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What is Tripterygium wilfordii Used for Today?
In animal, test-tube, and preliminary human trials, trypterygium has shown immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory affects. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Because drugs with these properties are useful for conditions in which the immune system is overactive, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus , trypterygium has been proposed for similar use. However, as yet there is only minimal evidence that it is effective.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed in China in 1997 evaluated the topical use of a tripterygium extract in 61 people with rheumatoid arthritis. 7 The extract was applied 5–6 times daily to the affected joints. The results appeared to indicate that use of the herbal tincture over 6 weeks significantly reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as compared to placebo. However, due to problems in the study, researchers were compelled to use statistical methods that were somewhat questionable (technically, post-hoc analysis). For this reason, the results are only somewhat meaningful.
Another study compared placebo to oral trypterygium extract, taken in a low or high dose for 20 weeks. 8 The results appeared to show benefit, but so many participants dropped out before the end of the study that the results are difficult to interpret.
At most, therefore, current evidence regarding tripterygium for rheumatoid arthritis remains preliminary. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently conducting a much larger study on this herb that should provide more definitive information.
No other potential uses of tripterygium have undergone meaningful controlled clinical trials. Weak evidence hints that it might offer promise as a contraceptive for men. 9
- Wang X, Gao W, Yao Z et al. Immunosuppressive sesquiterpenes from Tripterygium wilfordii. Chem PharmBull (Tokyo). 2005;53:607–10.
- Wan Y, Gu L, Suzuki K, et al. Multi-glycoside of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook f. ameliorates proteinuria and acute mesangial injury induced by anti-Thy1.1 monoclonal antibody. Nephron Exp Nephrol. 2005;99:e121–9.
- Liu Q, Chen T, Chen H, Zhang M, Li N, Lu Z, Ma P, Cao X. Triptolide (PG-490) induces apoptosis of dendritic cells through sequential p38 MAP kinase phosphorylation and caspase 3 activation. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 319(3):980-6.
- Ho LJ, Lai JH. Chinese herbs as immunomodulators and potential disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs in autoimmune disorders. Curr Drug Metab. 5(2):181-92.
- Wu Y, Wang Y, Zhong C, Li Y, Li X, Sun B. The suppressive effect of triptolide on experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis by down-regulating Th1-type response. Int Immunopharmacol. 3(10-11):1457-65.
- Hu Y, Zhao W, Qian X, Zhang L. Effects of oral administration of type II collagen on adjuvant arthritis in rats and its mechanisms. Chin Med J (Engl). 116(2):284-7.
- Cibere J, Deng Z, Lin Y, et al. A randomized double blind, placebo controlled trial of topical Tripterygiumwilfordii in rheumatoid arthritis: reanalysis using logistic regression analysis. J Rheumatol. 2003;30:465–7.
- 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 Rheum. 2002;46:1735–43.
- Wang L, Ye W, Hui L, Liu X, Guo Y. Male contraception of triptonide and its function mechanism [in Chinese]. Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. 2000;22:223–6.