Smart Plants: Power Foods & Natural Nootropics for Optimized Thinking, Focus & Memory by Julie Morris

Smart Plants: Power Foods & Natural Nootropics for Optimized Thinking, Focus & Memory by Julie Morris

Author:Julie Morris
Language: eng
Format: epub

Be Careful with Dopamine Precursors

Mucuna pruriens is a great example of a plant that can effectively increase dopamine levels in your brain (which explains why it is often marketed as a nootropic). This plant, also known as “velvet bean,” contains unusually large quantities of naturally-occurring L-Dopa—the direct precursor of dopamine—with levels as high as 9 percent potency (and even higher in concentrated formulas). Mucuna pruriens also enhances lucid dreaming and sex drive, which makes it easy to see why it’s such a sought-after “superfood.” However, caution is advised.

Thanks to the nutrients they contain, most brain-boosting foods can help optimize how you process dopamine. But these nutrients have many other uses in the body as well. For example, the amino acid tyrosine, which your body can convert into L-Dopa if needed, can also be used for many other functions, such as making thyroid hormones. But foods containing L-Dopa signal just one thing to your brain: Produce more dopamine! Make no mistake: This direct impact on neurotransmitters is essentially self-medication, and it comes with great risk. You really don’t want to go out of your way to disrupt dopamine balance, which can have a dangerous domino effect on your mental microclimate.

So while Mucuna pruriens can be helpful in cases of Parkinson’s, where dopamine is compromised, it doesn’t mean it’s good for someone who is healthy. In that light, it would be wise to steer clear of taking L-Dopa-rich ingredients, like Mucuna pruriens, on a regular basis. When I asked Dr. Andrew Hill (the cognitive neuroscientist and creator of the Peak Brain Institute, with whom I spoke at the beginning of my own brain optimization journey) about “velvet bean,” he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’d be very careful with this one.” Given the long list of potential side effects caused by L-Dopa (or too much dopamine), I’m inclined to agree and would therefore not rely on the foods that contain it as nootropics.

Fortunately, L-Dopa is naturally found in very few edibles, other than tamarind (probably the most common natural source, albeit much less potent than Mucuna pruriens) and a few rarely used herbs, including senna and moth bean. Outside of its medical uses to treat people suffering from diseases or those in a catatonic state, it’s probably not something you want to actively seek out on your own.


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