Thunder God Vine
Common Names: thunder god vine, lei gong teng
Latin Names: Tripterygium wilfordii
- Thunder god vine is a perennial grown in China and Taiwan. It has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat swelling caused by inflammation.
- Currently, thunder god vine is used orally (by mouth) as a dietary supplement for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. It is also used topically for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Extracts are prepared from the roots of thunder god vine.
How Much Do We Know?
- A small number of studies have evaluated oral thunder god vine for rheumatoid arthritis. Very little research has been done on thunder god vine for other health conditions or on topical use of this herb for rheumatoid arthritis.
What Have We Learned?
- There have been only a few high-quality studies of oral thunder god vine for rheumatoid arthritis in people. These studies indicate that thunder god vine may improve some rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- Results from a small 2009 study funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which compared an extract of thunder god vine root with a conventional drug (sulfasalazine) for rheumatoid arthritis, found that participants’ symptoms (e.g., joint pain and swelling, inflammation) improved significantly more with thunder god vine than with the drug.
- A study from China, published in 2014, compared thunder god vine to a conventional drug (methotrexate) and found that both were comparably helpful in relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and that the combination of the herb and the drug was better than either one alone.
- There is not enough evidence to show whether thunder god vine is helpful for any health conditions other than rheumatoid arthritis or whether its topical use in rheumatoid arthritis has any benefits.
What Do We Know About Safety?
- Thunder god vine may have side effects, including decreased bone mineral content (with long-term use), infertility, menstrual cycle changes, rashes, diarrhea, headache, and hair loss. Because some of these side effects are serious, the risks of using thunder god vine may be greater than its benefits.
- Thunder god vine can be extremely poisonous if the extract is not prepared properly.
Keep in Mind
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
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- Cameron M, Gagnier JJ, Chrubasik S. Herbal therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011;(2):CD002948. Accessed at https://www.cochranelibrary.com on April 28, 2015.
- Canter PH, Lee HS, Ernst E. A systematic review of randomised clinical trials of Tripterygium wilfordii for rheumatoid arthritis. Phytomedicine. 2006;13(5):371-377.
- Efthimiou P, Kukar M. Complementary and alternative medicine use in rheumatoid arthritis: proposed mechanism of action and efficacy of commonly used modalities. Rheumatology International. 2010;30(5):571-586.
- Goldbach-Mansky R, Wilson M, Fleischmann 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):229-240.
- Lv Q-W, Zhang W, Shi Q, et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F with methotrexate in the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis (TRIFRA): a randomised, controlled clinical trial. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. April 14, 2014 [Epub ahead of print].
- Macfarlane GJ, El-Metwally A, De Silva V, et al. Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology. 2011;50(9):1672-1683.
- Thunder god vine. Natural Medicines Web site. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/ on April 28, 2015. [Database subscription].
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