VANCOUVER, CANADA. Several studies have shown that an extract of the Chinese herbal remedy Tripterygium wilfordii (TW) is effective in the treatment of severe rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, side effects are frequent when the herb is administered orally. A team of Canadian and Chinese researchers has now evaluated the effectiveness of topical application of TW to affected areas. Sixty-one patients with rheumatoid arthritis were randomized to apply either a TW tincture or a placebo tincture to painful/swollen joints 5-6 times per day. At the end of six weeks patients in the TW group had substantially fewer swollen joints, less morning stiffness, improved grip strength, and both patients and physician noticed a remarkable overall improvement in the TW group. Patients in the TW group were 8 times more likely to experience at least a 20% improvement than were the placebo group patients.
The researchers conclude that their trial supports the efficacy of TW in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,
but caution that a larger trial is needed before the efficacy of topical application can be judged.