This article summarizes the medicinal properties of the Cat’s claw herb, what is Cat’s Claw extract good For and used for, and we will discuss each Cat’s claw properties as well as drug interactions and contraindications.
Cat’s Claw Herb
Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a liana that grows in the jungles of South America, where for almost 2,000 years it has been used for medicinal purposes. This Amazonian medicinal plant decoction is extensively used in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory, as well as to treat diabetes, different tumors, cancer, viral processes, menstrual cycle abnormalities, convalescence, and general weakness.
Within the genus Uncaria there are also other plants such as Uncaria guianensis, which is very similar to cat’s claw, as well as other species known for their medicinal properties, such as Uncaria rhynchophylla (also closely related to Uncaria tomentosa) and Uncaria sinensis, one of the most interesting medicinal plants in Asia.
Cat’s Claw Herb Chemical Compounds
The most important category of active principles in this plant’s chemical makeup is that of its various alkaloids, which are basic, nitrogenous chemicals with distinct activity and/or toxicity. Cat’s claw herb includes them in exceptional quantity as compared to other plant species, particularly those in the genus Uncaria.
Two groups of alkaloids stand out in the plant: indole and oxindole alkaloids, which are divided into tetracyclic and pentacyclic.
A very important characteristic feature of cat’s claw and other species of the genus Uncaria is a considerable differentiation of the content of individual alkaloids in different parts of the plant, being the highest in the roots and bark (although because of a continuous decrease in the population of the plant, the export of the roots is prohibited).
What Is Cat’s Claw Extract Used For
What Is Cat’s Claw Extract Used For? The Cat’s Claw extract is classified as an anti-inflammatory medicinal plant. However, nowadays, many interesting studies have been published on its pharmacological properties, showing that Uncaria tomentosa has cytostatic, antimutagenic, antiviral, immunostimulant, antiradical, and, in high doses, contraceptive properties.
It is extensively used in anti-inflammatory therapies, to treat diabetes, menstrual cycle abnormalities, different tumors, cancer, viral processes, convalescence, and general weakness.
Cat’s Claw Properties
Medicinal Properties of Cat’s Claw: Anti-inflammatory Effect
On one hand, the anti-inflammatory activity of the Cat’s Claw extract has been proven in both in vivo and in vitro studies. This anti-inflammatory Cat’s Claw Property has been attributed, at least in part, to the glycosides of kinovic acid.
On the other hand, it has also been seen that this effect is less when using the isolated glycosides of kinovic acid than when using extracts of the drug, so this biological activity is likely enhanced by other compounds acting synergistically. Therefore, it is preferable to use the whole drug.
Medicinal Properties of Cat’s Claw: Immunostimulant Effect
It has also been demonstrated that Uncaria tomentosa has a strong immunostimulant activity, and the total extracts of the plant are more effective than the isolated components.
Recent studies using drug extracts containing about 6 mg/g total oxindoles (quantified by HPLC) show that Uncaria tomentosa increases the synthesis of interleukins 1 and 6 (IL-1, IL-6) by alveolar macrophages in rats in a dose-dependent manner.
The cat’s claw herb has also been shown to boost the phagocytic activity of neutrophilic granulocytes and macrophages, as well as the number of monocytes in the active phases of the peripheral circulation. In normal conditions, there is no change in T lymphocyte proliferation, but there is an increase in the presence of antigens.
Uses of Cat’s Claw Herb: Antiviral Effect
Some components of Cat’s claw plant (derivatives of quinolinic acid and triterpene heterosides) are antiviral agents, predominantly with action against encapsulated RNA viruses, an action also associated with an anti-inflammatory effect.
Uses of Cat’s Claw Herb: Antiradical Effect
Certain extracts of Cat’s Claw have been shown to exhibit antioxidant activity in vitro, being able to scavenge free radicals and thus protect against oxidative stress.
What Is Cat’s Claw Extract Good For
Traditionally, it is used as an anti-inflammatory in rheumatic and arthritic processes, etc. It is also used in gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, cirrhosis, and malignant tumors. It is also indicated in viral processes.
Depending on the country, Cat’s claw is approved or not with different pharmaceutical forms and it varies a lot between Europe and America.
Thus, for example, in Spain, the Cat’s claw is used in the form of a powdered drug, infusions, and decoctions, and it is recommended to be administered after meals. The recommended daily doses of the pulverized drug are 250-1,000 mg every 24 hours. If it is used in the form of decoction, put 30 g of the drug in 500 ml of water, and then administer 60 ml of the decoction every 24 hours.
The alcohol extract of Cat’s Claw causes potent inhibition of cytochrome P450 activity in vitro, suggesting the need for studies concerning the interaction of these extracts with drug metabolism.
