Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with Chinese Medicine

23 April 2008


(1) A root extract of a traditional Chinese medicine called Lei Gong Teng (Tripterygium Wilfordii Hook) has been shown to safely and effectively reduce pain and inflammation in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a small group of people with treatment-resistant rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In the 20-week clinical trial, 21 RA patients were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: placebo, low-dose extract, or high-dose extract. After four weeks, 80% of patients in the high-dose group and 40% in the low-dose group showed rapid improvement in symptoms compared with no improvement in the placebo group. Side effects were minor for all three treatment groups. According to the researchers Lei Gong Teng is unique, because it slows down the overactive immune system, reduces inflammation by turning off inflammatory genes such as tumour necrosis factor alpha, and reduces the activity of B and T cells. It has the potential to treat other immune diseases such as lupus, and further studies are planned. (Arthritis & Rheumatism 2002;46(7):1735-43).

(2) DALLAS, TEXAS. A team of researchers from the University of Texas and the National Institutes of Health reports that an extract of the Chinese herbal remedy Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (TWHF) has proven effective in the treatment of severe rheumatoid arthritis. TWHF has been used for centuries in China to treat rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, and IgA nephropathy. Preliminary studies in animals have shown that TWHF extracts have anti- inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects comparable to those of prednisone.

Thirteen patients with long standing rheumatoid arthritis participated in the trial. The initial dosage was 30 mg/day; this was gradually increased to 570 mg/day over a 12-18 month period. Nine of the patients went through the whole program. The patients all experienced marked improvement and one went into complete remission on a dose of 390 mg/day. Morning stiffness was the first symptom to improve. At baseline it lasted an average of 265 minutes. On a dose of 390 mg/day it reduced to 10 minutes. ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) went from 55 mm/hour to 22 mm/hour on a dose of 480 mg/day. Sixty per cent of the patients experienced significant (more than 20 per cent) improvement on a dose of 180 mg/day. A dose of 300-480 mg/day was required for maximum benefit. This is comparable to the dosages used in China and was found to be entirely safe. The researchers are currently conducting a much larger, double- blind, controlled study to confirm the benefits of TWHF extracts.

Tao, Xuelian, et al. A phase I study of ethyl acetate extract of the Chinese antirheumatic herb Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, Vol. 28, October 2001, pp. 2160-67

Categories: Herbal Medicine