Today’s Solutions: November 29, 2021

A small, flowering plant from China offers exciting news for the 50 million Americans who suffer from neuropathic pain, for which there is currently no reliable treatment. Roots of Corydalis yanhusuo have been used traditionally to relieve menstrual cramps, stomach and chest pain and other complaints.

A joint team from the University of California, Irvine, and the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, have been working to establish an “herbalome” library of chemicals found in traditional Chinese herbs that have biological effects. They isolated the active chemical in Corydalis, called dehydrocorybulbine or DHCB, and set about testing it in mice. They found that DHCB was able to relieve pain caused by inflammation, or the migration of immune cells to an area of tissue damage commonly associated with swelling and redness, as well as neuropathic pain.

Neuropathic pain is a complex condition caused by damage directly to nerve cells. It can be caused by conditions including limb amputation (called “phantom limb pain”), diabetes, back problems, chemotherapy, and many others—or even appear to have no obvious cause. Some people with neuropathic pain don’t respond to even the strongest painkillers, while others must take high doses of addictive drugs like morphine to manage the pain. DHCB offers a promising alternative based on its long history of safe use in traditional preparations. Before DHCB is can be made available commercially, it must pass a number of hurdles to prove its safety and establish an optimal dosage. However, people with pain don’t necessarily have to wait to try its effects — the Corydalis yanhusuo root and extracts thereof are already available from health food stores and online suppliers, and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine can help establish a treatment strategy.

From What Doctors Don’t Tell You via Current Biology, 2014; doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.039.

Photo: Peter Stevens/Flickr

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