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A Chinese herbal answer to the pain of arthritis


A herbal remedy may offer hope for arthritis sufferers.

A herbal remedy may offer hope for arthritis sufferers.

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A herbal remedy may offer hope for arthritis sufferers.

A TRADITIONAL Chinese herbal remedy used to relieve joint pain and inflammation works as well as methotrexate, a standard drug treatment that is frequently prescribed to control the symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis.

Research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Disease said combining the herbal remedy with methotrexate – the disease modifying drug (DMARD) most commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis –was more effective than treatment with methotrexate alone.

Triptergium wilfordii Hook F, or TwHF for short, is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat joint pain, swelling and inflammation, and is already approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in China.

The research team randomly assigned 207 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis to one of three treatment groups: methotrexate 12.5mg once a week; or TwHF 20mg three times a day; or a combination of the two over a period of 24 weeks.

The researchers wanted to find out which of these approaches would sufficiently alleviate symptoms.

Specifically, they were looking for a 50 per cent improvement in the number of tender or swollen joints and other criteria including pain, disability, and the doctor's assessment of disease severity. It's a measure defined by the American College of Rheumatology.

Most (174, or 84 per cent) of the participants completed the full 24 weeks of the trial.

The proportion of patients achieving the desired outcome was almost 46.5 per cent in those treated with methotrexate alone; 55 per cent in those treated with TwHF alone; and just under 77 per cent in those treated with both.

Similar clinically significant patterns of improvement in disease activity and remission rates also occurred among the three treatment groups.

And an extract of the root has recently been investigated for its potential to treat automimmune diseases and some cancers, say the researchers.

They caution however that 24 weeks is too short a time to evaluate disease progression, and that the dose of methotrexate used in the trial is lower than that typically given to patients in the West.

But they suggest that TwHF could be a promising approach to the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis, particularly as not all patients respond to DMARDs, and because these drugs are expensive.

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