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Chinese Remedy Relieves Rheumatoid Arthritis
What the Study Showed

Thunder god vine, a traditional herbal remedy widely used in China to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, was found to be effective in relieving joint pain and inflammation in a small U.S. study. The findings of the joint research, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and University of Texas, were reported in the July 2002 issue of the well-respected medical journal, Arthritis & Rheumatism.

How It Was Done

All 35 patients in this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial had active RA despite treatment with DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) commonly prescribed for this disease. Participants were divided into three groups: One took placebo capsules, one was given a low dose of the herb and one a higher dose. An extract of thunder god vine (Tripterygium Wilfordii Hook F.) was used for the trial.

Researchers focused their evaluation on a core group of patients who completed four weeks of treatment. Improvements were evaluated by recording the number of tender joints and the number of swollen joints. The evaluator's overall assessment of the participant was also taken into account.

Why It's Important

Thunder god vine has been studied in large groups of RA patients in China, but most Chinese trials did not include a comparison, or control, group of patients given a dummy, or placebo, remedy. Although quite small, this new U.S. study did incorporate a control group, thereby increasing the validity of the findings. And unlike the imprecise water extract, or decoction, typically used in Chinese medicine, U.S. researchers created a standardized alcohol-based extract so quantities could be measured and reproduced accurately.

In terms of effectiveness, the herbal extract was found to be beneficial for patients in both the low-dose and high-dose groups. Eight of 12 patients in the high-dose group and 4 of the 10 participants in the low-dose group experienced relief in their RA symptoms. In contrast, none of the participants in the placebo group saw improvement.

In terms of safety, the extract was found to cause fewer and far less severe side effects than most RA drugs--meaning this herbal remedy may well offer patients a valuable alternative or complement to standard medications. The only notable adverse reaction was gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea, which prompted one person from each of the subgroups to drop out of the study.

Source: Tao X, Younger J, Fan F, et al. Benefit of an Extract of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2002;46:1735-1743.

Date Published: 08/31/2002
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