"The mechanism of action (of TwHF) isn't fully understood but seems different from currently available drugs," Dr Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky, from the US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland told Reuters Health.
TwHF, the researcher added, "may become an addition to the currently available treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis in the future".
Doctors often prescribe sulfasalazine or other anti-inflammatory drugs for the initial treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. However, many patients discontinue the drugs due to lack of improvement or side effects.
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The Chinese herbal remedy TwHF (also known as "lei gong teng" or "thunder god vine") has shown promise in treating other "autoimmune" disorders and inflammatory conditions.
Attractive, affordable alternative
In the current study, reported Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Goldbach-Mansky and colleagues randomly assigned 121 patients with rheumatoid arthritis to take either TwHF three times daily or sulfasalazine two times daily for 24 weeks.
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Many patients in both groups discontinued treatment, the researchers report. However, among those who continued treatment for 24 weeks, improvement in joint symptoms was greater with TwHF (67%) than with sulfasalazine (36%) and adverse effects were similar.
The rapid improvement in joint symptoms may make TwHF extract an attractive and affordable alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs, the researchers conclude.
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