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Modern Science Confirms Ancient Chinese Remedy Provides Effective Non-Addictive Pain Relief

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With innovations appearing in our lives seemingly every day it seems that new breakthroughs in science are the only ones we trust. New is always considered better. With this prevalent thinking those who espouse the wisdom of the ancients are ignored and perhaps even ridiculed – right up until the point when modern science backs them up. Sometimes looking to ancient knowledge as a source and then checking with modern science can yield useful results. More than that, China has realized that such research can give it access to a very large international pharmaceutical market.

Reaffirming an Ancient Analgesic

A case illustrating this is the 2014 study published in the journal of Current Biology, which provided evidence supporting the effectiveness of at least one ancient Chinese herbal remedy whose pain relieving properties had been exploited for millennia. For over 7,000 years, various extracts of natural products, mostly plants, have served as analgesics. The remedy considered here is derived from the Corydalis yanhusuo, a flowering herbal plant that grows in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. Its pain killing properties were confirmed as effective for a number of different pain types. Positive results like these demonstrate that rather than always working on the development of new, synthetic drugs, it is still useful to look at existing medicines and develop them for modern use.

It was during this joint study between the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China and the University of California that the proof was found.  At the time, 500 different compounds were tested for their ability to relieve pain, as part of the ‘herbalome’ project, which aimed to catalogue all the chemical components in plants that have healing properties.

The Corydalis yanhusuo plant whose root is used in traditional Chinese medicine pain relief

The Corydalis yanhusuo plant whose root is used in traditional Chinese medicine pain relief (Image: innerpath)

An Alternative Poppy

The Corydalis yanhusuo plant is a member of the poppy family, and has been used as pain reliever for most of Chinese history. In contrast to opium, a more well-known analgesic, the medicine has the huge benefit of being non-addictive, working via a compound that offers relief for acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain.  It was found to be particularly effective on injury-induced neuropathic pain, which currently has no adequate treatment.

The compound dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) is produced when the ground up roots of the plant are boiled in vinegar. This acts in a similar way to morphine, but does not work through the morphine receptor in the human body, instead acting on the other receptors that bind dopamine.

"Today the pharmaceutical industry struggles to find new drugs. Yet for centuries people have used herbal remedies to address myriad health conditions, including pain,” said Neuropharmacologist Oliver Civelli.  “Our objective was to identify compounds in these herbal remedies that may help us discover new ways to treat health problems”.

Opium poppies such as this one provide ingredients for the class of analgesics called opiates

Opium poppies such as this one provide ingredients for the class of analgesics called opiates ( Public Domain )

Traditional Belief About Corydalis

The explanation for the effectiveness of Corydalis by traditional Chinese medicine is that the plant somehow enhances the movement of ‘qi’ through the body. It is believed that qi (also chi or ch’i) is an active element forming part of any living thing and also connects things.  Qi is frequently translated to mean ‘life force’ and is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine. Problems with Chi can be responsible for causing medical problems but it can also be harnessed in order to heal.  Concepts similar to qi can be found in many cultures, for example, prana in the Hindu religion, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, ruah in Hebrew culture, and vital energy in Western philosophy.

Philosophical conceptions of qi can be found in the earliest records of Chinese philosophy (5th century BC) and in the Vedas of ancient India (circa 1500-1000BC). Historically, it is the ‘Huangdi Neijing’ (‘The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine’), written in the 2nd century BC that is credited with first establishing the pathways through which qi circulates in the human body.

Modern Potential

Whether the modern description of the way Corydalis yanhusuo functions suits your thinking or whether you are more convinced by the ancient account, ultimately the good news for pain sufferers is that both disciplines are now in agreement. The compound derived will ease your pain and you will not become physically dependent on it.


Hi April, Do you have any links to this research as I would love to investigate it further? :)


Thank you April. Much appreciated!


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