This fact sheet provides basic information about the herb thunder god vine—common names, uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. Thunder god vine is a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea. It has been used in China for health purposes for more than 400 years.
Common Names—thunder god vine, lei gong teng
Latin Name—Tripterygium wilfordii
What Thunder God Vine Is Used For
- Thunder god vine has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for conditions involving inflammation or overactivity of the immune system.
- Orally, thunder god vine is taken for excessive menstrual periods or for autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus.
- Thunder god vine preparations are also applied to the skin for rheumatoid arthritis.
How Thunder God Vine Is Used
Extracts are prepared from the skinned root of thunder god vine.
What the Science Says
- Laboratory findings suggest that thunder god vine may fight inflammation, suppress the immune system, and have anti-cancer effects.
- Although early evidence is promising, there have been few high-quality studies of thunder god vine in people. Results from a large study funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which compared an extract of thunder god vine root with a conventional medicine (sulfasalazine) for rheumatoid arthritis, found that participants' symptoms (e.g., joint pain and swelling, inflammation) improved more significantly with thunder god vine than with sulfasalazine.
- A small study on thunder god vine applied to the skin also found benefits for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- There is not enough scientific evidence to assess thunder god vine's use for any other health conditions.
Side Effects and Cautions
- Thunder god vine can cause severe side effects and can be poisonous if it is not carefully extracted from the skinned root. Other parts of the plant—including the leaves, flowers, and skin of the root—are highly poisonous and can cause death.
- A number participants in the NIAMS study experienced gastrointestinal adverse effects such as diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea, as well as upper respiratory tract infections. (The rate of adverse effects was similar in both the thunder god vine and sulfasalazine groups.)
- Thunder god vine can also cause hair loss, headache, menstrual changes, and skin rash.
- There are no consistent, high-quality thunder god vine products being manufactured in the United States. Preparations of thunder god vine made outside the United States (for example, in China) can sometimes be obtained, but it is not possible to verify whether they are safe and effective.
- Thunder god vine has been found to decrease bone mineral density in women who take the herb for 5 years or longer. This side effect may be of particular concern to women who have osteoporosis or are at risk for the condition.
- Thunder god vine contains chemicals that might decrease male fertility by changing sperm.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM'sTime to Talk campaign.
- Canter PH, Hyang SL, Ernst E. A systematic review of randomized clinical trials of Tripterygium wilfordii for rheumatoid arthritis. Phytomedicine. 2006;13(5):371–377.
- Carter BZ, Mark DH, Schober WD, et al. Triptolide induces caspase-dependent cell death mediated via the mitochondrial pathway in leukemic cells. Blood. 2006;108(2):630–637.
- Goldbach-Manksy R, Wilson M, Fleischmann R, et al. Comparison of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F versus sulfasalazine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2009;151(4):229–240, W49–51.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Rheumatoid Arthritis and CAM.National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site. Accessed atwww.nccam.nih.gov/health/RA on June 3, 2010.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Chinese Thunder God Vine Gives Relief from Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Web site. Accessed atwww.niams.nih.gov/News_and_Events/Spotlight_on_Research/2002/thunder.asp on June 3, 2010.
- Setty AR, Sigal LH. Herbal medications commonly used in the practice of rheumatology: mechanisms of action, efficacy, and side effects. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism.2005;34(6):773–784.
- Tao X, Younger J, Fan FZ, et al. Benefit of an extract of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Arthritis & Rheumatism.2002;46(7):1735–1743.
- Thunder god vine. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at www.naturaldatabase.com on September 15, 2009.