucuna pruriens seed powder use (five grams per day).
Subjects in the same study who used Mucuna pruriens had a reduction in anxiety symptoms by nearly 50% (based on a stress questionnaire).
Thus, it is clear that Mucuna pruriens/L-DOPA can greatly enhance mood and reduce anxiety by supporting healthy cortisol production.
In fact, the underlying mechanism to panic attacks comes from rushes of excessive cortisol secretion by the adrenal glands.
Make no mistake that some cortisol production is necessary for health and longevity, but overproduction of it is a major implication of chronic anxiety.
On that note, do not replace any of your current anxiety medications with Mucuna pruriens supplements or L-DOPA.
Preferably, consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner before using L-DOPA or Mucuna pruriens.
Benefits of L-DOPA Supplementation
The main thing to take away from all the scientific jargon in this article is that Mucuna pruriens (and L-DOPA) have a wide spectrum of evidence-based benefits.
Over-the-counter Mucuna pruriens supplements are rapidly gaining popularity thanks to these findings. Many Mucuna pruriens supplement users experiencing significant decreases in anxiety as well as increases in mental acuity and motivation.
To summarize, the most pertinent benefits of L-DOPA include:
- Natural anxiety and stress-reducing properties
- Potent anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties
- Promotes mental acuity
- Acts a natural aphrodisiac (boosts libido)
- Appears to boost the immune system and fight illness (especially when stressed)
- Mildly inhibits cortisol production
- Acutely increases growth hormone production
- Helps treat motor control conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease
Note: There is limited evidence that L-DOPA may help restore fertility in infertile men by increasing testosterone production. However, this topic needs more research to be conclusive.
Recommended Forms of L-DOPA
The amount and potency of Mucuna pruriens/L-DOPA you should use will depend on the purpose for which you want to use it.
It is recommended to supplement with a standardized Mucuna pruriens seed dry powder; most of the research in this article shows that to be the most efficacious source of L-DOPA.
Research on patients with Parkinson’s disease actually shows that isolated L-DOPA is significantly inferior to L-DOPA from Mucuna pruriens supplementation.
It is not known why L-DOPA from Mucuna pruriens is more bioactive than isolated L-DOPA; it appears to be due to an unknown enzyme that reduces the breakdown of dopamine. Isolated L-DOPA is also much more costly than bulk Mucuna pruriens dry powder.
Be sure to check the label of the Mucuna pruriens powder you use to determine what percentage L-DOPA it is. Be leery of Mucuna pruriens dry powder supplements that claim to contain greater than 25% L-DOPA.
Some Mucuna pruriens extract supplements come in pill form and claim to be 95% or greater L-DOPA, but anecdotal feedback from users suggests these products are inconsistent and less effective than dry powder.
Recommended Dosages of L-DOPA
The dosage suggestions below are for L-DOPA, so adjust your Mucuna pruriens dose accordingly:
Reducing Anxiety and Inhibiting Cortisol Production: Start with a dose of 250 mg taken one time daily, with or without food. Work up to 750 mg to 1500 mg per day if necessary.
Enhancing Cognition and Neuroprotection: 500 mg taken one to two times daily, with or without food.
Boosting Immune Function, Anti-inflammatory, and Antioxidant Properties: 250 to 500 mg taken once per day, with or without food.
Increasing Libido/Sex Drive: 250 to 500 mg roughly 30 to 60 minutes prior to sexual activity.
According to some health experts, L-DOPA is more effective when taken with vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which is necessary for proper production of dopamine.
However, this is not a requirement and there is no data at this time that shows the two to be more effective when taken together.
Also note that Mucuna pruriens dry powder has a rather bitter, unpleasant taste so you may want to mix it in juice or another flavored liquid.
Safety and Potential Side Effects
Mucuna pruriens supplements and L-DOPA tend to be well-tolerated, and safe over-the-counter options, but due to the side effects of excess dopamine production, certain side effects may occur.
Consuming L-DOPA may induce certain side effects such as:
- Frequent urination
- Gastrointestinal distress
These side effects will be rather uncommon unless consuming upwards of three or more grams of L-DOPA per day. If you feel undesirable side effects after taking Mucuna pruriens or L-DOPA, stop further use and they will go away. You can then try using a lower dose and see how you respond.
L-DOPA, especially from Mucuna pruriens, is a potent over-the-counter option for reducing anxiety; its extensive benefits are quite compelling as well.
By increasing dopamine levels (as well as adrenaline and noradrenaline), L-DOPA is effective for increasing cognition and feelings of pleasure. There is also a strong body of evidence showing L-DOPA to be an efficacious natural treatment option for Parkinson’s disease.
Along with ashwagandha , Mucuna pruriens is arguably one of the most effective adaptogenic herbs available on a commercial scale. Mucuna pruriens helps mediate inflammation, oxidative stress, and increase fertility and libido.
Therefore, it serves as a stellar option for longevity and general well-being.