December 19, 2022

Does Corydalis Really Work for Pain

Like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm where “some animals are more equal than others,” not all plants are created equal. Some have medicinal properties, while others don’t. Some are toxic in the tiniest quantities, while others are nutritious staple foods. Similarly, some are adaptogenic (helping your body deal with fatigue, anxiety, and stress) while others are not.

For centuries, plants have helped people treat wide-ranging illnesses and health conditions. From treating insomnia to pain, anxiety, and even inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), plants have been and remain a critical component of our health and wellness.

So, it is heartwarming to know that there are thousands of herbs with health-impacting properties. Learning about these plants and how they can impact your health is key to enjoying such benefits.

In this article, we shine the spotlight on a well-known little herb called corydalis. It has a long history of medicinal use, with early records depicting its use in traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Its extracts have been used as an analgesic for centuries, with the first documented use appearing between 618 and 907 AD.

But what is corydalis, and does it really work for pain?

Key takeaways 

  • Corydalis belongs to the Papaveraceae family, commonly known as poppies.
  • The Chinese variety (Corydalis Yan Hu Suo) is a popular ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • It’s well-known for its painkilling effects, but its therapeutic properties have found use in managing other ailments and health conditions.

What Is Corydalis 

Corydalis is a perennial herbaceous plant in the Papaveraceae family widely distributed in East Asia. It’s a family of over 400 varieties of corydalis, so we shall specifically focus on the Chinese variant, scientifically called Corydalis yan hu suo.

Native to the mountainous regions of Zhejiang, Anhui, and Jiangxi, corydalis is essentially a shrub with colored red or purple flowers that bestride its thin stems. It typically flowers in April and fruits between May and June.

Its tuberous rhizome is the store for its medicinal compounds, estimated to number over 160. These comprise volatile oils, organic acids, alkaloids, amino acids, sugars, and alcohols. While all these compounds undoubtedly play a role in the plant’s medicinal activity, the alkaloids are considered the most important bioactive constituents.

Over 80 alkaloids have been identified and isolated from corydalis extract, including quaternary alkaloids and tertiary amines. Out of the over 80 alkaloids, a particular alkaloid known as dehydrocorydaline (DHC) is the most predominant. 

Recent studies indicate that DHC may be responsible for corydalis’s pain-relieving effects, besides its anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties. For example, one study that examined this alkaloid’s effect on bone cancer pain found it capable of reducing the pain from said bone cancer.

Another chemical compound in corydalis that might also explain its painkilling effect is levo-tetrahydropalmatine (L-THP). 

A 2021 study showed that L-THP has analgesic effects that may be beneficial in treating liver damage and heart disease. Further, it also has the potential to reduce addiction to cocaine and opiates.

In traditional Chinese Medicine, L-THP is used to treat mild to moderate pain. A study investigating its effects on chronic pain found that it has an antihyperalgesic impact on inflammatory and neuropathic pain. It does this by antagonizing D1 and D2 dopamine receptors.

Further, another compound that is mentioned as contributing to corydalis’s analgesic property is dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB). A study published in the Current Biology journal showed that DHCB exhibits antinociceptive activity in mice at non-sedative doses. It can also suppress responses to inflammatory-derived, chemically-induced, and injury-related pain.

The list of compounds in corydalis that are thought to be analgesic is so long that we cannot discuss them all here. But here is a highlight:

  • Berberine – shown to induce visceral pain analgesia
  • Palmatine – can potentially reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
  • Oxyacanthine – known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. However, not much is known about how it alleviates pain.
  • Magnoflorine – this quartenary alkaloid displays anti-inflammatory activity at high doses.
  • Columbamine – its pain relief property is linked to its involvement in dopamine metabolism.
  • Corydaline and corydine – these alkaloids produce pain-relieving effects via the opioid receptor-dependent mechanism.