In Western Europe, Cat’s Claw extracts are used at a daily dose of 20-60 mg of dry extract.
A high intake of vitamins and vegetables boosts our immune system. With the infusions of cat’s claw, we can still strengthen it more at the worst times of the year.
There are times when winter comes and temperatures drop, our defenses get to work. Sometimes they do not fully fulfill their mission and we go on a streak where we are colds or costipados every 2 by 3.
We blame it on a poor diet and that «we have low defenses«. If due to the daily life of our lives or the eating habits we carry, added to work or family stress, we can not provide our body with everything we need, this medicinal plant can help us to be up to the task.
We like to be up to date with natural remedies and get to know each of the plants and natural remedies thoroughly. Therefore, we try to delve into each of them by adding more aspects apart from mentioning what it is for and how it works. Let’s move forward with the cat’s claw.
Curiosities of Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
What is the Cat’s Claw plant like?
Uncaria tomentosa it is a bright green climber and helical spines. It has resistant and elastic stems and is typical of humid environments such as jungles.
Cat’s claw belongs to the family Rubiaceae. Medium-sized shrubs grouped into 600 genera and up to 10,000 species (a family considered large).
Their lianas grow in areas with a high percentage of organic matter (leaves and stems decomposing in moist soils), reaching great heights if they rest on larger trees. Their lianas and plant tissues can reach sizes greater than 10 meters in height.
It is a recently recognized species if we compare it with other plants that were already known in Roman and Egyptian times. In this case, Uncaria tomentosa was “discovered” in 1830, and taken with much more interest from 1850. However, to discover all the natural remedies of this plant you have to enter the twentieth century…
Cat’s claw is characterized by inhabiting humid soils, with high percentages of nutrients typical of organic matter and warm environments. Practically some jungles of South America are defined, including the Amazon, the Andes mountain range and common areas.
Common names associated with this plant:
- Cat’s claw
- Cat vine
Cat’s claw flower
The cat’s claw plant often suffers mistakes in terms of its denomination since by that name there are many plants that are called that.
To get away from doubt, when referring to Uncaria tomentosa, the plant does not stand out precisely for its flowering, since it is an evergreen that grows in specific areas of the Amazon.
Cat’s claw is also known as Carpobrotus edulis, which has a very characteristic violet flowering and especially adapted to saline (coastal) climates.
However, it is not related from the point of view of use as a medicinal plant with cat’s claw in this article, Uncaria tomentosa.
Medicinal properties and benefits of cat’s claw
Chemical composition of cat’s claw
The richness of its properties is given by the perfect combination of its components. Among those analyzed, are the following:
- Oxyndol alkaloids: autoimmune, anticancer and antimutagenic activity.
- Procyanidins: flavonoid found in the leaves, stems, bark and wood of U. tomentosa, which has antioxidant properties, Antiinflammatory and anti-cancer.
- Quinovic acid: triterpenic acid compound extracted from the cortex that reduces the heart rate.
- Uncaric acid: triterpene extracted from the bark and is effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (H37Rv strain).
- Quinine acid: it has antioxidant properties, improves DNA repair and has neuroprotective effects on the brain.
- Rhynchophyline: alkaloid isolated from the bark, which helps with seizures, lightheadedness, numbnessfoundation and hypertension.
- Hirsutin: Alkaloid found in young leaves, which has antihypertensive properties, relaxes blood vessels and reduces overall blood pressure.
- Mitraphylline: alkaloid which is usually found in older leaves and has anticancer effects, causing cell death in sarcoma and breast cancer.
It contains more than 30 known components, including at least 17 alkaloids, along with glycosides, tannins, sterol fractions and other compounds.
How it acts on the body
- Decreases inflammatory molecules TNF-α and NF-κB
- It blocks the release of iNos, an enzyme that creates free radicals as part of the immune response.
- It blocks the release of COX-1 and COX-2, enzymes that play a crucial role in inflammation and pain.
1.- Stimulates the immune system and activates the defenses
The alkaloids among which much more importance is given to oxindol, present in cat’s claw, has been found to activate the production of white blood cells, which in general terms are those that reduce the progression of diseases and the development of bacteria.
In this sense, we are working openly to try to improve the quality of life of sick people (AIDS, tumors in the final state, etc.). Currently there are no serious conclusions for the case of AIDS because it interferes with commercial retrovirals, which can harm the state of health.
However, for catarrhal periods or lowering of defenses when temperatures drop, the cat’s claw plant used in infusions is enormously effective. It is used as an adjunct together with other drugs to reduce the negative effects of chemotherapy, herpes, systemic candidiasis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, etc.
