What is Thunder God Vine?
Thunder God vine is primarily used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. It comes from the family Celestraceae and has the botanical name of Tripterygium wilfordii . Other common names for the plant are Huang-t’eng ken, lei gong teng, lei-kung t’eng and tsao-ho-hua.
Thunder god vine, a perennial native to parts of China and also to Taiwan has been used in traditional Asian medicine for many centuries. The most common use of the plant in Chinese medicine was to treat pain and inflammation. Today, it is still taken orally in supplementary form to help treat autoimmune conditions especially rheumatoid arthritis.
Oral extracts are also used to treat lupus and multiple sclerosis. A topical preparation made from the herb is also used to treat RA or rheumatoid arthritis. The roots of the plant are used to make oral and topical medicines.
Despite its potential abilities, there are concerns over the safety profile of thunder god vine. We will look at these concerns in more detail later in the article. For now, I will tell you that amenorrhea has been observed in females taking the herb while anti-fertility effects have been seen in men.
Thunder god vine has anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-tumor and antiviral affects. The main chemical constituent isolated from the plant’s roots is a diterpenoid called triptolide. There are also a variety of other important constituents in the root including sesquiterpenes like alkaloids and dihydroagarofurans and diterpenes such as tripdiolide and tripchlorolide.
What are the Medical Benefits of Thunder God Vine?
As well as its primary uses for rheumatism and lupus, recent studies have started to shed light on a variety of other potential benefits. It has been investigated with regard to its anti-cancer potential and its ability to treat hepatitis, kidney disease and chronic nephritis.
It may also help treat a variety of skin conditions while recent research has even showed it may be a useful weapon in the endless battle against obesity.
1) For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Several human studies as well as a number of animal and in vitro studies have demonstrated that thunder god vine does indeed have a beneficial effect on various autoimmune diseases.
Unfortunately not many of the trials conducted so far have been of the quality needed to make firm conclusions but those that meet the criteria indicate that the plant may help to improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
One such study published in 2009 compared the effects of a thunder god vine extract with a more conventional RA drug called sulfasalazine. The study found that those who took the thunder god vine extract experiences significantly better improvements in their symptoms than those who took the drug. (1)
Numerous other studies have also proved to be very positive regarding the plant’s potential. These trials seem to indicate that thunder god vine can effectively diminish the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis including inflammation, joint pain and swelling.
While the precise mechanisms are not known, a number have been suggested. These include interference in the cytokine transcription, the generation of cytotoxic T cells and the inhibition of both B-cell and T-cell proliferation. The main immunosuppressive activity comes from the diterpenoids – tripdiolide and triptolide found in the root.
2) Kidney Health
Thunder god vine may also have a positive effect on certain kidney conditions. According to several clinical trials, the extract of the plant have demonstrated a positive effect on renal transplant. It has also proved to be effective against idiopathic nephrotic syndrome.
One trial set out to evaluate the effect of T.wilfordii Hook on kidney transplant patients over a 5 year period. The study concluded that thunder god vine helped prevent kidney rejection and increased kidney survival among the organ recipients. (2)
3) For Obesity and Weight Loss
While research is still in its very early days, the signs are that thunder god vine may help in the battle against obesity. In a very recent study published in 2015, researchers demonstrated that a compound present in the plant called celastrol had a significant effect on weight loss in obese mice.
Animals fed celastrol for a week consumed around 80% less of their food than mice in a control group. After 3 weeks of treatment. The mice given celastrol had lost a whopping 45% of body weight while the control group had lost nothing. (3)
The researchers showed that celastrol increased the response to leptin – a hormone that tells the body it has eaten enough and basically tells us to stop eating.
Many overweight people are resistant to leptin which can cause them to overeat resulting in obesity. Celastrol seems to activate the hormone resulting in huge weight loss at least in the animal tests done so far. As well as significantly decreasing food intake, celastrol appears to reduce cholesterol levels. This in turn resulted in improved liver function and glucose metabolism.
The senior researcher Dr. Ozcan concluded that celastrol may be a powerful method of treating obesity and improving the health problems associated with the condition. These include diabetes, heart disease and fatty liver.
4) Other Benefits of Thunder God Vine
Studies have found that low doses of triptolide – a diterpene found in the plant had anti-tumor and antileukemic activities in rodent models. (4) (5)
Traditional Chinese practitioners have used the plant for internal inflammation and immune system conditions like multiple sclerosis and lupus. One study demonstrated that thunder god vine was beneficial in treating Crohn’s disease by relieving inflammation within the digestive system.
Studies have also demonstrated that some of the compounds found in thunder god vine had antiviral activities. A chemical called neotripterifordin has demonstrated powerful anti-HIV activity. (6) Triptofordin and other sesquiterpenes found in the plant have also showed promising antiviral activity against cytomegalovirus. (7)
How to use Thunder God Vine
Thunder god vine is usually taken in capsule form. Make sure that you do not go above the recommended dose on the label and talk to your doctor or an expert before going ahead with the treatment. In trials, a dose of 60mg a day of a thunder god vine extract called T2 has been evaluated for up to 12 weeks.
Very few long term studies have been done to confirm its safety over the long term.
Precautions and Potential Side Effects
There are certain safety concerns regarding thunder god vine and it has the potential to cause a variety of side effects.
- Pregnant women and nursing moms should avoid taking thunder god vine.
- It can reduce mineral density in the bones of women who take it long term.
- Observed side effects include headaches, diarrhea, stomach upset, skin rash, hair loss and heavy periods on women.
- Thunder god vine has also been observed to reduce sperm count. This side effect has seen the plant evaluated as a potential male contraceptive medicine. Researchers have observe that sperm count and motility was lower in men taking between 20 and 30 mg a day. Triptolide present in thunder god vine appear to negatively affect sperm development.
- When taken in large doses, thunder god vine extract can weaken your immune system. People with already weakened immunity should avoid taking the supplement.
(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19687490 Goldbach-Mansky R, Wilson M, Fleischmann R, et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F versus sulfasalazine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med . 2009;151(4):229-240, W49-W51.
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16797280 Ji SM, Wang QW, Chen JS, Sha GZ, Liu ZH, Li LS. Clinical trial of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F. in human kidney transplantation in China. Transplant Proc . 2006;38(5):1274-1279.
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26000480 Treatment of obesity with celastrol. Liu J, Lee J, Salazar Hernandez MA, Mazitschek R, Ozcan U
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9029176 Shamon LA, Pezzuto JM, Graves JM, et al. Evaluation of the mutagenic, cytotoxic, and antitumor potential of triptolide, a highly oxygenated diterpene isolated from Tripterygium wilfordii . Cancer Lett . 1997;112(1):113-117.
(5) Xu JY, Yang J, Li LZ. Antitumor effect of Tripterygium wilfordii [in Chinese]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi . 1992;12(3):161-164, 134.
(6) https://uncch.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/anti-aids-agents-xix-neotripterifordin-a-novel-anti-hiv-principle Chen K, Shi Q, Fujioka T, et al. Anti-AIDS agents—XIX. Neotripterifordin, a novel anti-HIV principle from Tripterygium wilfordii : isolation and structural elucidation. Bioorg Med Chem . 1995;3(10):1345-1348.
(7) https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/37/4/759/807569/Characterization-of-antiviral-activity-of-a Hayashi K, Hayashi T, Ujita K, Takaishi Y. Characterization of antiviral activity of a sesquiterpene, triptofordin C-2. J Antimicrob Chemother . 1996;37(4):759-768.