Thunder God Vine Root – History and Preliminary Studies
The Thunder God Vine plant, also known as Tripterygium Wilfordii, Lei Gong Teng, and Threewingnut, and a plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat many illnesses and symptoms, including pain, inflammation, carbuncles, immune deficiency and more recently, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and now, obesity.
The Thunder God Vine plant is a perennial plant, meaning it grows back year after year, similar to trees, ivy and other plants. The vine grows in the mountains of China, as well as Taiwan and Myanmar, also known as Burma. It is a deciduous climbing vine that sheds its leaves, and produces white flowers and red fruit with three “wings.” (Hence the name Threewingnut). The plant’s leaves, flowers, and outer skin of the root are poisonous, as well as honey taken from the plant’s pollen. The root pulp is the non-poisonous part, which is used medicinally, after peeling the outer layer from the root. There is a risk of poisoning if the herb is not extracted properly.
In ancient China, herbal practitioners carefully extracted the portion of the root of the plant used for treatment – peeling it like one would peel a potato, then creating a powder or extract from the root pulp. The roots were gathered in the summer or early fall. The root is harvested similarly to Ginseng or Goldenseal roots, with thought being taken to propagation of the plant that was uprooted so that it could be replaced. The vine itself, and its flowers, can be used as a natural pesticide, if care is taken not to ingest them.
Utilization of thunder god vine in ancient Chinese medical practices goes back millennia. Ancient Chinese herbal practitioners used the root of the vine to treat many conditions, which included rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, infections of the skin and leprosy, fever, boils, and carbuncles. However, ancient Chinese doctors were also aware that the plant could be deadly if used incorrectly.
In modern times, the herb has been investigated for its healing properties. In the age of modern medicine, however, the interest of “big pharma” lies more in creating profit than healing, necessarily, so it’s doubtful that ancient remedies will be properly given their due as effective and safe, when there is money to be made by creating synthetic representations of the original product hand made by Mother Nature.
That does not mean, however, that research has not been done. Clinical trials HAVE been done, and found that and extract of the Thunder God Vine Root is an effective and usable remedy for different ailments.
China began the studies of the plant in the 1980s. The lead researcher was Dr. Xue-Lian Tao, a former post-doctoral fellow at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Branch (UTSMB). In the study, as typically done in clinical research, neither the scientists nor the participants (numbering over 2000) knew who was getting the doses of the actual herb, or the placebo. The study was being conducted on the treatment of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and the findings of the study indicated that the Thunder God Vine Root Extract WAS indeed effective at treating the symptoms of RA, which include pain, inflammation and joint stiffness.
Dr. Tao then returned to the US and continued his research on the extract with Dr. Peter Lipsky, then-director of the Harold C. Simmons Arthritis Center at the University of Texas.
The team’s research in the United States was centered around determining a safe dosage of thunder god vine and locating the part of the plant that appeared to ease arthritis pain . Lipsky reported that in 1994 the team evaluated the toxicity of the vine, and found “very little” toxicity, thus reducing the possibility of poisoning.
Moving into the 1990s, researchers at UTSMB studied the plant’s effectiveness in treating the symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Their hope was to prove that the root extract of the thunder god vine would be proven as a safe and effective for medical treatment of RA, and therefor researchers hope it may also be approved to treat other autoimmune conditions.
Other autoimmune diseases include lupus (a rheumatic condition that affects the skin and tissue, producing symptoms of rash, joint pain, and inflammation) and psoriasis—this inflammatory condition causes portions of the skin to raise, turn red, and scale. By 1998, the research team had developed a root extract from the plant that could be studied for its effectiveness in providing relief of arthritis symptoms. They named the extract “Texas Ethyl Acetate” (TEA), and applied to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permission to test the extract on arthritis patients.
The FDA issued permission for the research studies. Studies were done through UTSMB and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1999, Lipsky was named scientific director of NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
In 2002, NIAMS announced the results of a 20-week study involving 21 rheumatoid arthritis patients. Patients received a high-dose extract, low-dose extract, or a placebo. After four weeks, rapid improvement in symptoms was reported by 80% of those in the high-dose group, and in 40% of low-dose participants. No change was reported by people who took placebos. Lipsky rated the results as promising, saying that the extract slowed down an overactive immune system.
Response to the NIAMS study was generally positive. However, some scientists noted that the test group was small and the trial lasted only 20 weeks. Lipsky announced in 2002 that additional research was planned, using thunder god vine to treat RA and conditions such as lupus.
Prior to the NIAMS study, researchers imported thunder god vine root extract from China, where its medicinal use stretches back thousands of years. In 2002, after news of the NIAMS study was released, it was announced that Phytomedics Inc., a New Jersey biopharmaceutical company, was growing thunder god vine. Phytomedics Inc. renamed the extract “PMI-001,” and announced plans to develop a botanical drug for the treatment of arthritis. The New Jersey-based company partnered with Pfizer, another pharmaceutical company, to manufacture the drug. As of 2004, the PMI-001 product had not been brought to the FDA.
Most adherents to natural medicinal principles, however, would prefer to get the herb “straight from the horse’s mouth”, if you would, rather than through chemical engineering of a natural product. And while pharmaceutical companies and even the FDA have a vested interest in the chemical manipulation of the effective compounds in the Thunder God Vine root, many prefer to have the product un-adulterated, as nature intended.
The FDA, however, has strict rules about what can and cannot be offered as medical advice, saying of course that thousands of years of Chinese study and use of the plant means nothing unless the FDA itself announces that a plant is medicinal in use. So according to FDA guidelines, as the author of this article, I must cite that I am not a doctor, and what I write can in no way, shape or form be construed as medical advice. The FDA does allow the sale of supplements, however, if claims to the healing properties say they are not evaluated by the FDA.
However, the beauty of America is that we are a free country, and each one of us is free to do as he or she pleases in the treatment of our own medical issues. Web MD, however, gives a dosage for the supplement as the following:
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
For rheumatoid arthritis (RA): 180-570 mg of thunder god vine extract per day for up to 20 weeks.
Click here for links to other studies with different uses.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
For rheumatoid arthritis (RA): a tincture of thunder god vine applied over affected joints five to six times daily.
Gale Cengage Learning. Copyright 2008, The Gale Group. From: http://www.altmd.com/Articles/Thunder-God-Vine–Encyclopedia-of-Alternative-Medi Accessed Jun 4, 2007.