Chinese 'secret' could be key to arthritis relief

Related tags Rheumatoid arthritis

The Chinese herb known as 'thunder god vine' could be a viable
alternative to NSAIDs in the treatment of the painful joint disease
rheumatoid arthritis, according to scientists in the US.

A herb which has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine but which is still relatively unknown in the west could be the key to treating rheumatoid arthritis.

A recent study by scientists in the US, reported in last month's edition of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism​, suggests that Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (TWHF), or 'thunder god vine', could help ease the symptoms of the painful ailment.

A team from the US National Institutes of Health, led by Dr Xuelian Tao, found that extracts of TWHF in a variety of doses were effective at alleviating rheumatoid arthritis, a disease caused by a deterioration of the tissue around the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be easily treated using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroids, which help alleviate the inflammation of the joints. However, such drugs are known to carry a risk of significant side effects such as osteoporosis or ulcers.

Although Tao's study focused on only a small group of sufferers - just 35 people took part in the research, and only 21 completed it - the results were positive enough to merit further study, the researchers said.

The study participants were divided into groups and given 180 milligrams of TWHF, 360 milligrams of the TWHF or a placebo over a period of 20 weeks. Eight of those people on the high dose of TWHF and four of those on the lower dosage showed a 20 per cent improvement or better in their symptoms, while none of those in the placebo group showed any improvement.

However, Tao's team also noted that six study participants on the high dosage and five on the lower intake also suffered side-effects from the treatment, including hair loss, heartburn and diarrhoea. This may not necessarily undermine the efficacy of the herb as an arthritis treatment, however, since five people in the placebo group also suffered similar side-effects, suggesting that TWHF may not be the cause of the symptoms.

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