Though modern pharmacological studies continue to identify the health benefits of corydalis, it’s noteworthy that most have been conducted on non-human test subjects. However, this herb’s medical use is historical, so it may likely help with other health issues besides pain.

Potential Benefits of Corydalis 

So considering the many good things about it, here are the potential benefits of corydalis.

Natural pain reliever 

While corydalis has numerous potential benefits, none has received more scientific attention than its analgesic property. The earliest known studies on the painkilling effects of this herb go back to the early 1920s.

To date, so much about corydalis’s analgesic effects has been uncovered that scientists are now more concerned with ‘how’ it achieves pain relief.

It appears corydalis induces pain relief by antagonizing D2 dopamine receptors. In so doing, it can lessen inflammatory, acute, and neuropathic pain. 

Some studies also suggest that this traditional Chinese herb promotes the polarization of microglia (immune cells in the central nervous system) in the spinal cord. In the study examining the effect of DHC in managing bone cancer pain, the researchers found that it triggered the upregulation of the M2 microglia phenotype, thus improving bone cancer pain.

Each corydalis compound attenuates pain differently. For example, berberine exerts its analgesic effect by activating opioid and morphine receptors. There are also indications that this compound reduces neuropathic pain via a TRPV1-dependent mechanism

If we were to look at how each ingredient in corydalis reduces pain, we’d probably need more space. But it’s certainly clear that corydalis can help reduce pain.

May reduce gut discomfort 

Besides its analgesic effects, research also shows that corydalis may help alleviate gut discomfort due to peptic ulcers. It may also improve liver function thanks to the ingredient THP.

In multi-herbal formulations, corydalis may relieve stomach inflammation and pain. The exact science is unclear, but its anti-inflammatory properties may be responsible.

The only issue is that it’s not easy to determine which ingredient eases gut discomfort in such formulations. Generally, corydalis is used together with other herbals to enhance the beneficial effects while reducing the adverse side effects.

May promote relaxation 

This Chinese herb may also enable you to relax better. A review of studies on the anxiolytic effects of corydalis showed that it blocks dopamine receptor sites in the brain. This can cause sedation.

Also, some ingredients in corydalis have been shown to calm the central nervous system, providing relaxation and pain relief. A study showed that 100-200 mg daily of corydalis extract containing DHP enabled people with insomnia to fall asleep more easily.

It is also believed to lower blood pressure and relax muscle spasms in the small intestines. This may have a double effect of promoting relaxation as well as alleviating gut discomfort.

May promote heart health 

Corydalis may also help with cardiovascular diseases. One of the bioactive compounds in corydalis–THP–is thought to have an anti-arrhythmic effect on the heart and may improve heart function.

In animal studies, it has been shown that corydalis may help prevent heart failure. There are many ways it can do this. For example, a 2007 study showed that rats treated with corydalis yanhusuo had reduced levels of cardiac hypertrophy – a condition characterized by thickening heart muscles that make it harder for the heart to pump blood.

In yet another study, corydalis extract was shown to reduce infarct size and apoptosis in rats with myocardial ischemia. 

Okay, a few big words here, but here’s what they mean. An infarct/infarction refers to tissue death caused by inadequate blood flow to an affected area. This can be due to mechanical compression, rupture, or artery blockage.

Myocardial ischemia is a condition caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. This prevents heart muscles from getting enough oxygen, thereby affecting their ability to pump blood. 

Apoptosis is “programmed cell death” – the body’s way of getting rid of abnormal and/or unwanted cells.

Corydalis uses in traditional Chinese Medicine

Corydalis is widely used in TCM medicines to treat wide-ranging health conditions. While pain management may be the most common, here are other ailments this herb has been used to treat.

Menstrual cramps 

Menstrual cramps are normal and affect 45-95% of adolescent girls. However, it can cause unimaginable pain and discomfort, especially if an underlying condition exists. 

In traditional Chinese Medicine, corydalis root extracts are used to relieve period pain. The extract is also used to regulate Qi and invigorate blood.

