Using Thunder God Vine for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Thunder God Vine

Thunder god vine (TGV for short; botanical name Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F) is a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea. Preparations made from the skinned root of TGV have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Interestingly, TGV also has a history of use to kill insects in farm fields.
 
Effectiveness and safety information:
 
  • Some anti-inflammatory and immune system-suppressing activity for TGV has been seen in laboratory and animal studies. The first clinical trial on TGV in the United States (the earlier ones were done in China) was carried out at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its results were published in 2002. Twenty-one patients for whom conventional rheumatoid arthritis treatment had not worked completed the trial. Eighty percent of those who received a high-dose TGV extract and 40 percent of those who received a low-dose TGV extract experienced improvement in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and physical functioning. No one in the placebo group improved. Longer and larger studies are needed to confirm these findings and to find out more about TGV.

 

  • Parts of the TGV plant are dangerous. The leaves, the flowers, the main stem, and the skin covering the root are poisonous to a point that they could cause death. People should never try to make TGV medications themselves.
     
  • Currently, there are no consistent, high-quality TGV products being manufactured in the United States. Preparations of TGV made outside the United States (for example, in China) can sometimes be obtained, but it is not possible to verify whether they are safe and effective. An expert from the University of Texas/NIH study advises that consumers not use TGV until reliable preparations become available.
     
  • If taken for a long time (according to one study, for more than five years), TGV may decrease the density of the minerals in women's bones, which would be of special concern to women who have osteoporosis or are at risk for it. If taken at high doses, TGV could suppress the immune system and increase the effects of immune-suppressing drugs.
     
  • The TGV extract made for the NIH study discussed here was well tolerated by study participants. However, side effects can occur and may include stomach upset, diarrhea, skin rash, changes in menstrual periods, and hair loss.
     
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