The Benefits of Thunder God Vine
Tripterygium wilfordii, also known as Lei Gong Teng, or the ‘thunder god vine,’ is a perennial vine that is native to China, Japan, and Korea. It has been an integral component of Chinese medicine for over 400 years and has been used as a remedy for numerous conditions including rheumatoid arthritis.
The plant contains triptolide, which researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center recently isolated, and was said to wipe out pancreatic tumors in mice. Researchers said that mice treated with the compound showed no signs of tumors after 40 days, and was true even after the treatment was discontinued.
“This drug is just unbelievably potent in killing tumor cells,” said Ashok Saluja, vice chairman of research at the center and the study’s leader, said in a telephone interview. “You could see that every day you looked at those mice, the tumor was decreasing and decreasing, and then just gone.” This study was funded by the NIH and published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and reports that even the scientists working on the project were stunned by the anti-cancer properties of the compound.
“Extracts of this medicinal plant have been used to treat a whole host of conditions and have been highly lauded for anti-inflammatory, immuno-suppressive, contraceptive and anti-tumor activities,” says Jun O. Liu, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins. “We’ve known about the active compound, triptolide, and that it stops cell growth, since 1972, but only now have we figured out what it does.”
Triptolide, the active ingredient purified from the plant has been shown in animal models to be effective against cancer, arthritis and skin graft rejection. In fact, says Liu, triptolide has been shown to block the growth of all 60 U.S. National Cancer Institute cell lines at very low doses, and even causes some of those cell lines to die. Other experiments have suggested that triptolide interferes with proteins known to activate genes, which gives Liu and colleagues an entry point into their research.
The team systematically tested triptolide’s effect on different proteins involved with gene control by looking at how much new DNA, RNA and protein is made in cells. They treated HeLa cells with triptolide for one hour, compared treated to untreated cells and found that triptolide took much longer to have an effect on the levels of newly made proteins and DNA, yet almost immediately blocked manufacture of new RNA. The researchers then looked more closely at the three groups of enzymes that make RNA and found that low doses of triptolide blocked only one, RNAPII.
“Triptolide’s general ability to stop RNAPII activity explains its anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects,” says Liu. “And its behavior has important additional implications for circumventing the resistance that some cancer cells develop to certain anticancer drugs. We’re eager to study it further to see what it can do for future cancer therapy.”
Studies using thunder god vine for various cancers
For Ovarian Cancer
We observed that MMP7 and MMP19 expression increased in ovarian cancer tissue. Triptolide treatment inhibited the migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells SKOV3 and A2780 at the concentration of 15 nM. We also observed that triptolide suppressed MMP7 and MMP19 promoter activity in a dose-dependent manner, down-regulating the expressions of these promoters on mRNA and protein level. Moreover, triptolide enhanced E-cadherin expression in ovarian cancer cells. In vivo, triptolide inhibited tumor formation and metastasis in nude mice, and suppressed MMP7 and MMP19 expression; it also enhanced E-cadherin expression in tumor in a dose-dependent manner. Over expression of MMP7 and MMP19, or suppression of E-cadherin expression partially abolished the inhibitory effect of triptolide on invasion of ovarian cancer cells. To summarize, triptolide significantly inhibited the migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells by suppression of MMP7 and MMP19 and up-regulation of E-cadherin expression. This study shows that triptolide is a good candidate for the treatment of ovarian cancer and reduction of metastasis. Link to study
For Colon Cancer
Triptolide markedly inhibited HT29 and SW480 cells proliferation in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Triptolide decreased ERK and AKT phosphorylation, and GABPα expression in colon cancer cells. Beta-catenin expression and phosphorylation were not altered by incubation of triptolide. However, we found that triptolide repressed expression of LEF/TCF. Although it did not significantly affect cells apoptosis, triptolide induced G1 phase arrest dose-dependently. Further detection for the expression of cell cycle-related proteins suggesting that triptolide stimulate expression of p21 and repress cyclin A1. Increased p21 binded to CDK4/CDK6, therefore blocked function of CDK4/CDK6, and subsequently contribute to the G1 arrest. These data suggested that triptolide is a potential agent for treatment of colon cancer, and its anti-proliferation effect mainly occur through G1 phase arrest. Link to study
Thundergod vine should be used with caution in persons with cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension and arrhythmias, in patients with decreased liver or kidney function, and for those with compromised immune systems. It should not be used by women who are pregnant, wish to become pregnant, or those who are nursing. Side effects can include headache, loss of bone density, and the lowering of sperm count, and menstrual irregularities with extended use. It is important to consult a qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner before using this product.
Because of the side effects, one should take regular breaks when taking this herb. This can be achieved by taking two days off per week, then taking one week off each month, and then stopping again for one month after taking it for 3 consecutive months.