Ancient Chinese Herb May Yield Potent New Painkiller
An ancient Chinese herbal remedy for heart disease is suddenly in the spotlight in the West. The flowering plant, Corydalis yanhusuo, evidently contains a compound, or compounds, that are potent analgesics. This pain relieving effect is well known in Asia, but Western scientists have finally realized this herb could yield new nonaddictive treatments for acute inflammatory pain and nerve pain. The latter is especially exciting, because there are presently no drugs available to address this type of neuropathic pain, which is linked to nerve damage.
Working with Chinese researchers, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have identified a particular compound extracted from the root of the plant. Known as dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), this chemical relieves inflammatory pain, much like current analgesic drugs, but it also reduces neuropathic pain; a severe and often intractable form of pain that’s related to nerve damage. This type of pain is common in conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and advanced type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
To find this promising “new” compound, researchers screened ten traditional herbs, examining more than 500 candidate compounds. Only DHCB yielded the safe, pain-relieving effects they sought. Even better, it does not appear to cause tolerance, like other potent pain-relieving drugs, such as morphine. “We’re excited that this one shows promise as an effective pharmaceutical,” said investigator Olivier Civelli in a statement released by UC Irvine. “It also shows a different way to understand the pain mechanism.”
And so, once again, we see that nature provides remarkable tools to sustain wellness and promote healing.
Yan Zhang, Chaoran Wang, Lien Wang, Gregory Scott Parks, Xiuli Zhang, Zhimou Guo, Yanxiong Ke, Kang-Wu Li, Mi Kyeong Kim, Benjamin Vo, Emiliana Borrelli, Guangbo Ge, Ling Yang, Zhiwei Wang, M. Julia Garcia-Fuster, Z. David Luo, Xinmiao Liang, Olivier Civelli. A Novel Analgesic Isolated from a Traditional Chinese Medicine. Current Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.039