Thunder God Vine for Obesity and More
The traditional Chinese medicine remedy known as thunder god vine appears to have a role in fighting obesity. According to a new study in Cell, an extract of the plant resulted in up to a 45 percent decline in body weight in obese mice. Thunder god vine may have other health benefits as well.
In this newest study, a team of researchers discovered that a quinone triterpene compound found in the roots of the thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F) enhances the activity of leptin. The appetite-suppressing hormone known as leptin has long been known to play a key role in obesity, but scientists have not been able to find a way to use it effectively for weight loss.
The compound extracted from the thunder god vine root is called celastrol. According to Umut Ozcan, the study’s senior author and an endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, “If celastrol works in humans as it does in mice, it could be a powerful way to treat obesity and improve the health of many patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes.”
Past research has shown that even though leptin works to control appetite, high levels of leptin in the bloodstream does not help reduce over eating. This suggests that leptin insensitivity is the issue that should be addressed. However, thus far scientists have not discovered a way to effectively reduce leptin resistance.
Recently, Ozcan and his colleagues found a clue: leptin resistance is associated with endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The ER is a network of membranes that manufacture, process, and transport substances within cells.
Ozcan and his team discovered that celastrol was associated with an improvement in ER function and leptin sensitivity in human cells. When they gave the compound to obese mice, the animals reduced their food intake by about 80 percent when compared with untreated obese mice.
After three weeks, the mice treated with celastrol lost 45 percent of their starting body weight. Nearly all of that weight loss was associated with burning stored fat.
In addition, celastrol improved glucose metabolism, liver function, and cholesterol levels. These benefits could be helpful in managing diabetes, fatty liver, and heart disease.
However, Ozcan also warned that celastrol is only one substance found in thunder god vine and that the plant’s roots and flowers also contain others. “As a result, it could be dangerous for humans to consumer thunder god vine extracts to lose weight.”
Other uses for thunder god vine
Numerous studies have evaluated the use of thunder god vine for other uses, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, and cancer. The Arthritis Foundation even provides dosage suggestions for thunder god vine for rheumatoid arthritis.
One of the latest studies of thunder god vine and rheumatoid arthritis was in 2014. A total of 207 patients were treated with either 20 mg thunder god vine pills three times a day, 7.5 mg per week of methotrexate (a common RA treatment) increased over four weeks to 12.5 mg per week, or both remedies.
Patients who took either thunder god vine or methotrexate had similar results: an improvement of at least 50 percent (based on the American College of Rheumatology criteria) in 55.1 percent and 46.4 percent of patients, respectively. However, the best response (76.8%) came from patients who took both treatments.
A 2011 report in Molecules noted that more than 100 components have been isolated from the plant, and that most of them have shown some efficacy in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. In fact, this Chinese medicinal herb has been used for centuries to treat inflammatory conditions.
Anticancer properties also are being examined in thunder god vine. Thus far, at least two agents in the plant—celastrol and triptolide—have been studied for antitumor abilities.
In a 2014 study, the authors reported on the use of triptolide against pancreatic cancer cells. Their study was the first to show that triptolide reverses certain characteristics of the disease and “therefore may be superior to current chemotherapeutics for treatment of PDA [pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma].”
Thunder god vine has demonstrated a number of properties that may be helpful in treating and managing serious health challenges. The newest research suggests an extract of the plant may be helpful in battling obesity.
Read about grape seed for rheumatoid arthritis
Liu Z et al. The main anticancer bullets of the Chinese medicinal herb, thunder god vine. Molecules 2011 Jun 23; 16(6): 5283-97
Liu J et al. Treatment of obesity with Celastrol. Cell 2015 May 21; 161(5): 999-1011
Liu L et al. Triptolide reverses hypoxia-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition and stem-like features in pancreatic cancer by NF-kB down regulation. International Journal of Cancer 2014 May 15; 134(10): 2489-503
MedicalNewsToday. 2015 May 15