The Health Benefits of Corydalis

Used for Insomnia, Depression, and More

corydalis
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Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo) is a species of flowering herbal plants in the Papaveraceae family, which belong to the Ranunculales order (often called poppies). Corydalis can be found in the Northern Hemisphere, but they are most prevalent in China in the province of Zhejiang in high-altitude grasslands.

The flower itself typically consists of five to 15 purple-blue hued flowers clustered together that then curve out at the opening of the flower. Corydalis should not be confused with corydalis which a genus of large flying insects known as dobsonflies found in North, Central, and South America.

Health Benefits

Physical Benefits

Corydalis has been used as a pain reliever in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) along with invigorating blood flow, moving energy throughout the body, treating stomach ulcers (also called peptic ulcers), and easing menstrual cramps.

There have been claims that corydalis is a remedy for fibromyalgia, and can act as an effective form of pain relief second to opium without the side effects. However, more research is still needed on these claims.

Reports have shown that tetrahydropalmatine (THP), an alkaloid found in corydalis, is effective for helping with nerve pain. When patients took 75 milligrams of THP from the corydalis plant, nerve pain was reduced in 78 percent of those tested. This THP extract (one of the most potent extracts from corydalis) has been shown to have both pain-relieving and sedative effects that are helpful for those with dysmenorrhea, a condition which includes extremely painful menstrual cramps and periods.

Pain Relief

The alkaloid from the corydalis plant called dl-Tetrahydropalmatine (dl-THP) has been shown to block receptor sites in the brain like dopamine and this causes a feeling of sedation. The recommended intake for these pain relief purposes is five to 10 grams a day. 

A new study published in Current Biology found that another active ingredient in corydalis called dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) was effective in mice against inflammatory pain and injury-induced neuropathic pain, as the DHCB blocked pain signals from reaching the brain similar to how a prescription drug would. Even more importantly, the mice didn’t build up a tolerance and need higher doses of DHCB to get pain-relieving effects, as is the problem with opioids.

Cardiovascular Health

In addition to the benefits to the nervous system, corydalis can help with cardiovascular health. Studies have found that dl-THP can protect against stroke, lower blood pressure, and decrease fast heart rates in animals. In a small clinical trial with humans, patients with a very specific heart arrhythmia (otherwise known as an irregular heartbeat) who took 300 to 600 mg of corydalis per day had improvements with their arrhythmias than those who took placebo pills.

Emotional Benefits

Due to its influence on the nervous system, corydalis can help promote relaxation in addition to providing pain relief, which is beneficial in those suffering with insomnia. Research has shown that after taking 100 to 200 mg of the corydalis alkaloid dl-THP per day, those studied were able to fall asleep faster and easier without hangover symptoms pharmaceutical drugs can often cause, grogginess, or dizziness the next day.

Due to the impact that corydalis has on the nervous system, it has been used in TCM for mild depression, mild mental disorders, and emotional disturbances. However, there still needs to be more long-term studies to understand how corydalis affects these conditions.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

When it comes to using corydalis, people most commonly use the tuber or root (also called rhizomes, a plant stem that has roots growing from its nodes) for medicinal purposes. To prepare the root, boil it in vinegar in order to increase the active components found in it. You can then boil the granules from the roots in four cups of water for 30 minutes to make corydalis tea you can drink throughout the day.

The recommended daily dosage is anywhere between four to 12 grams per day, and you should start with the lower dosage amount before ingesting higher dosages. Vitamin stores, Chinese herbal stores, and acupuncturists may also sell powdered corydalis which you can put in water (this is a more concentrated dosage, so you should only put 1 gram diluted in water) or raw extract in the form of a liquid, which can be used in a half-teaspoon dose three times a day for moderate pain.

You can also get corydalis in capsule form, taking five to 10 grams daily to get the analgesic and sedative effect.

Possible Side Effects

There has been no recorded side effect with taking corydalis and other medications, but with any herb or supplement you should discuss your interest with your doctor, as well as provide a list of any other medications and vitamins you take before starting to use corydalis.

Some people may experience vertigo or dizziness, fatigue, or nausea when using corydalis and there is a small risk of having THP toxicity which could lead to acute hepatitis, an infection that causes inflammation in the liver which can cause nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, or fever.

If you’re pregnant, corydalis is not safe to use as it could cause contractions in the uterus. Corydalis has not been studied in nursing women, so it’s also unsafe to use when breastfeeding.

Common Questions

Why is it recommended that you take corydalis doses multiple times per day?

If you’re taking corydalis for acute pain, it works similarly to a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. It kicks in quickly but has a short life span, which is why you may need to take a few doses in one day.

Can you develop a dependence on corydalis?

Though corydalis has been seen as an alternative to opioids, there’s still a small risk to develop a dependence on the herb, which is why you should stick to the recommended dosage per day depending on how your corydalis is prepared (powdered, root, liquid, or capsule).

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Article Sources

  • Corydalis. University of Michigan Medicine website. Updated March 24, 2015.

  • Corydalis: An Herbal Medicine for Pain, with Some Thoughts on Drug Development. Science-Based Medicine website. Updated November 2016. 

  • Zhang, Yan. A Novel Analgesic Isolated from a Traditional Chinese Medicine. Current Biology. 2014; 24(2): 117-123. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.039.