Chinese Herbs for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Could a Chinese Herb Replace Life-Threatening RA Drugs?


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your joints. The abnormal immune response causes inflammation that can damage joints and organs, such as the heart. It’s chronic, extremely painful, and can be debilitating. But in May 2014, a high-profile study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases has shown that a natural herb can be more effective than [U.S] FDA-approved drugs.

The Annals study tested whether Thunder God Vine (Tripterygium wilfordii, a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea) was more effective in the treatment of RA than the most commonly prescribed disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, Methotrexate.

The results were astounding: of the 207 trial participants, 55% of those who took Thunder God Vine extract experienced at least a 50% improvement in the tender and swollen joints, pain, and disability associated with RA. By comparison, just 46.5% of patients on methotrexate had the same reduction in symptoms.

A third group, who took a combination of Thunder God Vine and Methotrexate, had the best results: 77% showed a reduction of symptoms. But as we shall see below, Methotrexate is an extremely dangerous drug to take.

This study has confirmed what Chinese herbalists have known for more than 400 years: Thunder God Vine is useful in the treatment of inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The herb has even been shown to have anti-cancer properties: in one 2012 study, the herb completely wiped out pancreatic tumors in mice in just forty days.

As Dr. Jonathan Wright notes, Thunder God Vine may produce mild side effects such as nausea, indigestion, or diarrhea. As always, and especially because it’s difficult to get high quality Thunder God Vine in the United States, talk to your integrative doctor [or Chinese Medicine specialist] before starting a new health regimen.

Thunder God Vine could become a cost-effective alternative to dangerous RA drugs: a month’s worth of the herbal extract costs just $12.90. By comparison:

• Methotrexate, which costs U.S. $38.70 a month, has a laundry list of disturbing side effects: nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, rash, diarrhea, blood count abnormalities, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, persistent cough, shortness of breath, slow hair loss, skin sensitivity to sunlight, and cancer of the blood. It is not at all unusual for people to die from taking this drug. An ANH staff member had a friend who did. Methotrexate can also cause serious birth defects and complications during pregnancy.

• TNF-alpha blockers (Enbrel and Humira) cost as much as U.S. $3,650 per prescription. These are used to treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory diseases. Because TNF-alpha blockers are immunosuppressants, patients are at increased risk of developing serious infections that may lead to hospitalization or death due to bacterial, mycobacterial, fungal, viral, parasitic, and other opportunistic pathogens. In 2008, 2009, and 2011, the FDA determined that these drugs increase the risk of different – but all potentially fatal – infections and cancers, including tuberculosis and childhood leukemia.

• Xeljanz, at U.S. $2,055 a month, caused four patient deaths before it even hit the market. It causes such side effects as infections, shingles, lymphoma, and stomach ruptures. The European regulatory agencies rejected Xeljanz twice on safety grounds (the Committee was “of the opinion that the benefits of Xeljanz did not outweigh its risks”).

RA can be debilitatingly painful. Even when they’re fully aware of the danger of RA drugs, many patients will still choose drugs over crippling joint pain and lifelong disability. With conventional medicine’s “discovery” of Thunder God Vine, patients should soon be able to access a cheaper, safer treatment alternative.

The Cleveland Clinic – one of the most highly lauded hospitals in the country (President Obama himself has sung its praises) – has opened its very own Chinese herbal therapy center. Slowly, the world of mainstream medicine is catching on to the benefits of natural health.

That is, in America. In Europe, the noose has been tightened on both Chinese and Indian traditional medicine, and it is becoming increasingly unavailable.

Is U.S. mainstream medicine’s and Big Pharma’s interest in Thunder God Vine a good thing? Now that its effectiveness has been demonstrated so amply, will Big Pharma attempt to turn Thunder God Vine into an expensive, patented drug? Or, as we’ve seen with other supplements, will this result in less effective, bargain basement-quality products? Will the U.S. FDA leap on the chance to reserve another powerful health tool for Big Pharma via burdensome, expensive regulations?

The previous article was excerpted from a longer article posted online at:

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