PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE;”Chinese Herbal Remedy May Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
By Nicole Ostrow
Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) — A centuries-old Chinese herbal remedy helped relieve joint pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a U.S. study showed.
About two-thirds of the patients who took a purified extract of the herb Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, or TwHF, for about six months showed at least a 20 percent improvement in their symptoms, compared with about one-third of those who took the anti-inflammatory sulfasalazine, researchers reported today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Formulations available for purchase may differ from the extract used in the study and potentially alter the results, said editor Christine Laine.
The extract, used in China for more than 400 years, may prove to be an affordable alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, according to the scientists. More research is needed to assess its long-term effects and whether it should be combined with other therapies, they wrote. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes painful swelling of the joints, affects about 1.3 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
“It’s too early to say that this study defines a specific role for this therapy,’’ said Laine, an internist, in a telephone interview. The findings show “convincing evidence’’ that TwHF does have an effect comparable to that of sulfasalzine, she said.
Potential Side Effects
The researchers supervised the making of the extract from the purchased herb, the study said. Known as “thunder god vine,” the remedy may cause severe side effects and be poisonous if not carefully extracted from the skinned root, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.
The study results may have been different if the herbal remedy was tested against more widely used anti-inflammatory medicines, including the generics ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen, which have been linked in studies to potential kidney damage and gastrointestinal side effects.
Almost half of the 121 patients who started the study dropped out before reaching a goal of 24 weeks. Researchers suggested perhaps the medicines didn’t work fast enough to relieve symptoms in those participants. They also noted that dropout rates were similar to those of other rheumatoid arthritis studies.
Doctors are debating the best ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis patients. They often start treating patients with anti-inflammatory drugs, when the disease symptoms aren’t yet severe, and later proceed to more potent and expensive therapies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Orencia, Abbott Laboratories’ Humira, Amgen Inc.’s Enbrel and Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade, Laine said.
At the start of the study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the University of Texas and several other centers recruited 121 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants received either sulfasalazine or TwHF root extract, which was purchased in China by staff from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Of 62 patients who completed the 24-week study, 37 were in the TwHF group. The researchers found that 67 percent taking TwHF showed at least a 20 percent improvement in both tender and swollen joints. They also had a 20 percent or more improvement in at least three other measures of pain, overall health, function and tests of inflammation.
The side effects in the study, most commonly nausea and diarrhea, were similar for both treatments.
In Chinese medicine, extracts of TwHF are used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Laboratory findings suggest the herb may fight inflammation, suppress the immune system and help combat cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The research team was headed by Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which also funded the study.
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