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Muira Puama

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Background & General Info

Muira puama is an indigenous name that pertains to the genus Ptychopetalum, a flowering member of the Olacaceae family, and often goes by other common names such as “potency wood,” marapuama, and marapama. Comprising only two species, muira puama is a native shrub or small tree of the Amazon rainforest. Ptychopetalum olacoides is distributed in Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname, whereas the other species, Ptychopetalum uncinatum, can be found only in Brazil. Both species are actually valuable in herbal medicine systems of South America, but Ptychopetalum olacoides is regarded as superior and usually preferred due to its higher lupeol content. [1]


Muira puama is a small tree that can reach a height of 5 meters. It bears small, white flowers whose pungent fragrance resembles that of jasmine and has short-petioled leaves that are light green on the upper surface but dark brown on its lower face. Short axillary racemes of four to six flowers each compose the inflorescences. The plant’s roots are described as strongly tough and fibrous. Inside, it appears light brown with thin bark and broad wood, and it has a faint odor and a slightly saline and acrid taste. [2]

History & Traditional Use

Communities in the Brazilian Amazon traditionally utilized muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides) remedies to deal with primary symptoms of anxiety, in particular the lack of motivation and lassitude. [3] The bark and roots of the plant, in particular, are vastly utilized indigenously for many purposes and have been listed in the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia since the 1950s. For instance, the inhabitants of the Brazilian Amazon’s Rio Negro river employ the stems and roots from the young plants as a tonic to remedy neuromuscular disorder, and a decoction is made from the roots that is used in baths and massages for treating paralysis and beriberi. A tea can also be produced from the root and bark, which can be consumed to relieve sexual debility, rheumatism, grippe, and cardiac and gastrointestinal weakness. According to traditional Brazilian herbal medicine, muira puama can help prevent baldness, can serve as a sexual stimulant and powerful aphrodisiac, and can be used as a neuromuscular tonic for weakness and paralysis, dyspepsia, menstrual disturbances, chronic rheumatism (applied topically), sexual impotency, grippe, and central nervous system disorders. [1]

General Herbal Uses

Native communities of the Amazon traditionally used remedies prepared with the roots of Ptychopetalum olacoides to manage a range of age-related conditions. [4] Alcoholic infusions of Ptychopetalum olacoides are also used in folk medicine for patients with age-associated symptoms to ameliorate their cognitive functions and those recovering from stroke. [5] The plant in general is considered a “brain tonic” in the Amazon region, with a nootropic profile according to studies in rodents. [6]

Constituents/Active Components

The volatile oil from the root bark of Ptychopetalum olacoides contains alpha-pinene, alpha-humulene, beta-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, camphene, and camphor, with uncosanoic, tricosanoic, and pentacosanoic acids composing 20% of the total constituents of muira puama. [7] Tang et al. (2008) isolated four new clerodane-type diterpenoids from the methanol extract from the bark of Ptychopetalum olacoides, namely, ptychonolide, 20-O-methylptychonal acetal, ptychonal hemiacetal, and ptychonal. Ptychonal hemiacetal and ptychonal additionally were found to display neurite outgrowth-promoting activities on NGF-mediated PC12 cells at concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 10.0 μM. [8] Other compounds such as coumarin, fatty acid esters of sterols, free fatty acids, and free sterols had also been detected, as well as a small amount of beta-sitosterol in both free and bound forms. [9]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


In a 2008 study screening the antioxidant properties of an ethanol extract from Ptychopetalum olacoides in different in vitro systems, the extract was shown to serve as a scavenger of nitrogen oxides and superoxide produced by the xanthine-xanthine oxidase system and to exhibit high antioxidant capacity using a luminol chemiluminescence obtained from a thermolabile diazocompound. This date indicates that the therapeutic effects associated with the plant can be credited partly to its oxygen free radical scavenging capacity. [10]


