Since the 1960s, levodopa is the prime treatment choice for Parkinson’s disease. But the benefits of levodopa go much beyond the treatment of just one disease. Proper dosages of L-Dopa, can improve mental alertness, motivation, and even sleep. There have been reports of L-dopa relieving oxidative stress, depression and anxiety.
Users reveal that levodopa has anti-aging properties and can boost libido. It provides pain relief and helps with weight loss. Considering its positive effects on cognitive function in healthy people, levodopa can be used as a ‘smart drug’.
Levodopa is now gaining popularity as a nootropic that improves mood and focus. It is often used along with other nootropics, as part of nootropic stacking, for relieving anxiety, and for boosting concentration.
What is Levodopa?
Levodopa, called L-Dopa or L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine, is an amino acid which plays a powerful role in the human body. It is biosynthesized in our bodies from the amino acid L-tyrosine. Dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) are brain chemicals, and collectively, they are called catecholamines.
L-DOPA is actually the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine which is then synthesized into the other catecholamines. Dopamine also plays the role of a hormone and it induces pleasure or reward responses inside our brain. So basically, levodopa increases the levels of dopamine and other catecholamines in the brain.
Since Parkinson’s disease is known to affect the brain cells that produce dopamine, levodopa is being used effectively to treat Parkinson’s symptoms. We have to supplement with L-DOPA instead of dopamine, as dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. Once levodopa enters the brain, it is converted to dopamine with help of the enzyme DOPA decarboxylase, thus increasing the inner-brain dopamine levels.
Natural Sources of Levodopa
Though L-Dopa is synthesized in numerous plants and animals, it is naturally found and can be extracted from the seeds of the plant Mucuna Pruriens. Also known as Velvet bean or Cowhage/cowage, Mucuna pruriens is a legume plant that grows mostly in tropical climates.
Other names for Mucuna Pruriens include cowitch, lacuna bean, Lyon bean, Bengal velvet bean, Florida velvet bean, Mauritius velvet bean, and Yokohama velvet bean. Synthetic Levodopa, which is synthesized artificially in laboratories, is also available in the market.
Mechanism of Action
Since dopamine cannot cross the blood brain barrier, it is essential that the conversion of L-Dopa to dopamine occurs only after it crosses this barrier. L-Dopa is usually combined with carbidopa to prevent this conversion from taking place outside the brain.
Since carbidopa is also unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, the L-DOPA gets converted into dopamine once it crosses the barrier. This increases dopamine levels in the brain and is the key to fighting against various brain diseases, especially Parkinson’s. Vitamin B6, in the form of pyridoxine, is believed to aid the successful conversion of Levodopa to dopamine.
10 Amazing Benefits of Levodopa
Let’s now take a detailed look into the various seemingly miraculous benefits of levodopa to see which of these are really true, scientifically proven by various studies from around the world. Does L-Dopa really improve cognition, alertness, or concentration? Can it boost your libido and improve your sleep? Here we provide you with only the scientifically backed benefits of Mucuna Pruriens or Levodopa:
Brain Boosting Effects of L-Dopa
Adverse health conditions result when catecholamine levels fall below required levels. L-DOPA is a must for the production of catecholamines such as dopamine and adrenaline, which in turn, have vital roles in the brain’s arousal systems. Hence, levodopa can affect mood, energy and concentration, making it evident that supplementation with levodopa can boost brain activities. Levodopa has been proven to have positive effects on depression, anxiety and stress.
L-Dopa is not just a Parkinson’s medication, it is a nootropic or smart drug that has the ability to improve cognition in healthy individuals as well. In a 2004 German study, 40 healthy human subjects were given 100 mg levodopa or a placebo daily for 5 days. On each day, 90 minutes after the dose, these individuals were trained on an artificial vocabulary using a high-frequency repetitive approach. The researchers noted that:
“Levodopa significantly enhanced the speed, overall success, and long-term retention of novel word learning in a dose-dependent manner.”
L-Dopa Improves Cognitive Function and Memory
A 2006 British study investigated the effect of levodopa on cognitive function in Parkinson’s disease found that the L-dopa improved both motor skills and cognitive function. Another Italian study noted that L-Dopa improved cognitive deficits and synaptic activity in the hippocampus. This region of the brain is critical for learning and memory.
In a study that used 18 healthy human subjects, 150 mg doses of L-Dopa was found to improve working memory, as well as, long-term memory.
A 2015 Australian study investigated the effect of increased synaptic dopamine levels on new-word learning ability in healthy individuals. Participants completed There were 5 learning sessions within a week and 100 mg levodopa or a placebo was administered at each session. The researchers note that:
“The levodopa group showed superior recall accuracy for new words over five learning sessions compared with the placebo group and better recognition accuracy at a 1-month follow-up for words learned with a semantic description.”
L-DOPA Relieves Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a movement disorder that causes a person to lose control over certain body functions. It is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects the ability to move, and is caused by degeneration of nerve cells in the substantia nigra, the part of the brain which controls movement. These nerve cells die or become impaired, thus losing their ability to produce dopamine. The primary cause of the Parkinson’s disease is believed to be this dramatic reduction of dopamine and dopamine-responsive neurons in the brain.
Motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include slowness, rigidity, tremors, a shuffling gait and postural instability. Cognitive and psychiatric problems are common in these patients. Various studies have proven that L-DOPA helps relieve PD symptoms since it increases dopamine levels in the brain.
A study conducted on 176 Parkinson’s patients found that L-Dopa increases life expectancy during the initial years of therapy (for about 6 years) though protective effect declines over the years, as the disease progresses.
Motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as slowness of movement, rigidity, and tremor show significant improvement on treatment with levodopa. But levodopa doesn’t seem to have much effect on the non motor symptoms though. It is important to start levodopa therapy early on, before extensive degeneration of dopamine neurons occur, as L-Dopa is particularly effective as an early treatment.
A 2015 study from the Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wenzhou Medical University, China investigated the long-term use of L-dopa alone vs L-dopa-sparing therapy, as initial treatment, in early PD. They found that patients on a levodopa-sparing therapy were three times as likely to discontinue treatment prematurely than L-dopa treatment patients, due to adverse side effects. They concluded that, though there was a greater incidence of involuntary movements, L-Dopa alone is the most effective medication for treating the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s patients.
Dopamine increases Noradrenaline levels in the Brain
Dopamine increases the noradrenaline levels in the brain, and this, in turn, alleviates depression and sleep impairment, which are both common in Parkinson’s. But there are negative effects to continuous and long term usage of L-Dopa, so it may be necessary for PD patients to take L-Dopa along with other drugs that help deal with these side effects.
Despite the downside, L-Dopa remains the gold standard Parkinson’s disease therapy and a 2005 Italian study reveals why. According to the researchers from Clinica Neurologica Università di Roma Tor Vergata and IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Italy
“Dopamine produced from L-dopa has a larger number of actions compared with dopamine receptor agonists. In addition to stimulating D1- and D2-like dopamine receptors, dopamine might also activate adrenoceptors, novel dopamine sites, the dopamine transporter and trace amine receptors, all of which might contribute to the superior effect of L-dopa in Parkinson’s disease.”
Libido Boosting Effects of L-Dopa
How can levodopa affect libido? Can it help improve your sexual life? In Ayurvedic treatments, Mucuna pruriens, the natural source of levodopa, is used for treating infertility in men. In a 2009 study from the C.S.M. Medical University, Lucknow, India, the researchers studied the action mechanism of Mucuna pruriens for treating male infertility. 75 men undergoing infertility screening were treated using Mucuna pruriens and this significantly improved their T, LH, dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline levels while reducing FSH and PRL. After undergoing treatment, their sperm count and motility recovered significantly.
Researchers from Netherlands studied the effect of levodopa on sexual response in men and women. They investigated the effect of 100 mg of levodopa and the sexual responses were measured using Achilles tendon reflex modulation. Levodopa was found to increase the T reflex magnitude in response to sexual stimulation only in the males, but not the females. They concluded that levodopa (dopamine) plays a vital role in the energetic aspects of appetitive sexual behavior in men.
The Sapporo Medical University School of Medicine, Japan studied the effects of levodopa on male erectile function. Of their 21 subjects, 12 of them were 50 years old or older while the remaining 9 were younger than 50 years of age. With L-dopa treatment, the above 50 group displayed significant increases in two nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) parameters, NPT frequency and total tumescence time. For the younger group, the maximum penile circumference increase showed notable increment with therapy using levodopa.
In a 2014 study, conducted by researchers from the University of Florida, USA, using thirty two male Parkinson’s patients, it was found that dopaminergic therapy using levodopa and a dopamine agonist improved both motor scores and testosterone levels.
Another Japanese study using male rats found that repeated oral administration of L-DOPA increased serum testosterone levels in the test subjects. Testosterone levels tend to decrease in Parkinson’s patients over time as their disease progresses. The hormone, Prolactin is known to lower the levels of luteinizing hormone and testosterone. Dopamine has the ability to inhibit prolactin and hence prevent this decrease in testosterone levels.
Levodopa Increases Motivation
L-Dopa has a specific mechanism for increasing motivation. A 2015 study from Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, USA, investigated the connection of the dopaminergic system with reward and punishment processing in healthy human subjects. The researchers used two groups of participants who were administered levodopa or a placebo. The participants were scanned during alternating reward and punishment anticipation blocks. The study reported that:
“Dopamine contributes to punishment processing and suggest that the novelty-seeking trait is a measure of susceptibility to drug effects on motivation.”
In other words, L-DOPA has the ability to improve motivation by raising the brain activation related to punishment processing. A French study using 23 PD patients found that levodopa improved motivational deficits in those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Levodopa Relieves Anxiety and Depression
It is evident by now that dopamine is required for mental functions and it strongly influences emotions and moods. Dopamine has the ability to calm the nervous system as it regulates various hormones in the brain.
