The Health Benefits of Thunder God Vine

Herb said to help with Crohn's disease, RA, and more

Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii), an herb used for centuries to treat swelling and inflammation, is said to benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel diseases, kidney disease, and other health conditions. Native to China and Taiwan, thunder god vine appears to have anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. Extract taken from the plant's roots can be found in products that can be taken orally or applied topically.

Also Known As

  • Léi gōng téng
  • Thunder duke vine

Uses and Effectiveness

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 RA, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Laboratory research shows that two main components in thunder god vine—triptolide and celastrol—possess anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, anti-obesity, anti-diabetes, and neuroprotective properties. In addition, these compounds may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

Several human-based studies suggest that thunder god vine shows potential in a few specific therapeutic areas. However, it should be noted that several of these studies involved small sample sizes and the body of research is considered inconclusive.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A growing body of research suggests thunder god vine can help relieve inflammation, pain, and joint stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis as well as, if not better than, conventional therapies. 

A 2016 meta-analysis of 22 clinical trials and 5,255 participants, published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, compared thunder god vine to some commonly used RA medications. It found the herb may work better than some prescription drugs.

According to the research, thunder god vine was found to be superior to Azulfidine (sulphasalazine) and possibly superior to Trexall (methotrexate), Arava (leflunomide), Minocin (minocycline), and placebo. The study authors note the results are promising and encourage more comparative research.

A 2015 randomized controlled trial published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases compared thunder god vine to the disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) methotrexate.

The 24-week study assigned 207 people with RA to receive either a 12.5 milligram (mg) dose of methotrexate once a week, 20 mg of thunder god vine three times a day, or a combination of the two. Investigators found thunder god vine relieved disease activity as well as methotrexate, but a combination of the two was most effective. 

This conclusion is mirrored in a 2017 review of six clinical trials including 643 people with RA. According to the review, the combination reduced swollen and tender joints, shortened the duration of morning stiffness, and decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and rheumatoid factor (RF) better than methotrexate alone. 

Crohn's Disease

Thunder god vine may be beneficial for people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, bowel diseases that cause inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. Animal studies show triptolide, a compound in thunder god vine, reduces intestinal inflammation by suppressing signaling pathways and inflammatory cytokines. 

Human studies have compared thunder god vine to current Crohn's and UC treatments with mixed results.

A 2015 study of 137 patients with Crohn’s disease published in the American Journal of Medical Sciences compared the drug mesalazine to two different doses of thunder god vine. After a year of treatment, the higher dose of thunder god vine (2 mg per kilogram of body weight a day) was shown to prolong disease remission better than mesalazine.

Compared to Imuran (azathioprine), however, thunder god vine may not work as well, notes a one-year randomized control trial. In the study, 90 people with Crohn’s disease who had undergone bowel resection were treated with either thunder god vine or Imuran. While both groups had similar rates of clinical recurrence of symptoms, thunder god vine was found to be less effective at preventing signs of disease found on endoscopy. 

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that, although these findings are promising, there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend thunder god vine's use for treating Crohn's disease or UC.

Kidney Disease

Thunder god vine is being investigated as a potential treatment for kidney diseases and research suggests the herbal remedy may help preserve kidney function. 

A 2019 meta-analysis of 40 studies involving 2,846 people with primary nephrotic syndrome found thunder god vine alone or in combination with prednisone has a clinically significant impact on kidney function. The research, published in the journal Medicine, found the herb increases remission rates in patients. 

A 2018 meta-analysis of 133 randomized controlled trials on its safety and effectiveness found thunder god vine decreases proteinuria (excess protein in urine), serum creatinine levels, and blood urea nitrogen levels without serious side effects in a number of different renal diseases. 

In addition, thunder god vine may help people with diabetic nephropathy, which is the leading cause of renal failure. A small clinical trial involving 65 participants found thunder god vine reduces urine protein levels in nephropathy patients. The study authors note that the herb is a novel, potentially effective, and safe drug for the treatment of nephropathy.

When it comes to adequate dosing of thunder god vine for the treatment of kidney disease, research shows a higher dose may be beneficial. A 2017 study of 49 people with immunoglobulin A nephropathy (IgAN), also known as Berger’s disease, compared treatment with prednisone to both a standard dose (120 mg) and a double dose (240 mg) of thunder god vine. 

Investigators found a majority of patients were able to achieve remission following treatment with prednisone (69.2%) and the double dose of thunder god vine (87.5%). There was no benefit found for the standard dose. In addition, the treatment was well tolerated and no serious adverse events occurred.

Skin Conditions

Thunder god vine may also have some benefits for treating some skin conditions. Several studies have found that compounds in the herb may help other skin treatments better provide relief of rashes.

A 2018 literature review published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests thunder god vine may boost the effectiveness of antihistamines for treating chronic urticaria. Investigators analyzed 21 clinical trials involving a total of 2,565 people with the skin condition and found antihistamines combined with thunder god vine relieved symptoms better than antihistamines alone.

A similar review published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2019—this one including 13 clinical trials and 1,385 people with atopic eczema—found agents extracted from thunder god vine combined with Diyin tablet and topical glucocorticoids or glycyrrhizin reduced eczema flare-ups better than drugs alone.

Thunder god vine may also improve psoriasis, according to a 2018 literature review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Researchers analyzed 28 studies involving 1,872 people with psoriasis and found the herb may be an effective adjunct to current therapies, such as compound glycyrrhizin, acitretin, and compound amino-polypeptide tablet.

Possible Side Effects

Thunder god vine may cause side effects ranging from mild to serious. Research suggests up to one-third of people taking the herb experience adverse effects and 5% have severe reactions including the toxicity of intestines, liver, kidneys, skin, blood, or reproductive organs. 

