While corydalis might not be well-known in the West, this plant is indispensable in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s praised for its ability to reduce pain from osteoarthritis, digestive issues, and nerve damage. Corydalis may also help you relax and combat addictions, but the evidence is limited. Read on to learn the benefits, side effects, and dosage.
Corydalis encompasses over 470 types of plants that grow in the plains of Northern China, Japan, and Siberia. In this article, we’ll focus on Chinese corydalis.
Chinese corydalis is a small plant with thin leaves and pink flowers. This plant belongs to the poppy family and is closely related to the opium (red) poppy. It mostly grows in the mountain regions of Zhejiang, an Eastern Chinese province, where people call it Yan hu suo .
Some herbalists claim corydalis is the second most effective pain reliever, right behind opium. Unlike opium, corydalis does not seem to cause severe side effects or lead to addiction. But beware: the evidence to back up its use is limited and it is not safe during pregnancy .
- Natural pain reliever
- May reduce gut discomfort
- May promote relaxation
- May protect the heart
- May help with substance abuse
- Limited clinical research
- Unsafe during pregnancy or breastfeeding
- May be toxic in large amounts
- May interact with certain drugs
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), corydalis is said to invigorate the blood and move Qi (“life energy”). It is a key ingredient in many TCM formulas for reducing pain and discomfort from the following conditions :
- Menstrual cramps
- Stomach pain and abdominal issues
- Hernia soreness
- Traumatic injuries and nerve damage
- THP: Tetrahydropalmatine
- L-THP: L-Tetrahydropalmatine
- DHCB: Dehydrocorybulbine
- DHC: Dehydrocorydaline
Animal studies are promising, but its painkilling properties lack stronger clinical evidence.
- Opioid receptors
- Dopamine receptors
The opioids we normally produce – endorphins and enkephalins- help us cope with everyday social situations minimizing fear, pain, and anxiety. These molecules also play an important role in the acute stress response and appetite – all through the opioid receptors .
Opioid painkillers strongly activate these receptors and ease chronic, severe pain. DHC in corydalis also activates opioid receptors, while other compounds in the plant may prevent the side effects [15, 13].
Lastly, inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to infection and injury. However, persistent inflammation can turn into chronic pain and DHC helps to lower inflammatory markers (TNF-alpha, IL-1b, and IL-6) [19, 20, 13].
Over a third of pain-relieving TCM herbal cocktails use corydalis as a key ingredient. It is particularly popular in remedies for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps, and endometriosis [21, 22].
Corydalis supplementation for two weeks reduced pain in 36 cancer patients. Its worked as well as diclofenac (Voltaren) – a popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Importantly, corydalis caused minimal side effects, while those who received diclofenac suffered from gut discomfort, liver, and kidney damage .
In a small clinical study of 79 patients suffering from osteoarthritis, corydalis was as effective as diclofenac at lowering knee pain .
Corydalis root is a key ingredient in a popular pain-relief TCM mixture called “Yuanhua analgesic capsule.” In one study, the capsules reduced arm pain after cold temperature exposure in 15 healthy volunteers. Higher doses provided faster results (6.5 g vs. 3.25 g) .
Besides ulcers, persistent burning-like stomach pain can be a sign of indigestion or functional dyspepsia. Symptoms of dyspepsia include sluggish digestion, a heavy feeling after meals, and chronic constipation [25+].
Corydalis root is a key ingredient in DA-9701 or Motilitone – an herbal remedy for functional dyspepsia. In 2 clinical trials with over 800 patients, Motilitone (30-50 mg daily for 4 weeks) greatly improved symptoms of low stomach acid and provided relief from stomach cramps [26, 27, 28].
Stomach ulcers are sores on the lining of the stomach or small intestines that can cause a dull, throbbing pain .
Jinlingzi and HZJW are two popular corydalis-containing TCM herbal powders prescribed to help with ulcers and stomach pain. In animals with stomach ulcers, both powders protected the stomach lining, decreased ulcer size, and lowered inflammation. HZJW could also directly kill H.pylori [4, 33, 34].
TCM herbalists describe corydalis a sedative and tranquilizer. It is usually prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome .
Corydalis is an ingredient in JWZXG, a popular TCM mixture of 9 herbs. An analysis of 14 clinical trials confirmed it may reduce anxiety. Its effects were similar to azapirones – a class of anti-anxiety drugs. It did not reduce anxiety as much as SSRI antidepressants, yet it was safer and better tolerated .
In animals, an active compound from corydalis root called dl-THP promoted calmness and reduced agitation. It improved symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [35, 36, 37].
No valid clinical evidence supports the use of corydalis for any of the conditions in this section. Below is a summary of up-to-date animal studies, cell-based research, or low-quality clinical trials which should spark further investigation. However, you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of any health benefit.
In the United States, about 130 people die daily from a drug overdose. Overdose-related deaths have increased 6-fold in the past two years, indicating an opioid use crisis. Many of these drugs are potent pain-killing opioids .
