Chinese herb thunder god vine works better than drug in easing arthritis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 7:00pm


A Chinese herb called thunder god vine is better than a widely prescribed pharmaceutical drug at easing rheumatoid arthritis, a newly published study says.

The herb has long been used in China to treat the potentially crippling autoimmune disease. Extracts of the herb, called lei gong teng, have already fired the interest of drug laboratories as they contain hundreds of compounds, including molecules called diterpenoids, which are believed to ease the inflammation and immune response.

In a study published in the online British Medical Journal Open, Chinese researchers recruited 207 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and gave them either the herb, the drug methotrexate or a combination of the two.

After six months, the patients were given a doctor's assessment and were also asked if they felt any change. The benchmark for improvement is called the ACR 50, which indicates a 50 per cent improvement in the tally of tender or swollen joints and pain and disability.

Of the 174 who completed the trial, 55 per cent of those on the herb attained ACR 50, compared to 46 among those treated with methotrexate alone. But the biggest gain was among the group that took the herb-methotrexate combination: nearly 77 per cent of them achieved the ACR 50 measure of improvement. But some of that research also flagged potential side effects from the herb, mainly gastrointestinal upsets. Among the herb group, some of the women experienced irregular menstruation.

The investigation, led by Xuan Zhang, a rheumatologist at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, acknowledged limitations. One was that the doctors who treated the patients and the patients themselves knew what medication was being taken.