Should You Invoke Thunder God Vine for Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Thunder god vine is a powerful name, and this Chinese herbal remedy has proven effective against a strong adversary, rheumatoid arthritis. Should you try thunder god vine for your RA symptoms?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, debilitating disease that can be managed effectively with a Chinese medicinal herb called thunder god vine, according to new research. This information isn’t news to countless numbers of Chinese who have revered this herb for more than four centuries, but it’s time for the rest of the world to understand the benefits of this vine and the scientific evidence to support its use.
What is thunder god vine?
Also known as Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, thunder god vine is a perennial plant native to Korea, China, and Japan. Its root is the portion found to have the characteristics that can fight rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that involves inflammation, pain, and an immune system that misbehaves. Other parts of the plant, including the leaves, flowers, skin of the root, and vines, are poisonous.
Conventional medicine has several drugs for treating rheumatoid arthritis, but they can cause some serious side effects. So experts have conducted a few studies that compared thunder god vine with these medications.
The latest study pitted thunder god vine against methotrexate for short-term treatment in 207 patients. A combination of the herb and methotrexate also was evaluated.
Patients received either 20 mg of thunder god vine pills three times a day, 7.5 mg per week of methotrexate increasing over four weeks to 12.5 mg per week, or both remedies. Here’s what the researchers reported:
- After taking either methotrexate, thunder god vine, or a combination of the two for six months, an improvement of at least 50 percent on the American College of Rheumatology criteria was achieved by 46.4 percent of patients who took the drug alone, 55.1 percent of those who took thunder god vine, and 76.8 percent of patients who took both.
- The anti-inflammatory and immune system regulatory benefits of the herb are credited to compounds called diterpenoids, which have an ability to interfere with certain inflammatory factors
Two good things came out of this study. One, the findings support previous work showing that thunder god vine is effective in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Two, use of the herbal remedy with methotrexate can enhance the benefits, and it may also result in patients needing less of the drug, which in turn could lower the risk of serious side effects and the cost of treatment.
In this study, the extract was standardized to 1.2 micrograms per 10 milligrams of the diterpenoid triptolide (anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive activity) and 36.6 mcg/10 mg of triterpene wilforlide, an anti-inflammatory compound.
Other support for thunder god vine
In a previous study, thunder god vine was compared with the rheumatoid arthritis drug sulfasalazine (Azulfidine in the US). A total of 121 patients took either 60 mg of thunder god vine extract three times a day or 1 gram of sulfasalazine twice a day for 24 weeks.
Overall, patients in the thunder god vine group achieved significantly better symptom relief (i.e., swelling, joint pain, and inflammation) than did those in the drug group. More patients in the drug group experienced moderate or severe side effects from the treatment.
Another recent study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that the vine was capable of inhibiting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), a nasty substance involved in inflammation. You may recognize COX-2 as the target of the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex.
Finally, the findings of a recent review and meta-analysis of ten randomized controlled trials involving thunder god vine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are promising as well. Based on their review, the authors concluded that the Chinese medicine was a type of “herbal DMARD” (disease-modifying antirheumatic drug, the term used to describe many of the medications used to treat the disease) and “could be as effective as synthetic DMARDs in the treatment of RA.”
Now the potential downside
Use of thunder god vine extract is not without some side effects. For example, gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., nausea, indigestion, diarrhea) were experienced by 29 percent of patients who took the herb only in the latest study, but that compared with 43.5 percent in the methotrexate group.
Thunder god vine also may have a negative impact on fertility in men by changing sperm, and it also can cause menstrual irregularities in women. If you are not concerned with having a child or are postmenopausal, then this potential side effect is likely not a concern. Several other possible side effects include headache, rash, and hair loss.
The bottom line
Securing reliable thunder god vine products can be a challenge, so be sure to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider before taking this supplement. The Arthritis Foundation lists 30 mg daily as the suggested dose for individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis.
Goldbach-Manksy R et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F versus sulfasalazine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 2009; 151(4): 229-40
Liu Y et al. Extracts of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013; 2013:410793
Lv Q-W et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F with methotrexate in the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis (TRIFRA): a randomized, controlled clinical trial. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2014 April 14
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