Chinese Thunder God Vine for Rheumatoid Arthritis

By on May 19, 2014
Photo by Donnie Nunley

Photo by Donnie Nunley via Flickr

Headlines last month announced the results of a new study indicating Chinese Thunder God eased the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis as effectively as prescription methotrexate. Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, or thunder god vine, is known as lei gong teng in Chinese traditional medicine. In Chinese traditional medicine it was used as an anti-inflammatory herb.

Are there other studies on the thunder god vine?

In 2011 there was a study published in the Cochrane Review on the use of thunder god vine for rheumatoid arthritis which showed mix reviews. The most recent study was performed in China and published in the Annuals of Rheumatoid Diseases. What was different about this study was that they compared it to prescription treatments for RA. They found taking thunder god extra slightly improved symptoms as compared to those using methotrexate. They also found that using the two together had even better results. One of the doctors involved in the study is Xuan Zhang. Dr. Zhang says,

“While the herb has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in China for many centuries, there wasn’t clinical evidence of its efficacy compared with current standard medical treatments. The results were very clear because on many indicators it performed slightly better than methotrexate.”

How is thunder god vine used?

Doctors in China recommend using thunder god as an extract in capsule form. Although others suggest applying a liquid preparation of thunder god vine directly on the skin. If you choose the capsule a typical adult dose would be 180-570 mg of thunder god vine per day for up to 20 weeks. If you choose to apply it to your skin you would simply rub it over your joints five times daily.

What are the known side effects of thunder god vine?

Thunder god vine might cause side effects like an upset stomach, weakened bones, weakened immune systems, skin reactions, menstrual irregularities, vomiting, diarrhea, and kidney problems. Some studies have shown the drug to have anti-fertility properties so it is typically suggested for patients above the age of 50. Like methotrexate, god vine is not safe to take during pregnancy. Any use of god vine at all should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Many critics of god vine have pointed out these side effects as a reason to avoid using the herb but for those taking methotrexate these possible side effects might not sound so bad. According to,

The most common side effects of methotrexate include nausea or vomiting and abnormalities in liver function tests…About 1-3% of patients develop mouth sores (called stomatitis), rash, diarrhea, and abnormalities in blood counts. Methotrexate may cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, but this side effect is rare and most likely to occur in patients who already have liver problems or are taking other drugs that are toxic to the liver. Lung problems (persistent cough or unexplained shortness of breath) can occur when taking methotrexate. These side effects are more common in people with poor lung function. Persistent cough or shortness of breath should be reported to your doctor. Slow hair loss is seen in some patients, but hair grows back when the person stops taking this medication. Methotrexate can increase the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight, so limiting sun exposure and the use of sunscreen is advised.

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