In patients recovered from cancer, the number of leukocytes after chemotherapy-induced damage to DNA increased above normal levels with the consumption of this medicinal plant.
2.- Reduces the growth of tumor cells
Several parallel trials are being initiated where they study the behavior of tumor cells when a patient undergoes a medication procedure with cat’s claw.
One of the most important is the one made by British Journal of Hematology, where they found that some of the components of this medicinal plant (isopteropodin, pteropodin, isomitrafillin, uncarin and mitrafillin) inhibited the proliferation of human leukemia cells.
Likewise, and as we have mentioned before, the consumption of Uncaria tomentosa it is very interesting for terminal patients, improving the quality of life and reducing states of chronic fatigue or muscle aches.
3.- It is a powerful anti-inflammatory to treat osteoarthritis
We have spoken on several occasions of others plants effective in reducing inflammation. In this case, we have great potential with cat’s claw for problems derived from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica, reducing inflammations in the sore and congested parts.
Therefore, cat’s claw can be used in all kinds of conditions that are linked to inflammatory processes.
To treat this type of inflammatory processes, the bark of the plant and the root are used, also having analgesic and antioxidant activity.
In a 2001 study, 45 subjects suffered from knee osteoarthritis took 100 milligrams per day of freeze-dried cat’s claw or a placebo for four weeks. The researchers found that “pain associated with activity was significantly reduced during the first week of treatment.
In addition, a test carried out by the journal of Rheumatology analyzed the effects of cat’s claw in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who are currently taking conventional RA medications. In this double-blind study, 24 weeks of treatment with cat’s claw extract resulted in a reduction in the number of painful joints compared to placebo.
4.- Improves circulation and reduces thrombosis
Numerous studies carried out in different universities (one of them)At the prestigious Shaghai Medical College) have obtained satisfactory results from cat’s claw to reduce platelet aggregation and blood viscosity. This allows it to be used to reduce cardiovascular accidents, thrombosis and ischemia, such as the ultra-well-known pharmaceutical product simtrom (Acenocoumarol).
This potential is due to some of the alkaloids present in Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) as ryncophyline.
5.- Reduces stomach pains
Since cat’s claw has anti-inflammatory properties, many of the common and chronic diseases of the stomach are associated with this problem.
Therefore, the intake of natural extracts of this plant can help us with:
- Crohn’s disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Leaky gut syndrome
6.- Reduces hypertension
From traditional Chinese medicine it is known that using a variety of cat’s claw (Uncaria rhynchophylla) had effects to lower blood pressure. These studies have been endorsed by modern medicine, acting as a blockade of calcium channels (so that it is indirectly possible to widen the blood vessels).
As a summary, cat’s claw can often be found combined with other herbs with similar healing properties, such as echinacea:
- It reduces pain and inflammation from rheumatism, arthritis and other types of inflammatory problems.
- It has antitumor and anticancer properties that inhibit the formation of cancer cells.
- Promotes wound healing.
- Treatment of gastric ulcers and intestinal complaints
- Helps relieve chronic pain
- Improves immunity by stimulating the immune system.
- It helps people suffering from stomach and intestinal disorders, including colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, gastritis and duodenal ulcers, intestinal inflammation.
- Helps fight viral and fungal infections, such as herpes and candida
How is cat’s claw prepared?
We move on to an important part of the article which is to know how we can take advantage of its properties.
For the consumption of cat’s claw topically, we can usually find 2 common forms, through infusion and decoctions or through capsules that concentrate all their extracts.
Cat’s claw capsules or pills
In the market and herbalists we can acquire different tablets based on cat’s claw extract.
They usually come in bottles of 50-100 tablets of 300 mg in powder extract, recommending the intake of 1 to 2 capsules daily for 3 months. Then it is recommended to rest periods of 1 to 2 weeks and restart the treatment.
In the market we can find many pills with different compositions, with tablets ranging from 300 mg to 500 mg.
As a supplement to the diet and the benefit of its medicinal properties, it is recommended to take 2 cat’s claw pills a day. The recommendations are: one in the morning, during breakfast, and another in the evening, during dinner.
Cat’s claw infusion
If we want to consume it through infusions, we will introduce 5 grams of bark U. tomentosa or we will buy the powder extract already prepared (there is it on the market) for every 200-300 ml of water, equivalent to one cup of infusion.
Let it boil for 10 minutes and rest for another 15 minutes, to promote the release of tannins and phenolic acids. take 1 or 2 cups a day for 2 or 3 months to improve anti-inflammatory action, circulation and activate defenses.
