The history of Thunder God Vine in autoimmunity

The many names of Thunder God Vine

The knowledge and use of Thunder God Vine in autoimmunity dates back to the Chinese antiquity.

To begin with, Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F. is the scientific name of the plant (or TwHF in clinical trials).

As well as Lei Gong Teng in Chinese, sometimes translated into Thunder Duke Vine.

God or Duke refers to one of the numerous gods of the rich ancient Chinese religion. Its folk name appears to be “walk seven steps and die”: needless to say that the plant is toxic (the leaves, bark, flowers, the root…).

The root pulp is the less poisonous part and is medicinally usable. There is a risk of poisoning if the herb is not extracted properly.

Triperygium wilfordii Hook F Botanical Plate

Known in China for 2000 years but toxicity limited the use

The description of the plant was already in the lost Shennong’s Chinese Materia (period of the Three Kingdoms 220–280 AD). This is known because it was discussed in documents reffering to it.

The 16th century compilation of the Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shi-Zheu (1578) also reports the use of Tripterygium wilfordii.

In ancient China, practitioners used to prepare the roots of Thunder God Vine for treatment.

This preparation included removing the poisonous bark and allowing the roots to dry for at least a year. The root was then ground to powder and applied locally to the skin. Thunder God Vine was not taken orally since there was a risk of poisoning.

The main indications were rheumatoid arthritis, swelling, skin infections, leprosy, fever, boils and chills.

Extraction made it possible to prepare water based and ethanol based extracts too. They have a positive effect on autoimmune symptoms taken by mouth but never became a popular treatment because of the associated toxicity on liver and kidney.

Triperygium Wilfordii Hook F Leaves and Flowers

Development of  safe medicinal extracts in the 70s in China

In the 1970s in China, researchers develop medicinal extracts with a very diminished toxicity that are both effective and safe taken by mouth.

In the 1980s, large clinical studies take place.

Over the past 30 years, medicinal Thunder God Vine became a first intention in a number of autoimmune indications. 

The therapeutic dosage is 1 to 1,5mg/kg/day with a maximum of 90mg/day. The existing commercial presentations are tablets of 10mg.

The American medicinal Thunder God Vine extract

Later on in 1998, USA develops another similar extract. This was at the Dallas University of Texas Southwestern Medical Branch (UTSMB).

The small clinical study outcome with patients having refractory Rheumatoid Arthritis was very positive. Because this study has disappeared from the radars, let me share the copy I have, you can download it here:

In 2002, after the study release, Phytomedics Inc., a New Jersey bio-pharmaceutical company, started growing Thunder God Vine in order to produce the medicinal extract. That’s when the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer “partnered” with Phytomedics to help manufacture the extract.

The extract is never heard of again, this was 19 years ago.

I will leave it to you to make your personal educated conclusion to the Western short story of medicinal Thunder God Vine.

Traditional culture and other uses in China

Culture of Thunder God Vine also dates back to centuries of course. Extensive culture is traditional in several Southeastern provinces of China, especially in Zhejiang Province. Chinese horticulturists and other non edible product farmers it as an insecticidal powder still nowadays.

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