The Magical Velvet Bean
Velvet bean, or Mucuna puriens, has been exalted in Ayurvedic medicine since it was written about in the Rigveda - a sacred text written between 4500 BCE and 1600 BCE. Velvet bean has been documented in over two hundred traditional remedy formulations and its effectiveness has been scientifically validated many times over. We included velvet bean in our sleep optimizer, Lucid, because of the many amazing benefits that this bean provides that helps you get the most out of your sleep each night. Let's dive in and take a look at the defining properties this magical legume.
I. Velvet bean is Stress and Anxiety Fighting
Velvet bean protects against stress by being an all natural, powerhouse antioxidant and by lowering cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in our blood. Stress and anxiety in our day to day lives, from work, our obligations, or even the poor food and drink choices we make, causes oxidative damage in our bodies - especially in our brains. Stress literally makes your brain shrink, ruins your memory, and makes it harder for you learn and adapt to new things because your brain can't make new neurons as easily. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels leads to the formation of excessive free radicals in our bodies - free radicals are the building blocks of rampant disease and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's.
Velvet bean has been shown to both reduce stress induced cortisol levels as well as provide an exceptional antioxidant effect on the free radicals caused by stress. One study showed that rats who were physically confined for 6 hours a day and subjected to physical and mental stressors and then given a dose of velvet bean, "...had shown significantly reduced MDA [oxidative stress indicator] levels when compared with rats who received stress without Mucuna puriens treatment."
II. Velvet Bean Lowers Your Blood Sugar
Keeping your blood sugar low is one of the best ways to lose or maintain weight. Spikes in blood sugar cause your body to release insulin, which is a hormone that stores fat. Higher blood sugar, means more insulin, which means more fat. If your blood sugar is high before you go to bed, it can spell disaster for your sleep and long term health. When insulin is present in your blood, your body won't release growth hormone and IGF-1. These two growth factors are released when your body is in deep wave sleep and are used to strengthen your bones, build and repair muscle, and help your brain function better. (In fact, cortisol has also been shown to blunt the release of growth hormone and IGF-1 during sleep, too!)
One of the many things velvet bean does, and one of the reasons why we included it in Lucid, is because of its hypoglycemic, or blood sugar lowering, properties. This helps decrease your insulin response before bed so that your body can get to deep wave sleep and release those all important growth factors. Although research isn't sure exactly howvelvet bean lowers blood sugar, its ability to lower blood sugar has been demonstrated in study after study. What's more fascinating is that not only does it work to lower blood sugar quickly and dramatically, it also has been shown to keep blood sugar in healthy ranges when administered daily for 21 days.
III. Velvet Bean Restores Reproductive Health and Desire
Reinvigorating virility and sexual desire is one of the main things that velvet bean has been used for for centuries. Ancient Ayurvedic used the seeds of the velvet bean as a powerful aphrodisiac, a way for men increase the potency of their ejaculate, and as a way to regulate menstruation for women. Recent research found that among indigenous Teli community in India, velvet bean is still being used to treat such disorders. Researchers traveled to the remote village to observe their herbal practices and then scoured scientific literature to see if the ancient wisdom could be validated by modern science. Most of it was.
Other studies have shown that velvet bean has a significant testosterone boosting ability (listen up, ladies, we need testosterone, too!). Another study showed that this testosterone boosting effect led to rats having not only more sex but also longer lasting sex. Most interestingly, perhaps, is that one study recruited male humans who were undergoing infertility treatment to take velvet bean. Treatment with velvet bean increased their sperm counts and their sperm motility.
IV. Velvet Bean Can Help With Depression
16.2 million adults have suffered a major depressive episode in their lives. Depression seeps into all aspects of your life and your health and sleep are always impacted. Traditionally, velvet bean was also used to help general nervous disorders and low energy. Research shows that velvet bean exhibits, "...antidepressant action..." Velvet bean is one of nature's richest sources of L-dopa, the direct precursor to dopamine - a feel good neurotransmitter that's responsible for regulating mood, motivation, and movement. In addition to L-dopa, velvet bean also contains the serotonin precursor 5-HTP which is capable of crossing your blood brain barrier to make serotonin.
New research also shows that depression is an inflammatory disease. Oxidative stress (which we talked about above) causes inflammation. So if you're chronically stressed, you're chronically inflamed, and potentially depressed, too. One other pathway by which velvet bean might help with depression is by being anti-inflammatory.
It's no wonder that we love velvet bean over here at Totem Nutrition. Velvet bean is one of the wonderful ingredients found in our signature sleep optimizer, Lucid.