TCM herbalists also use corydalis to treat menstruation migraine and headaches.

Hernia soreness 

A hernia is a protrusion or swelling caused when a body organ or part presses against a weakened section of the muscles that protect it. It mostly occurs in the abdomen but can also affect other areas.

The discomfort typically worsens when you engage in activities that increase pressure in the affected area, e.g., lifting heavy weights or running.

TCM practitioners use corydalis to manage the pain and inflammation during a hernia.

Traumatic injuries and nerve damage 

When we talk about nerve damage, the foremost question that comes to people’s minds is, ‘What causes nerve damage?’ Interestingly, the most common cause is diabetes. Others include sudden trauma, Lyme disease, aging, autoimmune disorders, and repetitive motion.

Due to its ability to affect communication between the brain and body organs and/or muscles, nerve damage is often a serious condition. So, it’s important to seek medical attention ASAP. 

Another way to mitigate the effects of nerve damage is with corydalis. According to preliminary reports, THP may reduce nerve pain. Chinese researchers found that 75 mg per day of this alkaloid effectively treated nerve pain in 78% of tested participants.

Animal studies have also shown that corydalis extract can reduce neuropathic nerve pain. The beauty of it is that it does not have adverse side effects.

Stomach pain and abdominal issues 

Be it inflammatory, neuropathic, or stomach pain, corydalis has been shown to reduce their intensity. And that’s because it has a retinue of bioactive chemicals that impact pain differently.

As a result, multiple studies suggest that corydalis may alleviate neuropathic pain, acute, and inflammatory pain. Research contends that this Chinese herb uses different pathways to attenuate painful responses by impacting opioid or dopamine receptors.

Consequently, corydalis extracts have been used extensively to treat stomach ulcers and relieve pain. In fact, in TCM, two popular herbal powders (HZJW and Jinlingzi) prevalently used to reduce stomach pain and pacify ulcers contain corydalis extracts.

What to know about Corydalis

Although it’s been used for centuries to treat various illnesses, here are a few things you should know about corydalis before using it. 

Limited clinical research

For starters, evidence supporting the clinical use of corydalis is scarce. The few clinical trials that have investigated its anxiolytic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and blood pressure-lowering attributes were limited in several ways.

So, there is a need for well-designed clinical trials to help us better understand this herb’s full medical potential.

Unsafe during pregnancy or breastfeeding

Though generally considered safe, it’s noteworthy that there isn’t enough research on its effectiveness and safety. So, certain populations may have higher risks for side effects. These include pregnant or breastfeeding women. It may cause uterine contractions leading to miscarriage.

May be toxic in large amounts 

Research shows that corydalis may be toxic in large amounts due to the effects of L-THP. In fact, several instances of L-THP toxicity have been observed.

Also, there are suggestions that THP may cause the following side effects:

  • Liver failure or damage
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting

So, there is definitely a reason to consult a medical professional or herbalist before using corydalis.

May interact with certain drugs

Though rare, herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and potentially fatal. So, before supplementing any prescription medication with corydalis, consult a qualified healthcare professional. 

Corydalis may interact with blood thinners, sedatives, opioids, antidepressants, and anti-arrhythmic medications.

Benefits of CBD with Corydalis for pain 

If like many other people, you want to try natural fixes to manage a health condition, then you are at the right place. Our products are formulated to treat wide-ranging conditions like pain and inflammation in addition to promoting blood circulation.

For example, our Relief capsules are made with premium CBD isolate to help reduce pain and enhance blood flow. So, whether the discomfort is caused by overexertion, inflammation, or injury, rest assured these capsules will provide the relief you seek.

For people seeking something more potent, our Relief tincture is the answer. With 1,200 mg of full-spectrum CBD, and Chinese herbs like corydalis, myrrh, turmeric, and frankincense, this tincture certainly provides relief from pain and inflammation.

Want more? Click on this link to get a full list of our entire range of natural products.

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