I love it when East meets West to produce new, powerful ways to help people live healthier, happier lives. A team of Chinese physicians, schooled in Western and traditional Chinese medicine, have done just that. And their study findings could be the tip of the iceberg for a new way to treat rheumatoid arthritis here in America.

It’s all about an age-old, traditional Chinese medicinal plant extract with a great name—thunder god vine. Thunder god vine extract has been a staple in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in China for hundreds of years. In fact, about two-thirds of patients with rheumatoid arthritis in China are treated with this time-tested remedy. Nowadays, though, East has already met West in China where most people being treated with the extract take it in combination with low doses of methotrexate, a powerful chemotherapeutic drug that tends to be used in the United States only when rheumatoid arthritis is severe and all other remedies have failed.


Scientists already know that thunder god vine extract can help your body keep a lid on the inflammation familiar to rheumatoid arthritis. But does it work just as well without methotrexate? And how does it stack up in comparison to methotrexate anyway? A group of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China wanted to find out. What they learned has intriguing implications for millions of people right here in America who have rheumatoid arthritis…

The researchers enrolled 207 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and divided them into three groups. Each group was given methotrexate at a dosage of 7.5 milligrams (mg) weekly to start, which could be increased up to 12.5 mg weekly if needed…or 20 mg of thunder god vine extract three times a day…or a combination of both the methotrexate and the extract. Patients were examined before and at various times during the study to track whether their treatment was working.

What the researchers found: Patients who received both methotrexate and thunder god vine extract fared the best—by far. In fact, after 24 weeks, 77% of that group saw their symptoms improve by at least 50%. In comparison, just 55% who received only thunder god vine extract improved that much…and only 46% of the patients who received only methotrexate improved that much. The natural product also worked faster than methotrexate in reducing the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, a marker of inflammation that is measured in blood tests.

By the fourth week of the study, participants in the thunder god vine extract group had improved significantly more than those in the methotrexate group, who didn’t see a major improvement until the very end of the study period. This all sounds great for thunder god vine extract…but I want to point out one thing to make sure our feet stay on the ground about this news. The amount of methotrexate that these Chinese patients were getting was less than what an American patient would normally get. In America, the dosage can be increased to up to 25 mg a week—double the dose that it was increased to in the Chinese study. This basically means that the Chinese patients may have been getting less than the optimum dosage of methotrexate than they really needed, which might explain why the methotrexate wasn’t as effective or as fast to work as thunder god vine extract. Bottom line: More research is needed—but these preliminary findings are promising and got me thinking that…

Maybe there will be a place someday soon for thunder god vine in your doctor’s bag of remedies for rheumatoid arthritis, and…

Maybe Western researchers will discover that methotrexate can be used at lower doses in combination with products like thunder god vine for different levels of rheumatoid arthritis, not just the severe, nothing-else-works kind.


I’m sure you know that side effects can and do occur with natural remedies, and thunder god vine extract is no exception. It’s Chinese medicine, after all. In the study that compared thunder god vine extract to methotrexate, side effects occurred slightly less often for patients receiving only the extract compared with those receiving only methotrexate. The most common side effects were gastrointestinal (abdominal discomfort, nausea, and loss of appetite). Also, because thunder god vine extract is known to cause irregular periods in women and affect reproductive hormones in both men and women, Chinese doctors recommend that it not be used in women of child-bearing age. It also might not be the best choice for people who have or are at risk for osteoporosis because the extract decreases bone mineral density.

Should you give thunder god vine a go? The active ingredient is carefully extracted from the skinned root of the vine, but other parts of the plant, including its leaves, flowers and the root skin that’s removed, are very poisonous and can cause death—so manufacturing must be precise. If you would like to try this remedy, it’s imperative to do so under the supervision of a knowledgeable integrative physician (such as a rheumatologist in-the-know about alternative health), a naturopathic doctor or a specialist in herbal medicines.