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Get ‘Hooked’ on Cat’s Claw: The Many Benefits of This Amazonian Herb

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November 01, 2018

Story at-a-glance

  • Cat’s claw’s potential for boosting health mainly comes from the oxindole alkaloids found in its roots and bark. These alkaloids are said to stimulate the immune system, leading to this herb’s various medicinal and healing benefits
  • Find out what this cat’s claw herb is, what it can do for your well-being, plus important precautions before adding it to your health cabinet

Named after its unique, curved hook-like thorns, cat’s claw is a plant that has been long valued in South and Central America.1 But there’s more to this herb than its peculiar appearance. Cat’s claw is actually well-known for its traditional medicinal uses, from boosting the immune system,2 speeding up healing of wounds3 and even for relieving gastrointestinal problems.4 Discover more interesting facts about this herb by reading this article.

What Is Cat's Claw?

Native to the Amazon rainforest and other areas of Central and South America, cat’s claw is an herb you’ll find thriving in forest areas. You can easily spot it — just look for woody vines with hook-shaped thorns growing on them, resembling a kitty’s claw. This plant can grow to heights of 100 feet. The thorns actually serve an important purpose, though, as they allow the vines to attach themselves to tree barks.5,6

Cat’s claw plant is known by many names, including Uña de Gato, Paraguayo, Liane du Pérou, Garabato and Samento. It’s also been dubbed the “life-giving vine of Peru.”7,8 However, do not confuse it with cat’s foot (Antennaria dioica L.), which is a small perennial plant9 — these two are very different.

There are two cat’s claw species that have been used for medicinal purposes: Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis. According to EMedicineHealth, U. tomentosa is more commonly used in the U.S., while U. guianensis is popular in Europe.10 U. tomentosa can be seen growing in organic soils on mountain slopes of rainforests, anywhere between 250 and 900 meters (820 to 2,952 feet) above sea level. Disturbed forests may also contain this plant, albeit it’s rarely seen in secondary forests.

However, there are serious threats to U. tomentosa, particularly overharvesting and the destruction of old growth rainforest. As a result, U. guianensis is becoming more popularly used, as it grows in lower elevations near rivers, making it easier for wild harvesters to find, collect and transport.11

The roots and the bark of the plant are what are used for the medicinal preparations of cat’s claw,12 as they contain an impressive blend of chemicals, such as alkaloids and glycosides.13 Cat’s claw can come in liquid extracts, powders and tablet form. It can also be used to make tea.14

The Medicinal Uses of Cat’s Claw Have Been Known for a Long Time

Cat’s claw is not a recent discovery, as there have been accounts of it being used in the early times. South Americans made use of it to ease conditions such as asthma, arthritis, stomach ulcers and inflammation.15 The ancient Incan civilization also used cat’s claw for viral infections and for immune system stimulation.16

In the 1970s, scientists conducted studies to learn more about its healing potential. Their aim was to study the potential of this plant in easing symptoms of cancer and other ailments. A 1989 study also found that the roots contain alkaloid oxidants that may stimulate the immune system.17

Cat's Claw Potential Health Benefits

Cat’s claw’s potential for boosting health mainly comes from the oxindole alkaloids found in its roots and bark. These alkaloids are said to stimulate the immune system, leading to this herb’s various medicinal and healing benefits.18

Isopteropodine or Isomer A, is the most active alkaloid in cat’s claw, and is said to help ward off various viral problems.19 Studies have also found that extracts made from cat's claw may help protect against bacteria, viruses and fungi.20,21 Just take a look at these body-wide effects to see what cat’s claw is good for:

Try This Cat’s Claw Tea Recipe

As mentioned above, cat’s claw can be made into tea, which is an easy way to reap its benefits. Here’s a recipe courtesy of LEAFtv:29

Cat's Claw Tea

Ingredients

  • Water
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Cat’s claw bark or ground powder
  • Raw honey or spices (to taste)

Procedure

  1. Boil water and pour into a cup, along with a few drops of lemon juice. The acid from the lemons will help release the tannins in the tea.
  2. Add the bark or powder. If using the bark, one to two average-sized pieces will be enough. For the powder form, 1 to 2 teaspoons is ideal.
  3. Let steep for five to 10 minutes. Strain and add a teaspoon of honey or a dash of spices to taste.

Be Aware of Cat's Claw’s Side Effects

Cat’s claw is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Because of its use for birth control, women who are also trying to conceive should refrain from using it.30

Small amounts of cat’s claw will not cause any side effects for most people; however, Organic Facts notes that people with allergies to plants belonging to the Rubiaceae family should refrain from using it, as it may promote reactions such as mild irritation or itchy eyes, even through simple physical contact or if ingested.31

There are also rare cases of acute kidney failure and kidney disease linked to cat’s claw ingestion.32 Other health problems that may be compounded by cat’s caw include:33

People who are about to undergo surgery should also refrain from using cat’s claw at least two weeks prior to the procedure, as it may make it difficult for blood pressure to be controlled.34

Cat’s Claw May Be Beneficial, but Use It Wisely

While most people will generally benefit from using cat’s claw, if you fall under the groups mentioned above, then it’s better to forego the use of this herb. Cat’s claw should only be used as a dietary supplement to complement your healthy lifestyle, and should not be treated as the primary solution to your health woes.

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Sources and References

  • 1, 5 Penn State Hershey at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Cat's Claw
  • 2 Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Volume 29, Issue 1, 1 July 2000, Pages 71-78
  • 3, 23 A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements, 2012
  • 4, 24 Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 96, Issue 3, 15 January 2005, Pages 577-584
  • 6 The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Nature's Best Medicines Featuring the Top 100 Time-Tested Herbs, 2001
  • 7, 11 Herbal Resource, Cat's Claw – Health Benefits and Side Effects
  • 8, 10, 25, 28, 30, 33, 34 eMedicineHealth, Cat's Claw
  • 9 Medicinal Herb Info, Cat's Foot
  • 12, 27 WebMD, Cat's Claw
  • 13, 18 Herbal Medicines, 3rd Ed, Barnes-Anderson-Phillipson 2007
  • 14, 16 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Cat's Claw
  • 15 The Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements, 2014
  • 17 Sidahora. 1995 Apr-May:35-6.
  • 19 Nature -An Immune Booster for Breast Cancer, 2015
  • 20 100 Super Supplements for a Longer Life, 2000
  • 21, 22 International Immunopharmacology, Volume 3, Issues 13–14, December 2003, Pages 1889-1900
  • 26 Pythotherapy Research, July 2007, Volume21, Issue7, Pages 675-683
  • 29 LeafTV, How to Make Cat's Claw Tea
  • 31 Organic Facts, Top 5 Benefits Of Cat's Claw
  • 32 Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Guide: An Evidence-Based Reference, 2016
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