Chinese Herb May Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis

'Thunder God Vine' May Work as Natural Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 17, 2009 -- A Chinese herbal remedy may help ease symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

A new study shows that the Chinese herbal remedy Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (TwHF), also known as "lei gong teng" or "thunder god vine," helped decrease joint tenderness and pain in a small group of people treated with the medicinal plant.

Those who took an extract of the herb's roots experienced greater improvement in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms than those who took the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain and swelling of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis also leads to joint damage and destruction. There is no cure for the condition, and currently available treatments are designed to ease the symptoms and disability caused by the disease.

Although recent advancements in rheumatoid arthritis treatment have led to a greater number of available therapies, many of those therapies come with side effects that prompt some users to discontinue treatment or seek complementary and alternative treatments.

Thunder God Vine for RA

Researchers say thunder god vine has been used in China for centuries to treat a variety of inflammatory diseases, and some small clinical trials have suggested that the Chinese herbal remedy may benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis.

This study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, compared the benefits and side effects of treatment with thunder god vine and a conventional anti-inflammatory drug used in rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers randomly assigned 121 people with rheumatoid arthritis to take the 60 milligrams of the Chinese herbal extract three times a day or 1 gram of the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine twice a day for 24 weeks.

Nearly half of the participants dropped out before the study was complete. But after 24 weeks of treatment, researchers found that a greater proportion of people in the Chinese herbal remedy group experienced at least 20% improvement on a standard measure of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms than the other group.

Researcher Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky, MD, MHS, of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues say the study was too short to show if thunder god vine also helped to slow the progression of joint destruction from rheumatoid arthritis. But if further studies confirm these results in larger numbers of people, thunder god vine may provide an affordable natural treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCES: Goldbach-Mansky, R. Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 18, 2009; vol 151: pp 229-240. News release, American College of Physicians.

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