A Chinese herbal remedy works just as well as a standard drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, researchers have claimed.
The remedy is "not inferior" to the drug methotrexate and when the two are used together they produce even better results, according to a new study.
The authors wanted to compare Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F or TwHF, a traditional Chinese remedy to treat joint pain, swelling and inflammation, to methotrexate, a standard drug prescribed to control the symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers assigned 207 participants to three treatment groups, one group received 12.5mg of methotrexate once a week, another received 20mg of TwHF three times a day and the final group received a combination of both.
The study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, tracked the participants for 24 weeks.
They measured the effectiveness of the treatments using a standard assessment set out by the American College of Rheumatology.
The test assesses whether patients have a 50% reduction in tender or swollen joints and other criteria including pain, disability and a doctor's assessment of disease severity.
The researchers found that 46.4% of those in the methotrexate group achieved this compared to 55.1% in the TwHF group and 76.8% in the combined treatment group.
They found that there was little difference in side effects between groups but women in the TwHF group were slightly more likely to develop irregular periods.
While the researchers cautioned that 24 weeks is a short time to monitor disease progression, they said that TwHF could be a promising approach to treat active rheumatoid arthritis.
"TwHF as a monotherapy was not inferior to, and MTX (methotrexate) plus TwHF was better than, MTX monotherapy in controlling disease activity in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis," the authors said.