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The Issue about Corydalis
Recently I received a number of inquiries in close succession regarding if I "sell" corydalis. I think it's time that I address this issue, so prospective patients have a genuine understanding. I presume corydalis is now famous because it has been shown to alleviate pain in clinical trials, perhaps more so because it's effects are better than conventional drug treatment, I wager. I believe Dr.Oz may also contribute to this phenomenon. I once stumbled across an article that reported on this finding. But as with the majority of news reports, most purportedly "promising" drugs/herbs/treatments gradually fade into obscurity soon after publication. I thought the same about this. It isn't until when I received a number of inquiries all asking about corydalis that I thought I should write a column about this specifically.
First of all, corydalis is not fit for everyone. Patients who are lead to believe corydalis is a good pain-killer perhaps think it's effective for all pains or something of a last resort when drugs no longer work; however this is incorrect. Because corydalis is originally a Chinese Medicine, it's important to understand how it is used in Chinese Medicine. Corydalis is what we call a "qi and blood invigorator", meaning, for simplicity sakes, it promotes blood circulation, the mechanism through which it alleviates pain.
By this principle, pain that is not caused by "qi and blood stagnation" do not warrant the use of this herb. Those who are physically weak are also not advised to take this herb. Corydalis in Chinese Medicine is often only used for pain around the abdomen and sometimes in the chest. Pain elsewhere do not benefit much from corydalis. Knowing all this, patients should be aware that corydalis is only used for a specific subset of individuals whose disease "pattern" matches that treated by corydalis. Take note that NOT all pains are caused by "qi and blood stagnation". As much as people don't want to believe(and modern science too), pain is not as simple as we want to make it out to be. If it were so simple, pain-killers would be enough.
Another important note to take into consideration is also that "qi and blood stagnation", again for simplicity sakes, may be about blood circulation impediment, but not really in the sense understood by most people. Blood circulation issues are only a type of problem seen in "qi and blood stagnation", yet is not a 1:1 relationship, for "qi and blood stagnation" covers much wider scopes of abnormalities. Therefore, "qi and blood stagnation" is not a medical sign identified and confirmed by modern medicine, but solely the mandate of Chinese Medicine. In other words, even though I've just said blood circulation issues is related to "qi and blood stagnation", it does not necessarily mean one definitely has "qi and blood stagnation" if the MD says one's got blood circulation issues---doesn't work that way. It is Doctors of Chinese Medicine who decide if there is "qi and blood stagnation". So why did I say all this? Put bluntly, these explanations are simply for helping patients to have more of a concrete understanding of Chinese Medicine, but is not the REAL Chinese Medicine.
The final issue that I want to address is Chinese Medicine under clinical trials, which this corydalis we're speaking of right now is a part of. Chinese Medicine being subjected to clinical trials is not a new thing. It's been going on for decades, and really started out only recently in China after WW2. These days, pharmaceutical companies, either having run out of ideas for new drugs or plagued by the side-effects of their creations, have turned to Chinese Medicine, perhaps the last treasure trove of wonders they've yet gotten their hands on.
Not surprisingly, clinical trials often investigate one herb at a time---this is the thinking of modern medicine. Unfortunately that is not how Chinese Medicine works, nor any natural substance for that matter. Each herb, just like corydalis, only treats a specific type of "pattern" as just explained earlier. Furthermore, the clinical reality of using more than 1 herb to create "formulations" in Chinese Medicine practice makes this issue more complicated than lab scientists trained in the modern scientific mindset can fathom.
The "positive" results they get in the lab also do not necessarily translate into the real world because lab rats are not technically human. Just like chimpanzees have over 90% similarity to humans in terms of genetic make-up does not mean chimps and man are the same. Especially when lab scientists don't even know why there is such an effect, other than lifeless percentages, patients should be wary of such reports, and think twice before following this knowledge to try Chinese Medicine without the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
To conclude, corydalis is not fit for everyone and certainly not for all pain conditions. It is a Chinese Medicine whose use should be guided under the supervision of a trained and licensed Doctor of Chinese Medicine in the form of custom prescriptions, instead of being sold as a product. For this reason, I do not "sell" corydalis, but I may "prescribe" it along with other Chinese Medicines in the form of an individualized formula ONLY when the patient's "pattern" warrants it.