A 2014 Indian study evaluated the anxiolytic activity of Mucuna pruriens using Wistar albino rats. 50,500,750 mg/kg/day of Mucuna pruriens was administered orally for 14 days. The researchers used three different experimental models and they observed significant anti-anxiety effect in each of these models.
Another 2014 study investigated the anti-depressant profile and dopaminergic modulating action of Mucuna pruriens. They found that M. pruriens has the potential to treat stress and depression.
L-Dopa Improves Mental Alertness
A study conducted by the Department of Neurology, Francis Scott Key Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland, compared other dopaminergic medications for Parkinson’s disease such as propoxyphene with levodopa and they found that L-DOPA induced better sleep and alertness in their test subjects.
A 2006 British study investigated the acute and long-term effects of L-dopa on aspects of attention and cognition in 60 test subjects with Parkinson’s disease and they found that L-DOPA improved alertness in all subjects, with and without dementia.
Another 2012 study, from the Emory University School of Medicine, Georgia, USA, using 63 patients, found that levodopa increased daytime alertness in PD patients.
L-Dopa Can Improve Sleep
Children with ADHD are often found to have difficulty in falling asleep. A 2013 Italian study, observed the effect of levodopa on 35 children with ADHD. Treatment with levodopa helped improve their sleep, it reduced sleep disturbances as well as the time it took to fall asleep.
A 2014 French study investigated whether L-dopa treatment alleviates sleep disorders. The researchers conducted experiments on macaques (monkeys) and they found that L-Dopa caused significant, improvement in all sleep parameters, including daytime sleep episodes, sleep fragmentation and night time sleep efficiency.
In a US study that observed 6 PD patients with periodic limb movements, increasing their dosage of levodopa over a two week period improved their sleep, especially in the first few hours.
Levodopa has Pain Relieving Properties
A study conducted in 2013 by the Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, used 14 test subjects with Parkinson’s, suffering from severe pain, and the researchers observed that dopaminergic treatment using L-Dopa reduced pain intensity.
L-DOPA decreased pain sensitivity to a hot plate, in sleep-deprived rats, in a 2011 study from the Department of Pharmacology and Psychobiology, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The rats had shown decreased numbers of dopaminergic neurons in their periaqueductal gray matter, which is a crucial brain area responsible for pain control. So increasing brain levels of dopamine using L-Dopa helped reduce the pain.
A 2004 Japanese study investigated the antinociceptive mechanism of L-DOPA. The researchers used mice for their experiments and observed that
“L-DOPA relieves pain after conversion to dopamine, with the dopamine sedating pain transmission by way of the dopamine D2 receptor.”
Side effects of L-Dopa
As proven by various studies and user experience, Levodopa is generally safe and well tolerated by Parkinson’s patients as well as healthy individuals. But many side effects have been reported by users, especially when the drug is consumed for very long periods.
Dyskinesia, involuntary and abnormal muscle movements, is a common problem faced by long term treatment with L-Dopa. Agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, confusion, hypotension or low blood pressure, insomnia, vivid dreams and hair loss are some of the other relevant side effects reported by users.
Recommended Dosage of Levodopa
250 mg of levodopa, 2 to 4 times a day, is usually recommended as the oral dosage of levodopa, along with carbidopa, in Parkinson’s disease. This dosage can be increased to a maximum of 2000 mg per day.
According to a British study, “Low-dose L-dopa therapy (up to 400 mg/day), remains the most effective initial treatment of choice for the majority of patients.”
Though the dosage of levodopa varies from person to person, based on requirements, it takes 3 to 4 months of usage to establish a stable regimen. The dosage will need to be monitored and adjusted for long term use, especially in PD patients, as the effectiveness of the drug may reduce with prolonged usage.
Combining levodopa with certain other medications can help minimize undesirable side effects and improve the effectiveness of the medicine. Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors are drugs that inhibit dopamine breakdowns and when administered in combination with L-Dopa, they help stabilize the levels of dopamine.
Though levodopa is most popular as an effective Parkinson’s medication, healthy people can also benefit from its nootropic effects. Mucuna pruriens, a natural herbal supplement, is a great source of L-Dopa. Also called the Dopa bean, Mucuna pruriens, has been used for centuries in traditional healing practices such as Ayurveda.
As a brain chemical that affects emotions, dopamine plays a vital role in motivation, pleasure and mood. Lowered levels of dopamine in your brain can leave you feeling lethargic, unfocused and depressed. L-Dopa has been found to lower stress, improve motivation and focus, elevate mood and boost sex drive. Levodopa has adaptogenic capabilities and can help prevent stress by regulating the hormones that deal with stress.
If you are looking for a nootropic or ‘smart drug’ to improve your cognitive capabilities, memory and focus, give L-dopa a try. It is important to cycle the supplement and take it for only few days in a week to avoid becoming tolerant or dependent on it.
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist who writes health and wellness articles online. The holder of two graduate degrees, she combines her passion for advertising with her knowledge of the health industry to create custom content for healthcare products. She is the founder and editor of the health website fitnesshacks.org. Find out more about her from her LinkedIn profile or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.