A new study published in the journal of Current Biology has provided evidence to support the efficacy of an ancient Chinese herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in the treatment of pain. The remedy comes from Corydalis yanhusuo, a flowering herbal plant that grows in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. The results show the importance of turning to ancient knowledge for solutions rather than focusing on the creation of synthetic drugs. The findings were made through a collaborative study between the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China and the University of California as part of the ‘herbalome’ project, which is cataloguing all the chemical components in plants that have healing properties. So far almost 500 different compounds have been tested for their ability to relieve pain. The Corydalis yanhusuo plant is a member of the poppy family, and has been used as pain reliever for most of Chinese history, but unlike opium, the medicine is a non-addictive analgesic that works via a compound that can relieve acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain. The study was found to be especially effective on injury-induced neuropathic pain, which currently has no adequate treatment. When the roots of the plant are dug up, ground, and then boiled in hot vinegar, they produce dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), which acts like morphine, but does not work through the morphine receptor in the human body. Instead it acts 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”. In traditional Chinese medicine, Corydalis is believed to reduce pain by invigorating the blood and facilitating the movement of ‘qi’ throughout the body. Qi is frequently translated to mean ‘life force’ and is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that qi (also chi or ch’i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing and linking everything together). 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.
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