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Jan 04, 2014 08:24 AM EST

Chinese Herbal Compound Effective in Reducing Chronic Pain, Study

Dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), a compound derived from the roots of the Corydalis yanhusuo plant, can help relieve chronic pain, according to a University of California, Irvine study.

"Our study reports the discovery of a new natural product that can relieve pain. This analgesic acts in animal assays against the three types of pain that afflict humans, including acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain," researcher Olivier Civelli said.

Researchers said that DHCB does not lose efficiency with time like traditional opiate drugs.

"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," Civelli said.

Previous studies showed that dopamine D2 receptor regulates pain sensation.

The flowering herbal plant is a member of the poppy family. It is widely grown in China, Japan, and Siberia. The traditional Chinese herbal medicine has been long used to treat a number of painful conditions such as menstrual cramps, abdominal pain, headaches, back pain and chest pain. This is the first time the compound has been extracted, identified and tested.

For the study, the researchers conducted experiments on rodents. They found that DHCB significantly reduced both inflammatory pain (tissue damage) and neuropathic pain (nerve damage).

This finding is vital because there are no current treatments for neuropathic pain.

"We have good pain medications for acute pain - codeine or morphine, for example. We have pain medication for inflammatory pain, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. We do not have good medications for chronic pain. DHCB may not be able to relieve strong chronic pain, but may be used for low-level chronic pain," Civelli said, Daily Mail UK reports.

Researchers said that this finding can help pharmaceutical companies to induce the plant derivative in mainstream medicine to develop non-addictive treatment for chronic neuropathic pain.

"Today the pharmaceutical industry struggles to find new drugs. Yet for centuries people have used herbal remedies to address myriad health conditions, including pain. Our objective was to identify compounds in these herbal remedies that may help us discover new ways to treat health problems," Civelli said in a statement. "We're excited that this one shows promise as an effective pharmaceutical. It also shows a different way to understand the pain mechanism."

Researchers said that further study on the toxicity of the plant compound is required before proceeding for clinical trials.

The finding has been published in the journal Current Biology.

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