Common side effects of thunder god vine include:

Long-term use of thunder god vine may increase the risk of toxicity and other adverse effects. Taking the herb for five years or longer has also been found to decrease bone mineral density in women, which may be particularly harmful to those who have or are at risk for osteoporosis.

The herb has potential negatives impacts on fertility for both men and women. In animal studies, thunder god vine was shown to decrease sperm counts and may impact male fertility. In female mice, thunder god vine was linked to premature ovarian insufficiency, a primary cause of female infertility.

The safety of thunder god vine during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unknown, however, animal studies link the herb to possible birth defects. Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should avoid using it.

Thunder god vine may interact with other medications and should not be taken alongside immunosuppressants such as methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine unless under doctor supervision.

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

Selection and Preparation

Thunder god vine is available in powder and capsule form and sold online, in health food stores, and other outlets that carry natural medicines.

Instructions for the preparation and use of thunder vine vary from brand to brand. There is no standard dose for thunder god vine.

If not prepared properly, thunder god vine can be poisonous, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

It is important to ensure you are buying a quality product as dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Look for supplements that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International.

A Word From Verywell

While the current research on thunder god vine is encouraging, there is not yet enough evidence to support its use for treating any medical condition. Any potential benefits of the herb need to be weighed against the risk of serious side effects. Talk to your doctor before using this or any supplement to treat any medical condition.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Thunder god vine. Updated September 2016.

  2. Chen SR, Dai Y, Zhao J, Lin L, Wang Y, Wang Y. A mechanistic overview of triptolide and celastrol, natural products from Tripterygium wilfordii hook FFront Pharmacol. 2018;9:104. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00104

  3. Wang HL, Jiang Q, Feng XH, et al. Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F versus conventional synthetic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs as monotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and network meta-analysisBMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16:215. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1194-x

  4. Lv QW, Zhang W, Shi Q, et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F with methotrexate in the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis (TRIFRA): a randomised, controlled clinical trialAnn Rheum Dis. 2015;74(6):1078-1086. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204807

  5. Wang X, Zu Y, Huang L, et al. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with combination of methotrexate and Tripterygium wilfordii: A meta-analysisLife Sci. 2017;171:45-50. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2017.01.004 

  6. Wu R, Li Y, Guo Z, et al. Triptolide ameliorates ileocolonic anastomosis inflammation in IL-10 deficient mice by mechanism involving suppression of miR-155/SHIP-1 signaling pathwayMol Immunol. 2013;56(4):340-346. doi:10.1016/j.molimm.2013.05.006

  7. Sun J, Shen X, Dong J, et al. Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F as Maintenance Treatment for Crohn's DiseaseAm J Med Sci. 2015;350(5):345-351. doi:10.1097/MAJ.0000000000000591 

  8. Zhu W, Li Y, Gong J, et al. Tripterygium wilfordii Hook. f. versus azathioprine for prevention of postoperative recurrence in patients with Crohn's disease: a randomized clinical trialDig Liver Dis. 2015;47(1):14-19. doi:10.1016/j.dld.2014.09.008

  9. Wang XB, Dai EL, Xue GZ, Ma RL. A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and network meta-analysis on the efficacy between different regimens based on Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in patients with primary nephrotic syndromeMedicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(27):e11282. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000011282

  10. Wang D, Zhao XH, Cui Y, Zhang TT, Wang F, Hu YH. Efficacy and safety of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F for CKD in Mainland China: A systematic review and meta-analysisPhytother Res. 2018;32(3):436-451. doi:10.1002/ptr.5987

  11. Ge Y, Xie H, Li S, et al. Treatment of diabetic nephropathy with Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F extract: a prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trialJ Transl Med. 2013;11:134. doi:10.1186/1479-5876-11-134

  12. Wang Z, Yu C, Zhou LN, Chen X. Effects of Tripterygium wilfordii Induction Therapy to IgA Nephropathy Patients with Heavy ProteinuriaBiol Pharm Bull. 2017;40(11):1833-1838. doi:10.1248/bpb.b17-00134

  13. Liu L, Zhao H, Sun X, et al. Efficacy and safety of Tripterygium wilfordii hook F for chronic urticaria: a systematic review and meta-analysisBMC Complement Altern Med. 2018;18(1):243. doi:10.1186/s12906-018-2305-7

  14. Liu L, Luo Y, Zhou M, et al. Tripterygium agents for the treatment of atopic eczema: A Bayesian analysis of randomized controlled trialsPhytomedicine. 2019;59:152914. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2019.152914

  15. Lv M, Deng J, Tang N, Zeng Y, Lu C. Efficacy and safety of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F on psoriasis vulgaris: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsEvid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:2623085. doi:10.1155/2018/2623085

  16. Ru Y, Luo Y, Zhou Y, et al. Adverse Events Associated With Treatment of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F: A Quantitative Evidence SynthesisFront Pharmacol. 2019;10:1250. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.01250

  17. Jing X, Cheng W, Guo S, Zou Y, Zhang T, He L. Toxic effects of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F on the reproductive system of adolescent male ratsBiomed Pharmacother. 2017;95:1338-1345. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2017.09.038

  18. Chen XY, Gu C, Ma M, et al. A mouse model of premature ovarian insufficiency induced by tripterygium glycoside via subcutaneous injectionInt J Clin Exp Pathol. 2013;7(1):144-151.

  19. Wang S, Liu K, Wang X, He Q, Chen X. Toxic effects of celastrol on embryonic development of zebrafish (Danio rerio)Drug Chem Toxicol. 2011;34(1):61-65. doi:10.3109/01480545.2010.494664