Chinese MedicineRheumatoid Diseases

Arthritis prevalence and the non-role of thunder god vine

Morbidity and Mortality just reported the latest prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This survey of more than 90,000 adults between 2002 and 2005 found the following.

  • Doctor-diagnosed arthritis: 46.4 million persons
  • More common in women, and older, overweight, and inactive people
  • Arthritis-attributable activity limitation among adults: 17.4 million persons

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) lists thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F; TWHF) first among all the CAM options for RA. The reason for this is unclear unless it’s to warn us about its safety.

This perennial vine has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. There is a small U.S. study of the ethanol/ethyl acetate extract of TWHF suggesting a positive effect as defined by a 20% improvement in disease activity.

However, a recent review published by a group in the UK concluded, “The literature indicates that T. wilfordii is associated with serious adverse events, which make the risk-benefit analysis for this herb unfavorable. Therefore, we cannot recommend its use.”

“Currently, there are no consistent, high-quality TWHF products manufactured in the U.S. Preparations made outside the U.S. (eg, China) can sometimes be obtained, but it is not possible to verify whether they are safe and effective,” according to NCCAM.

10/14/06 14:32 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.