“We have found a key pain-relieving compound known as dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) in the roots of the flowering plant Corydalis, a member of the poppy family,” said Olivier Civelli of the University of California.

"This natural product that can relieve pain acts in animal assays against the three types of pain that afflict humans - acute, inflammatory and neuropathic or chronic pain," Civelli added.

The Corydalis plants that were the focus of the new study grow mainly in central eastern China, where underground tubers are harvested and boiled in hot vinegar. Those concoctions are often prescribed to treat pain, including headaches and back pain, said the study that appeared in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers went looking for compounds in Corydalis that appeared likely to act in a manner similar to morphine. "We landed on DHCB but rapidly found that it acts not through the morphine receptor but through other receptors, in particular one that binds dopamine," explained Civelli.

While Corydalis extracts or isolated DHCB work against all types of pain, they hold special promise for those who suffer with persistent, low-level chronic pain."We have good pain medications for acute pain like codeine or morphine. We have pain medication for inflammatory pain, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. We do not have good medications for chronic pain and here, DHCB may be used for low-level chronic pain," added the researchers.

Further testing for toxicity is needed before doctors should consider prescribing it to patients, concluded the study.


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