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Health Benefits of Thunder God Vine

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Updated July 13, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) is a plant that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is also referred to as "lei gong teng."

Thunder god vine extracts are prepared from the skinned root of the plant.

Health Benefits of Thunder God Vine:

Laboratory research suggests that thunder god vine may help lessen inflammation and suppress overactivity of the immune system, as well as have anti-cancer effects.

Additionally, several human-based studies suggest that thunder god vine shows promise in treatment of the following:

1) Rheumatoid Arthritis

A number of small studies indicate that thunder god vine may improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in some patients. However, in a systematic review published in 2006, researchers concluded that thunder god vine is "associated with serious adverse events which make the risk-benefit analysis for this herb unfavorable."

Learn about other natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis.

2) Crohn's Disease

Research suggests that thunder god vine may be beneficial for people with Crohn's disease, a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. For instance, one study published in 2009 found that the effects of thunder god vine extract were similar to those of the anti-inflammatory drug mesalazine in maintenance of remission of postoperative Crohn's disease.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that, although these findings are promising, there is not enough scientific evidence to assess thunder god vine's use for any health conditions besides rheumatoid arthritis.

Learn about other natural remedies for Crohn's disease.

Common Uses for Thunder God Vine:

In traditional Chinese medicine, thunder god vine is typically used to treat conditions involving inflammation or overactivity of the immune system. This includes autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Proponents of thunder god vine claim that the herb can also help treat excessive menstrual periods.

Side Effects of Thunder God Vine:

Use of thunder god vine may cause a number of adverse effects, including:

  • diarrhea
  • upset stomach
  • hair loss
  • headache
  • menstrual changes
  • skin rash

Taking the herb for five years or longer has also been found to decrease bone mineral density in women, which may be particularly harmful for women who have or at risk for osteoporosis.

Additionally, thunder god vine is known to decrease sperm count.

Safety Concerns for Thunder God Vine:

Given the potential health risks associated with intake of thunder god vine, it's important to consult your physician if you're considering use of this herb in treatment of any health condition.

Sources:

Canter PH, Lee HS, Ernst E. "A systematic review of randomised clinical trials of Tripterygium wilfordii for rheumatoid arthritis." Phytomedicine. 2006 13(5):371-7.

Gong JF, Niu LY, Wei XW, Zhu WM, Li N, Li JS. "Therapeutic effects of combined enteral nutrition with Tripterygium Wilfordii Polyglycosidium in remission induction of active adult Crohn's disease." Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2009 15;47(16):1213-7.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Thunder God Vine [NCCAM Herbs at a Glance [link: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/tgvine/]." NCCAM Publication No. D400. Created October 2007. Updated
June 2008.

Tao QS, Ren JA, Ji ZL, Li JS, Wang XB, Jiang XH. "Maintenance effect of polyglycosides of Tripterygium wilfordii on remission in postoperative Crohn disease." Zhonghua Wei Chang Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2009 12(5):491-3.

Tao X, Younger J, Fan FZ, Wang B, Lipsky PE. "Benefit of an extract of Tripterygium Wilfordii Hook F in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Arthritis Rheum. 2002 46(7):1735-43.

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