The Health Benefits of Thunder God Vine

Woman rubbing the joints in her fingers

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Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) is an herb that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. The supplement is made from the roots and leaves of a plant grown primarily in China and Taiwan. Thunder god vine is also sometimes referred to as "lei gong teng" or "thunder duke vine."

Thunder god vine extracts are taken orally and promoted for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. There are some scientific studies to support its effectiveness. But there are also safety concerns that consumers should be aware of.

Health Benefits

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.

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. But more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Proponents of thunder god vine claim that the herb can also help treat excessive menstrual periods. Some men take thunder god vine as a contraceptive. Evidence to support the use of thunder god vine for these uses is lacking.

Several human-based studies suggest that thunder god vine shows promise in a few specific areas.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A number of small studies indicate that thunder god vine may improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in some patients.

One study published in 2009 found that when patients continued treatment for 24 weeks, symptoms including joint pain and swelling, inflammation improved significantly more with thunder god vine than with a commonly used drug.

Another study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases compared thunder god vine to conventional treatment. Study authors concluded that both were comparable in relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and that the combination of the herb and the drug was better than either one alone

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."

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 the 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.

Possible Side Effects

Thunder god vine may interact with medications used to suppress the immune system. Do not take it if you are on a corticosteroid or any related drug. If you are not sure if your medication is an immunosuppressant check with your healthcare provider.

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

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 women who have or at risk for osteoporosis.

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

Thunder god vine is likely unsafe during pregnancy. Also, not enough is known about the safety of thunder god vine during breast-feeding. Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should avoid using it.

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend thunder god vine for any condition. Given the potential health risks associated with intake of thunder god vine, it's important to consult your physician if you're considering the use of this herb in the treatment of any health condition. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Thunder god vine is in some health food stores and other outlets that carry natural medicines. It is also sold online. You'll find it in powder or capsule form.

There is not enough scientific evidence to determine a safe or effective dose of thunder god vine.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, thunder god vine can be extremely poisonous if the extract is not prepared properly.

Instructions for the preparation and use of thunder vine supplements and suggested doses on products vary. To stay safe, only consider use of this supplement under the care of a qualified healthcare professional.

Lastly, while it is not legal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a specific disease, or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease, the FDA does not test supplements for safety or effectiveness.

In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances.

When choosing a supplement, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

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