With a name like Thunder God Vine, you'd expect this perennial plant to deliver extraordinary healing results. Chinese medicine practitioners have used Thunder God Vine for hundreds of years to treat inflammation and conditions caused by an overactive immune system. Since Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease, some patients are optimistic about the therapeutic potential of this plant.

Thunder God Vine, also known as lei gong teng, is a perennial vine native to China, Japan and Korea. Its official botanical name is triptergyuim wilfordii. The Thunder God Vine supplement is produced from an extract from the skinned root of the plant and alternative health practitioners often use it topically to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis. The supplement works by inhibiting the production of cytokines--a type of protein involved in inflammation--and other intermediaries by blocking increased activity of some pro-inflammatory genes.

While there are few clinical studies of the Thunder God Vine, researchers have found the supplement beneficial, but noted it was associated with severe adverse effects. Results from a small study funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) suggest that an oral extract of the herb may improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in some patients.

The leaves, flowers and skin of the root of the Thunder God Vine are poisonous and can be life threatening. Even proper use of the skinned root produces severe side effects in some patients, such as diarrhea, upset stomach, hair loss, headache, menstrual changes and skin rashes. Women who take Thunder God Vine supplements for more than five years risk decreased bone mineral density, putting them at risk for fractures and osteoporosis. It also reduces men's sperm count. Experts advise against using Thunder God Vine while taking immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisone.

In August 2009, NIAMS published study results comparing Thunder God Vine supplements to sulfasalazine in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. Sulfasalazine is an anti-inflammatory drug. Doctors may prescribe it for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients who don't respond to other medications. Patients who continued treatment with Thunder God Vine for 24 weeks, and who could use stable oral prednisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, enjoyed greater benefits than patients who took sulfasalazine.

Given the side effects, many healthcare practitioners hesitate recommending or supporting the use of Thunder God Vine supplements to relieve the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Most supplements such as Thunder God Vine are not regulated and quality may be suspect so use caution when purchasing these products. Be sure to tell your physician about Thunder God Vine and all supplements you take. They may interact with other medications or supplements.