Alternative Names: Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, (literally) "Thunder God Vine" in Chinese medicine, Radix Tripterygium wilfordii
Lei Gong Teng is a plant of the genus Tripterygium of the family celastraceae, believed to possess potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Lei gong teng is a native plant that grows in many parts of China and Burma.
Many preparations, mainly from its root, have been used clinically, among which the polyglycoside (TP) has shown better effects.
Lei gong teng has a long history of relieving the pain and reducing swelling in patients with swollen joints and impaired mobility. It is used alone or with other antirheumatic herbs.
A randomized, double-blind trial involving 70 rheumatoid arthritis patients reported in 2000 that approximately 90% of the patients experienced significant improvement after treatment.
A 2001 research study by the University of Texas and the National Institute of Health reported that lei gong teng has an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effect comparable to prednisone.
This herb is also known in China as "qi bu si" – literally, "seven steps to death" – reflecting its high toxicity. Because of this toxicity, the daily dose should be kept between 5 and 12 grams, up to a maximum of 15 grams, and it should be prepared exactly according to instructions.
The entire tripterygium plant is toxic, the root and bark being the most toxic. The fresh form is more toxic than the dried form. Adverse reactions usually begin within 2-3 hours of ingesting the herb.
Many side-effects have been reported. About 45% of patients who received TP complained of such adverse effects as skin rashes, skin pigmentation, stomatitis and softening of finger nails. In female patients treated with TP, reduction of menses was noted 4 weeks after initiation of therapy, and amenorrhea was observed in 30% and 90% of the cases respectively 3 months after and 6 months after starting use of the extract.
Amongst male patients, sperm count and motility was reduced and the sperm disappeared completely after a month. In general, the longer the duration of administration and the older the patients, the smaller the probability of their menses or sperm returning to normal. Frequent upper abdominal pain, nausea and reduced appetite were also reported, and impairment of hepatic and renal functions appeared in a few cases. [Chin Med J (Taipei) 1996; 57: S35]
Having said that, side-effects are minimal when this herb is properly dosed and prepared.
Lei gong teng should not be used during pregnancy, and with caution in geriatric and pediatric patients. It should also be used with caution by patients with heart, stomach or spleen problems. Because of its toxicity, it should not be used by patients impaired liver function.
Amongst patients with lupus nephritis who were unresponsive to prednisone and other immunosuppressive drugs, combined administration of prednisone and TP (polyglycoside extract of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F) resulted in reduction or even complete disappearance of protein in the urine in 40-50% of cases. Many side-effects, however, have been reported. [Chin Med J (Taipei) 1996; 57: S35]
Treatment with an extract of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (360-570mg per day) improved clinical manifestations and laboratory findings in a study of 13 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Three patients withdrew during the first 16 weeks of dose escalation, including one patient who developed diastolic hypertension at a dose of 180mg per day. [J Rheumatol 2001;28(10): pp.2160-7]
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