The "Thunder God Vine" has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat joint pain and inflammation.
(CNN) - A traditional herbal remedy may treat rheumatoid arthritis as effectively as an FDA-approved drug treatment, according to a preliminary study published this week in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Triptergium wilfordii Hook F, also known as the "Thunder God Vine," has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat joint pain and inflammation, though no U.S. manufacturer currently sells the root extract, according to the NIH.
More than half of the patients taking nothing but Triptergium wilfordii (TwHF) in the study experienced a 50 percent or greater improvement in their symptoms, as measured by the American College of Rheumatology's standardized assessment criteria.
By contrast, 46 percent of patients taking the standard drug treatment methotrexate experienced the same improvement in symptoms.
Patients taking both TwHF and methotrexate showed the greatest improvement of all, with nearly 77 percent of them experiencing a 50 percent or greater improvement in symptoms.
One major limitation of the study, however, is that both patients and clinicians knew who was receiving which treatments. A "blinded" clinical trial to rule out a placebo effect would be necessary to earn FDA-approval in the United States.
And while current drug treatments also slow the progression of arthritis over time, the study authors only measured symptom improvement with TwHF.
The study was conducted in China and included 207 total patients with active rheumatoid arthritis who were observed for 24 weeks.