Because of its antioxidant and neuroprotective properties, Ptychopetalum olacoides, particularly its extract, has been suggested to counteract harmful effects caused by chronic stress, improve endurance, and confer benefits under stressful conditions as an adaptogen. Based on results from the study of Piato et al. (2010), an extract from Ptychopetalum olacoides in mice, at a concentration of 100 and 300mg/kg, significantly hinders (p < 0.01) the anxiety induced by unpredictable chronic mild stress, as assessed through the light/dark test (time spent in the lit area), and effectively (p < 0.01) prevents hyperglycemia associated with the chronic mild stress. Its intraperitoneal injection at doses of 50–200 mg/kg and oral administration at a dose of 800 mg/kg significantly (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively) also increase the time to hypoxia-induced convulsion. [11]


Findings of Piato et al. (2009) demonstrated the antidepressant property of Ptychopetalum olacoides in mice. As evaluated through forced swimming and tail suspension tests, a standardized Ptychopetalum olacoides ethanol extract at an intraperitoneal injection dose of 15–100 mg/kg and an oral dose of 300 mg/kg exerted its antidepressant activity via a possible mediation of beta-adrenergic and D1 dopamine receptors and produced a significant and dose-related anti-immobility effect. [3]

Neuroprotective And Anti-Alzheimer’s

Ptychopetalum olacoides has valuable compounds possessing neuroprotective property. Siqueira et al. (2004) investigated the neuroprotective activities of an ethanol extract from Ptychopetalum olacoides and used hippocampal slices from Wistar rats exposed to oxygen and glucose deprivation, followed by reoxygenation. Such ischemic condition notably damaged the viability of cells and elevated levels of free radical generation. Incubation of slices not exposed to oxygen and glucose deprivation with the Ptychopetalum olacoides ethanol extract at a concentration of 0.6 μg/mL increased the mitochondrial activity by approximately 40%, without affecting free radicals levels. In contrast, in controls exposed to oxygen and glucose deprivation, the slices incubated with 0.6 μg/mL ethanol extract during and after exposure were characterized with increased cellular viability. Moreover, the Ptychopetalum olacoides ethanol extract at this same concentration put off the increase in free radical content stimulated by oxygen and glucose deprivation. [5] In a mouse Alzheimer model, Figueiró et al. (2011) presented evidence on the functional and neuroprotective effects of 2-week treatment comprising Ptychopetalum olacoides extract against neurotoxicity induced by cerebral microinjection of Aβ peptide in CF1 mice. Oral administration of Ptychopetalum olacoides extract at a dose of 800 mg/kg for 14 days was demonstrated to effectively hinder Aβ-induced cognitive impairment and to lead to parallel reductions in Aβ deposits and astrogliosis, but without changes in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Treated mice were additionally characterized by diminished CA1 hippocampus loss. [6]

Ptychopetalum olacoides ethanol extract has also been demonstrated to not only facilitate memory retrieval in a step down procedure in young and aged mice but also to considerably dose- and time-dependently inhibit the activity of acetylcholinesterase in vitro in the rat frontal cortex, hippocampus, and striatum, which are memory-associated brain areas. In these brain areas, a significant inhibition was also observed in aged (14-month-old) mice following acute administration of the extract at an intraperitoneal dose of 100 mg/kg. [12]

Memory Enhancer

The study of da Silva wt al. (2014) confirmed the efficacy of an ethanol extract obtained from Ptychopetalum olacoides to facilitate memory retrieval, consistent with the plant’s traditional use. A single intraperitoneally administered ethanol extract of Ptychopetalum olacoides at doses of 50 and 100mg/kg enhanced memory retrieval in step-down inhibitory avoidance in comparison with control. This benefit occurred in the absence of interference with acquisition or consolidation in adult 2.5-month-old mice. The ethanol extract given orally at doses of 800 and 1000 mg/kg had comparable results with respect to control. Moreover, memory amelioration was also observed (P [4]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

