Health Benefits of Thunder God Vine

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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.


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.

Health Benefits

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 the treatment of the following.

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."

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.


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 to women who have or at risk for osteoporosis.

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

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. 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 such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Using Thunder God Vine for Health

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.

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Article 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" 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.