Study: Herb comparable to Prednisone

(also see: I been watchin’ you – an article on the management of prednisone with herbs, and Herbal Prednisone / Anti-Rheumatic – an article comparing Sulfasalazine with Lei Gong Teng/TwHF)

In a sense, research of this nature is important. What is still troubling, however, is that the research is conducted in a way completely divorced from Chinese Medicine. In other words, it is 1. conducted with a single herb, 2. applied to patients who have been categorised in a western medical sense, and 3. conducted in the absence of the Chinese Medical system. I would like to emphasize that the true effects of CM cannot be seen when the CM materials (herbs, for example) are used without regard for the system (CM) which dictates how, when and on whom it is best to use them.

Tao, Xuelian, et al. A phase I study of ethyl acetate extract of the Chinese antirheumatic herb Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F. in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, Vol. 28, October 2001, pp. 2160-67:

A team of researchers from the University of Texas and the National Institutes of Health reports that an extract of the Chinese herbal remedy Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F (TwHF) has proven effective in the treatment of severe rheumatoid arthritis. TwHF has been used for centuries in China to treat what is now considered to be rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, and IgA nephropathy. Preliminary studies in animals have shown that TwHF extracts have anti- inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects comparable to those of prednisone.

Thirteen patients with long standing rheumatoid arthritis participated in the trial. The initial dosage was 30 mg/day; this was gradually increased to 570 mg/day over a 12-18 month period. Nine of the patients went through the whole program. The patients all experienced marked improvement and one went into complete remission on a dose of 390 mg/day. Morning stiffness was the first symptom to improve. At baseline it lasted an average of 265 minutes. On a dose of 390 mg/day it reduced to 10 minutes. ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) went from 55 mm/hour to 22 mm/hour on a dose of 480 mg/day. Sixty per cent of the patients experienced significant (more than 20 per cent) improvement on a dose of 180 mg/day. A dose of 300-480 mg/day was required for maximum benefit. This is comparable to the dosages used in China and was found to be entirely safe. The researchers are currently conducting a much larger, double- blind, controlled study to confirm the benefits of TwHF extracts.



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  1. I do wonder where the science of using extracts, rather than whole herbs, or multi-herb formulae will take us.
    At worst, can we forsee a time when drug companies team up with big agri-businesses to produce GM species, genetically tweaked to produce chemically active compounds in prescribed ratios?
    Will this still be ‘natural medicine’? I’m sure it will be marketed as such.
    Who will be able to prescribe these medicines? How much will they cost?
    Yes, research is important, yet the disparate, loose-knit relationships which CM practitioners have with each other globally, and the crevasses between allopathy and CM ensure that the ‘voice’ of CM is still a whisper in the ears of allopathic scientists.

  2. Hi Margi. I share your concern on both sides. Somehow we need to bring one of these messages of ours across in a compelling way: Caution is advised when tweaking Open Complex Giant Systems (OCGS – look it up) ***that we live within***.
    Somehow, I remain optimistic. But my optimism comes at the cost of the very challenging work which lies ahead of us.

  3. […] effect. Reducing the arena changes the game and damages the data irretrievably. In a previous post (Herb Comparable to Prednisone), I wrote about how oversimplification of Chinese Medical principles tended to damage the […]

  4. This herb, “TWHF” is commonly used just like prednisone in China in the treatment of lupus. I was so impressed by this herb as described in a book on the CM/WM treatment of lupus that I attempted to purchase it. However nobody in the US carries it because it is so ridiculously dangerous. That should be presented in the research too. Never mind the fact that it is a single extract being used, let’s see how we can use it without generating iatrogenic problems.

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