A plant used by the Chinese for centuries in a traditional concoction to relieve pain has been found to contain a strong natural analgesic.
The compound works against the three types of pain including acute, inflammatory and neuropathic or chronic pain.
The discovery of the painkilling chemical dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) was made as part of the Herbalome project, an effort to catalogue all of the chemical components of traditional Chinese medicines.
“Our study reports the discovery of a new natural product that can relieve pain,” says Olivier Civelli of the University of California, Irvine.
The Corydalis plants that were the focus of the new study grow mainly in central eastern China, where underground tubers are harvested, ground, and boiled in hot vinegar. The concoctions are often prescribed to treat pain, including headaches and back pain.
The researchers went looking for compounds in Corydalis that appeared likely to act in a manner similar to morphine.
The new compound shows special promise for those who suffer with persistent, low-level chronic pain. DHCB doesn’t appear to lose effectiveness with time in the way that traditional opiate drugs do.
“We have good pain medications for acute pain: codeine or morphine, for example,” Civelli says.
“We have pain medication for inflammatory pain, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. We do not have good medications for chronic pain. DHCB may not be able to relieve strong chronic pain, but may be used for low-level chronic pain.”
Although Corydalis preparations of various types can already be purchased online, Civelli and Liang say DHCB isn’t ready for prime time just yet.
Further testing for toxicity is needed before doctors should consider prescribing it to patients.
The findings were published in an article in the journal Current Biology, ‘A Novel Analgesic Isolated from a Traditional Chinese Medicine’.