Muira puama is categorized as a class 1 herb according to the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook and thus can be safely consumed and used when applied appropriately. [13] A 2005 study on catuama, a herbal medicinal extract containing Paullinia cupana, Trichilia catigua, Ptychopetalum olacoides, and Zingiber officinale (ginger) used in Brazil as a body stimulant, energetic, tonic, and aphrodisiac, reported no severe adverse reactions or hematological and biochemical changes that can be associated with chronic administration of 25 mL of catuama twice daily for 28 days on healthy human volunteers of both sexes. [14]


[1] "Tropical Plant Database," Raintree Nutrition Incorporated, 1996.

[2] H. Youngken, "Observations on muira-puama," Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, vol. 10, no. 9, p. 690–692, 1921.

[3] A. Piato, L. Rizon, B. Martins, D. Nunes and E. Elisabetsky, "Antidepressant profile of Ptychopetalum olacoides Bentham (Marapuama) in mice," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 23, no. 4, p. 519–524, 2009.

[4] A. da Silva, A. Piato, S. Bardini, C. Netto, D. Nunes and E. Elisabetsky, "Memory retrieval improvement by Ptychopetalum olacoides in young and aging mice," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 95, no. 2–3, p. 199–203, 2004.

[5] I. Siqueira, H. Cimarosti, C. Fochesatto, D. Nunes, C. Salbego, E. Elisabetsky and C. Netto, "Neuroprotective effects of Ptychopetalum olacoides Bentham (Olacaceae) on oxygen and glucose deprivation induced damage in rat hippocampal slices," Life Sciences, vol. 75, no. 15, p. 1897–1906, 2004.

[6] M. Figueiró, J. Ilha, V. Linck, A. Herrmann, et al., "The Amazonian herbal Marapuama attenuates cognitive impairment and neuroglial degeneration in a mouse Alzheimer model," Phytomedicine, vol. 18, no. 4, p. 327–333, 2011.

[7] E. Pankow and H. Auterhoff, "Contents of Muira puama. 2," Arch Pharm Ber Dtsch Pharm Ges, vol. 302, no. 3, p. 209–212, 1969.

[8] W. Tang, H. Hioki, K. Harada, M. Kubo and Y. Fukuyama, "Clerodane diterpenoids with NGF-potentiating activity from Ptychopetalum olacoides," Journal of Natural Products, vol. 71, no. 10, p. 1760–1763, 2008.

[9] H. Auterhoff and B. Momberger, "Lipophilic constituent of Muira puama," Arch Pharm Ber Dtsch Pharm Ges, vol. 304, no. 3, p. 223–228, 1971.

[10] I. Siqueira, C. Cordova, et al., "Antioxidant action of an ethanol extract of Ptychopetalum olacoides," Pharmaceutical Biology, vol. 40, no. 5, p. 374–379, 2002.

[11] A. Piato, B. Detanico, V. Linck, A. Herrmann, D. Nunes and E. Elisabetsky, "Anti-stress effects of the "tonic"Ptychopetalum olacoides (Marapuama) in mice," Phytomedicine, vol. 17, no. 3–4, p. 248–253, 2010.

[12] I. Siqueira, et al., "Ptychopetalum olacoides, a traditional Amazonian "nerve tonic", possesses anticholinesterase activity," Pharmacology Biochemistry & Behavior, vol. 75, no. 3, p. 645–650, 2003.

[13] M. McGuffin, C. Hobbs, R. Upton and A. Goldberg, American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, Florida: CRC Press, 1997.

[14] C. Oliveira, M. Moraes, M. Moraes, F. Bezerra, E. Abib and G. De Nucci, "Clinical toxicology study of an herbal medicinal extract of Paullinia cupana, Trichilia catigua, Ptychopetalum olacoides and Zingiber officinale (Catuama) in healthy volunteers," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 19, no. 1, p. 54–57, 2005.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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