Although beyond the scope of its traditional uses, corydalis might help battle addictions. Aside from relieving pain, which may lessen the use of synthetic opioids, it also reduces drug cravings .
In a clinical study of 119 heroin-addicted patients, L-THP from corydalis (60 mg 2X a day for one month) significantly reduced heroin craving and withdrawal symptoms .
Corydalis roots are often used by TCM practitioners to help treat various heart conditions, like high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia). L-THP, an active compound in corydalis, carries this benefit .
In a small clinical trial, 300-600 mg of dl-THP per day improved heart rhythm in patients suffering from a specific type of heart arrhythmia (supra-ventricular premature beat or SVPB). These arrhythmias make people feel as if their heart skipped a beat or is fluttering .
- Lower blood pressure
- Regulate heart rate and rhythm
- Minimize heart tissue damage after heart attacks
- Decrease markers of inflammation (TNF-alpha, myeloperoxidase)
No clinical evidence supports the use of corydalis for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
When nerves become damaged, the body often responds with sharp, burning-like pain. This type of pain is called neuropathic and it impacts about 10% of adults .
In animals with spinal nerve damage, corydalis reduced neuropathic pain. Unlike most painkillers, even high doses of the herb didn’t cause sleepiness or dependence .
In another study, corydalis reduced burning sensations and pain in rats with a pinched sciatic nerve. It worked for both sudden (acute) and chronic pain .
Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalists claim that corydalis root can help with :
- Limb tremors/Parkinson’s disease
- Mood disorders
- Mild depression
- Parasitic infections
- LIver disease and hepatitis
- Persistent cough
The scientific research is currently lacking to back up these claims.
Despite centuries-long use, only a handful of clinical studies on corydalis exist. It was investigated for relieving pain, healing stomach ulcers, reducing anxiety, and lowering blood pressure.
- Small sample size
- Corydalis used in herbal mixtures, not alone
- Focused on the effects of single active components (alkaloids) rather than whole plant extracts
- Published in China, without access to the study details in English
To uncover the full medical potential of this plant, further well-designed clinical trials are needed.
This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.
General safety information on corydalis is lacking. In limited clinical trials, the plant was well tolerated with minimal side effects.
However, if you plan on using corydalis, here are the precautions you should take:
Corydalis is not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. TCM doctors advise to avoid corydalis during pregnancy, as it causes uterine contractions that can lead to miscarriages .
Corydalis might be toxic in very large amounts due to the effects of L-tetrahydropalmatine (L-THP).
Ingesting large doses of L-THP can cause the following reactions :
- Low blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Liver damage and failure
That said, corydalis roots contain only a fraction of L-THP, so the risk of poisoning is minimal when taking the whole plant extracts as opposed to purified L-THP.
Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
- Opioid painkillers: Oxycontin, Vicodin, codeine, morphine
- Sedatives: clonazepam, lorazepam, phenobarbital, zolpidem
- Antiarrhythmic drugs: amiodarone, flecainide, ibutilide, propafenone
- Blood pressure: ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers
- Blood thinners: warfarin
- Antidepressants (SSRIs): Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft
Many alternative health websites claim that corydalis can lead to hallucinations. There is no reported evidence to support these claims.
Since corydalis is not approved by the FDA for any condition, there is no official dose. Practitioners, users, and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Discuss with your doctor if corydalis may be useful as a complementary approach in your case and which dose you should take.
After harvest, corydalis roots are dried and can be used for medicinal purposes. You can buy the whole root, powder (in bulk or capsules), or tinctures. To help relieve pain, most TCM practitioners recommend the following doses:
- Powder: 5-10 grams of powder dissolved in water, with food, 2 times a day.
- Tincture (20% alcohol): 6-12 drops in juice or water, or under the tongue. May be taken 3 times daily.
- Tea infusion: Boil 10 g of corydalis root with 3 g of cinnamon in 2 cups of water for 5-7 minutes. Drink 100 mL (¾ cup) as needed.
Frying corydalis roots in vinegar or alcohol (as in tincture) increases the alkaloid content, which might provide more potent pain relief .
Most supplements are available as capsules, with 400-500 mg of corydalis root per capsule. However, corydalis is rarely used alone in TCM. It’s usually combined with other herbs for synergistic effects, which lowers its dose.
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Most users reported good results with corydalis for pain relief. Reviewers mention it helped them with the following:
- Chronic back pain
- Joint pain
- Nerve pain in the feet
- Stomach cramps caused by Crohn’s disease
- Menstrual cramps
However, corydalis did not work for everyone. Some users thought the supplement was not more effective than standard painkillers. One person mentioned it made them feel sluggish and impaired their focus.
Corydalis is a time-tested herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Its active compounds act in synergy to relieve pain caused by stomach issues, cancer, and osteoarthritis. It may also reduce nerve pain, drug addiction, and anxiety, but the evidence is limited.
Although generally safe, high doses can cause side effects and poisoning. Pregnant women should avoid corydalis, while others should consult with their doctor before supplementing.