For millions of Britons, pain is an everyday reality because of arthritis. Although modern medicine has given us numerous painkillers, many of them are either ineffective in relieving arthritis pain or trigger side effects that make continued use dangerous. But it seems that traditional Chinese medicine may hold the key to a pain relief solution that does the job without building tolerance or causing addiction. Hopes are pinned on a herbal plant called Corydalis yanhusuo, whose roots contain a compound that may become the basis of a new drug.
The compound is called dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) and has been identified for the first time as part of a Sino-American project. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have tested DHCB on rodents, establishing that it reduces both inflammatory and neuropathic pain. The results of their study have been published in the latest issue of Current Biology.
Unlike most existing painkillers, DHCB is an analgesic that is non-addictive and acute pain sufferers would not have to worry about building tolerance. However, the study report notes that the compound will have to be tested further for toxicity.
Corydalis is a plant of the poppy family and is found in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. People in these regions have for centuries relied on its root extracts to treat menstrual cramps and chest and stomach pains. The identification of DHCB and the animal tests of the compound occurred as part of a project launched by US and Chinese researchers. The “herbalome” initiative aims to study and catalogue all plant compounds used in traditional Chinese medicine. So far, the collaborative effort has involved the study of ten analgesics and almost 500 compounds have been tested to determine their pain-relief abilities.