In this simple video we discuss how to prepare the cat’s claw infusion in a simple and fast way. In this case, twigs of the plant are used, although you can also buy the already crushed powder.
Cat’s Claw Cream
Cat’s claw cream can also be used as a topical treatment for arthritis, rheumatism, and various muscle and joint problems.
Toxicity of The Cat’s Claw Plant Extract
In acute toxicity studies in mice, the lethal dose 50 (LD50) of the cat’s claw herb was found to be greater than 16 g/kg.
In other 4-week chronic toxicity studies carried out with rats at a dose of 1 g/kg, it was found that the cat’s claw herb induced a slight and statistically significant increase in the percentage of lymphocytes and a decrease in the percentage of neutrophils and granulocytes. A slightly higher relative increase in kidney weight was also observed in the treated group than in the control, although no histological alteration was observed. No significant alteration was observed in the rest of the parameters examined.
On the other hand, in other trials carried out on healthy volunteers, the aqueous extract of Uncaria tormentosa administered for 6 weeks at a dose of 5 mg/kg did not cause symptoms of toxicity while inducing a statistically significant increase in leukocytosis.
Because of the above, the Cat’s claw plant is considered to lack toxicity at doses used therapeutically. However, the drug should not be used in children under three years of age because there are no clinical trials conducted in this age group. Also, it is likely that considering the immunomodulatory properties it possesses, it should not be recommended for post-transplant patients as well as in autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, and tuberculosis.
Regarding pregnancy, studies have been conducted on animals, using doses several times higher than human doses, and embryo toxic and/or teratogenic effects have been recorded in one or more of the species studied. However, no clinical trials have been conducted on humans, so the use of cat’s claw is only accepted in the absence of safer therapeutic alternatives.
On the other hand, it is not known whether the components of the Cat’s claw herb are excreted in significant amounts in breast milk and whether this could affect the infant. Therefore, it is recommended to discontinue breastfeeding or to avoid the administration of the Cat’s claw herb.
Cat’s Claw Drug Interactions
H2 antihistamines, antacids, and proton pump inhibitors have been shown to decrease the absorption of cat’s claw alkaloids, thus reducing their pharmacological action.
On the other hand, it has also been shown that the alcohol extract of Cat’s Claw causes potent inhibition of cytochrome P450 activity in vitro, suggesting the need for studies concerning the interaction of these extracts with drug metabolism.
Contraindications and Side effects of Cat’s Claw Herb
At therapeutic doses, it is a safe drug, and no adverse reactions have been reported. However, at high doses, in chronic treatments, or in particularly sensitive individuals, digestive adverse reactions (such as gastralgias, gastritis, or constipation) and/or endocrine adverse reactions (decrease in estradiol and progesterone levels) could occur.
The use of the cat’s claw herb is contraindicated in the case of peptic ulcer and gastritis, since due to the ulcerogenic effect of the tannins it contains, a worsening could occur in both cases.
Cat’s claw should not be used during pregnancy and lactation due to the lack of clinical trials supporting its safety in these cases.
As we always recommend, it is advisable to consult a physician before incorporating herbs to agree on the appropriate use with a professional.
Some of the tannins it contains may offer harmful effects if overused.
Generally, there are usually no complications derived from its consumption in usual concentrations.
However, depending on the consumer, the following symptoms or side effects of a cat’s claw may appear.
- Diarrheal processes
- Generalized allergy
- Hives or dermatitis
Likewise, as with many other medicinal plants, its consumption is not recommended in children and pregnant people, and in general to any person without prior contact with a medical specialist.
Nor is it advisable to take an extract of this plant in people with hepatic and renal insufficiencies.
References Cat’s Claw Properties
The following scientific articles and books were consulted for this post about: Cat’s Claw Properties
- Arteche A, et al. Fitoterapia. 3rd ed. Vademecum of prescription. Medicinal plants. Barcelona: Masson; 1998.
- Bruneton J. Elements of phytochemistry and pharmacognosy. Zaragoza: Acribia; 2001.
- Carretero E. Alkaloids: tryptophan derivatives and other alkaloids (III). Panorama Actual Med. 2001;25:442-9.
- Cayunao C, et al. Study of the antimicrobial activity of an oxindole alkaloid and antioxidant activity of different extracts of Uncaria tomentosa. Journal of Phytotherapy. 2004;4(2):152-4.
- Evans WC. Pharmacognosy. Madrid: Interamericana-McGraw-Hill; 1986. p. 519-40.
- Font P. Medicinal Plants. The renewed Dioscorides. Barcelona: Labor; 1992.
- Kuklinsi C. Pharmacognosy. Barcelona: Omega; 2000.
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