The benefits of cat's claw include reducing inflammation associated with arthritis as well as potential immune-boosting benefits.
Cat's Claw Benefits
Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is an herbal remedy taken from a thorny vine that grows throughout the jungles of Central and South America. Used by indigenous people in these areas for centuries, cat's claw benefits include reducing inflammation. As such, it is often recommended by herbalists to treat arthritis and similar conditions.
An anti-inflammatory agent is any substance that reduces inflammation. Many diseases, including arthritis, cause pain from inflammation. By reducing the inflammation, pain and damage to the joints can be reduced. According to the National Center for Complimentary Medicine (NCCAM), cat's claw benefits for arthritis have some scientific validity.
Cat's claw has been studied in the treatment of Lyme Disease. Bacteria cause Lyme disease and ticks carry Lyme disease from host to host. Infected ticks bite humans and transmit the disease. Once transmitted, Lyme disease may not cause immediate symptoms, but the bacteria may cause a fever, rash, joint aches and pains and many other debilitating symptoms.
A six-month study conducted by a group of naturopathic doctors examined how patients with advanced Lyme disease responded to therapy with cat's claw. In the study, a control group received the typical antibiotic treatment while the rest group received cat's claw. At the end of the study, the results were remarkable. The patients receiving traditional antibiotic therapy showed little improvement. Among patients receiving cat's claw, 100 percent showed improvement, with 85 percent showing no trace of the Lyme disease bacteria after blood testing.
While one study cannot prove the effectiveness of any drug or herb, the results back up the traditional claim of cat's claw as a potent antibacterial, antiviral herb. The active compound in cat's claw affects immune-system cells and stimulates activity. More study and testing needs to be done, but the benefits appear substantial for Lyme disease patients.
Herbalists and naturopaths are using cat's claw to treat many other serious illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, chronic fatigue, chronic inflammatory illnesses such as irritable bowel and rheumatoid arthritis as well as asthma. Thorough studies on the use of cat's claw to treat these and other illnesses haven't been done yet, but the results are promising.
Active Compound in Cat's Claw
Scientists have pinpointed one major active compound in cat's claw that hints of its potent immune system boosting properties. Cat's claw is rich in pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids (POA) and tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids, as well as flavanoids, tannins, and antioxidants.
In laboratory analysis, POA's extracted from cat's claw bark stimulate the production of white blood cells. They've also shown some ability in laboratory experiments to inhibit tumor growth and development. This may lead to treatments for cancer from using cat's claw extracts.
The challenge for scientists is that most researchers believe that cat's claw benefits are derived not from one easily isolated compound, but from a variety of compounds locked within the bark of the vine. Isolating just one factor, testing it, and drawing conclusions may be impossible. The herb itself may only be powerful in its whole, natural state.
Side Effects and Cautions
There are few reported side effects from using cat's claw. Anyone with a compromised immune system is advised to use cat's claw under the supervision of an herbalist, naturopathic doctor or other medical professional. It's not known whether or not cat's claw is passed through the placenta or breast milk, so avoid taking cat's claw if you are pregnant or nursing. Like all herbs, supplements and food items, some people may be sensitive or allergic to cat's claw. If you are taking cat's claw, always follow the recommended dose guidelines provided on the supplement. Stop taking cat's claw if you have an adverse reaction, rash or other negative reaction and seek medical treatment immediately if the reaction doesn't clear up on its own or if you have trouble breathing.
Cat's claw appears to be a powerful herb with many promising side effects. Like many herbal treatments, research into its properties is scant, but what research there is supports the traditional use of cat's claw as an immune-system boosting herb.