Studying Parkinson's disease is one of the fastest-growing areas of medical research. As the number of people affected by the disease rises, so does the demand for treatment. Scientists around the world are testing many different potential treatments, including pharmaceutical and herbal therapies. A plant being studied is cowhage (Mucuna pruriens).

Cowhage is a bean-like plant that’s native to southern China and eastern India. It grows abundantly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is commonly referred to as "velvet bean." It’s also called “cowitch," "donkey eye," or "kapikachu."

Cowhage contains a compound called levodopa. Levodopa is used in medications to treat Parkinson's disease. Your brain converts levodopa into dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter that helps your brain cells communicate with one another. Dopamine levels are low in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Low dopamine levels in the brain trigger common symptoms of Parkinson's, including:

  • shaking
  • tremors
  • stiffness
  • slow movement

Levodopa is typically used with other medications to treat Parkinson's disease.

Cowhage has other uses beyond the treatment of Parkinson's disease. For example, it’s been used as a traditional remedy for:

  • nervous system disorders
  • male infertility
  • low sex drive
  • snakebites
  • skin disorders, such as atopic dermatitis

Cowhage has neuroprotective effects and antioxidant properties. This may be why it’s been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for a long time. Ayurvedic medicine involves a holistic approach to illness. It places a lot of importance on achieving a proper balance between your mind and body and the outside world. Natural herbal remedies are often prescribed alongside proper diet.

One of the most common side effects is itchiness on contact, which is caused by the hairs lining the seeds. Cowhage doesn't have a lot of side effects on its own. However, it can interfere with other medications. For example, it can interact with:

  • medication for diabetes
  • certain antidepressants and antipsychotics
  • blood pressure (hypertension) medications

Cowhage also has some toxic qualities. It may seem like it would make a great dietary supplement because its seeds contain high levels of crude protein, essential amino acids, and essential fatty acids. However, they also contain polyphenols, tannins, and phytic acid. All of these substances can make protein less digestible. Some people believe you can eliminate the potentially toxic effects of cowhage seeds by heating them. However, more research is needed to test this belief and to study health benefits of cowhage.

Always talk to your doctor before taking cowhage. Tell them about other medications you’re taking. Ask them about potential risks and side effects.

Before you try a complementary treatment for Parkinson’s disease, always speak to your doctor. Cowhage contains a compound that may help relieve your Parkinson’s symptoms. However, it may negatively interact with other medications you’re taking. It may also impair your body’s ability to digest protein. Ask your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of taking cowhage.