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Herb Shows Potential for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Date:8/19/2009

Study compares ancient remedy to modern drug, but not the most common, experts say,,

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- An ancient Chinese herbal remedy called "thunder god vine" helps reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis, a new study shows.

The remedy is an extract of the medicinal plant Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (TwHF) -- known in China as "lei gong teng" -- and has been used for centuries to treat a variety of inflammatory diseases.

The study compared reduction in joint swelling among people with rheumatoid arthritis who took either the herb or an anti-inflammatory drug.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic and painful inflammation of the joints that, over time, can lead to joint damage and loss of function.

The 121 participants in the study all had at least six swollen joints. One group took 60 milligrams of TwHF root extract three times a day, and the others 1 gram of sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), a prescription anti-inflammatory drug, twice a day.

After 24 weeks, about 65 percent of those taking the herbal extract showed at least a 20 percent improvement in their joints, based on American College of Rheumatology criteria, a standard measure of the effectiveness of arthritis treatments. About 33 percent of those taking sulfasalazine improved to that degree.

A report on the findings is published Aug. 18 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

"This study is a reminder of the potential importance of supplements and herbs in the management of arthritis," said Dr. John H. Klippel, president and chief executive of the Arthritis Foundation.

Even so, the study involved a relatively small number of people, Klippel noted. Clinical trials for pharmaceuticals typically involve many more participants studied over several years, he said.

"The findings are encouraging, but [TwHF] is not likely to be recommended by rheumatologists
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