A Chinese herb that has been used to ease rheumatoid arthritis for over 400 years has proved to be more effective than prescribed Western drugs, according to an AFP report
Thunder God Vine (雷公藤 lei gong teng), which as you might imagine is named after the Chinese thunder god, is only found in the mountains of China, Myanmar and Taiwan and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis, swelling, skin infections, fever and boils.
In ancient times, practitioners gathered its roots in the summer or early fall. Only the inner portion of the root was utilized. In past centuries, the root was ground into powder and applied on the skin. The herb was given its name in honor of the God of Thunder, who was seen as powerful and ferocious. Presumably, the effects of the herb were associated with the power of the famous God in Chinese ancient mythology.
The wonderful Chinese herb has the botanical name Tripterygium wilfordii, and attracted the attention of medical laboratories due to the hundreds of useful compounds it contains, including diterpenoids, molecules believed to ease inflammation and the immune response.
In the research, 207 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers were given either the herb, the drug methotrexate, or a combination of two. After six months of treatment, the results revealed that of the 174 who completed the trial, 55 percent of those who took the herb reached a score of ACR 50 (American College of Rheumatology), which indicates improvements in tender or swollen joints.
TCM is much maligned and for good reason, but for once it came out on top when put up to peer review. Among those who took the Western drugs only 46 percent reached the ACR 50 benchmark. But the best results were shown by the patients who were on a herb-methotrexate treatment: 77 percent of them achieved the ACR 50.
An earlier study involved 21 rheumatoid arthritis patients who had to complete a 20-week clinical trial of the plant extract. Patients were assigned to one of three treatment groups: placebo, low-dose, or high-dose. According to the research, after four weeks 80 percent of patients in the high-dose group, and 40 percent in the low-dose group, showed rapid improvement in symptoms compared with no improvement in the placebo group. Side effects were minor for all three treatment groups. Peter Lipsky, M.D., commented on the herb’s positive effects in patients:
“The extract is a particularly promising treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. It is unique, because it slows down the overactive immune system, reduces inflammation by turning off inflammatory genes such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, and reduces the activity of B and T cells.”
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that strikes hand and foot joints when the immune system fails. Instead of serving its normal protective function, it produces abnormally high levels of antibodies called circulating immune complexes (CICs). In a healthy person, the pancreas naturally produces enzymes that break down CICs so they can pass through the kidneys for excretion. But in people with compromised immune systems, CICs begin to accumulate in the body’s soft tissue and organs, causing the inflammation that leads to disease and, in extreme cases, organ failure.
According to information provided by the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), there are a number of diseases where Thunder God Vine can be helpful. It can fight inflammation, suppress the immune system, and even have anti-cancer effect as well as ease rheumatoid arthritis more effectively than Western drugs like sulfasalazine or methotrexate.
However, along with positive effects, the herb can cause severe side effects, which can even be fatal. It has been dubbed “Walk Seven Steps and Die”, “Intestine-Breaking Plant” and “Three-wing-nut” and all for a good reason. It can be dangerous if the medicine is extracted from the wrong part of the plant. Three parts of the plant are poisonous: the plant leaves, flowers, and outer skin of the root. The only part that is safe are the extracts from the skinned root, but the effects can also can be deadly if it is not extracted properly. So, there is no DIY version of the medicine. There are some other side effects that patients should be aware of. For instance, it can cause diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea, as well as upper respiratory tract infections. Thunder God Vine can also cause hair loss, headaches, menstrual changes, and skin rash. Men should be careful while taking the herb as it contains chemical that might decrease male fertility by changing sperm. It’s just possible that with side-effects like that some people will be happy to stick with the rheumatism.