Traditional Chinese herb found to reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

The herb Tripterygium wilfordii has been found equivalent to conventional treatment, but there are caveats.
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01.'Thunder god vine' found effective


There’s been a lot of media about a recently published study into plant extract Tripterygium wilfordii.

Used in traditional Chinese medicine, the herb was found to be as effective in relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as standard conventional medication methotrexate.

So should you ditch your conventional medication to go natural?

Study found herb gives as much relief as standard medication

In the study, one group of patients was given the herb Tripterygium wilfordii, which is also known as thunder god vine, a second group was given standard medication, methotrexate (brand names Hospira and Methoblastin), and a third group was given both. The study, which was carried out in China, was published in the medical journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The group that took Tripterygium wilfordii had as much symptom relief as those taking the methotrexate, while those taking both had the greatest relief. All groups suffered side effects, mainly gastrointestinal, such as diarrhoea, and women suffered menstrual irregularities.

Finding comes with caveats

One potential advantage of Tripterygium wilfordii over methotrexate is that it may be cheaper. However, the product used in the trial was a pharmaceutical grade preparation, so what you buy from your local health food store or the internet may not be the equivalent of the preparation used in the trial.

The authors of the study also noted that the dose of methotrexate used was much lower than the typical dose used in Western patients. The authors acknowledge that if they had used the higher dose, the results may have been better for the methotrexate group. Other weaknesses of the trial were the relatively short trial period (24 weeks) and “open-label” design – the patients knew which preparation they were taking, though the assessors did not.

This is not the first study to show that Tripterygium wilfordii is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The 2009 clinical practice guidelines on managing rheumatoid arthritis for General Practitioners note that Tripterygium wilfordii has been shown in several studies to be effective against RA symptoms.

However, they warn that it is associated with numerous adverse side effects, including impaired kidney function, haematotoxic (related to blood poisoning) effects, suppressed immune system, hair loss, nausea and diarrhoea, and despite its benefits, advise doctors against recommending it.


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