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Cat's claw: uses, dosage and background

Siski Green / 26 February 2020

The inner bark of the tropical vine known as cat’s claw has been used by humans for centuries and is now used to make extracts, teas and capsules to reduce inflammation and symptoms of arthritis.

Cat's claw flowers
Cat's claw is often used to reduce arthritis symptoms

What is cat’s claw?

Cat’s claw is a plant whose name derives from its thorns that are said to resemble a cat’s claws. It grows in tropical areas of central and South America. There are two species that are most often used in herbal medicine – Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis.

What is cat’s claw used for?

Medicines containing cat’s claw are taken for improving symptoms of arthritis – both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It also suggested for reducing inflammation of the large intestine, lower bowl and stomach. Similarly, it’s promoted for a variety of immune system-related disorders including asthma, herpes simplex, HIV, and shingles.

What’s the history of cat’s claw

Cat’s claw has been used in central and South America for centuries, dating back to the Inca civilisation. It has been used as a contraceptive, against inflammation and viral infections.

What’s the best way to take cat’s claw?

The root and bark of the plant are used to make cat’s claw medicine. It’s possible to buy dried root or bark from which you can make tea, or you can buy capsules or a tincture so you only need a few drops.

What dosage should you take?

The amounts that have been studied include 100mg per day for osteoarthritis, and 20mg three times a day for rheumatoid arthritis. The type of cat’s claw used contain no tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids, a substance that occurs naturally in cat’s claw but may work against other active substances within it.

Does cat’s claw really work?

There are claims that cat’s claw contains substances that stimulate the immune system, neutralise cancer cells and combat viruses. There hasn’t been much research undertaken to assess these claims, but one study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that cat’s claw protects against oxidative stress, supporting the notion that it is an effective anti-inflammatory agent.

Research from the Journal of Rheumatology also suggests that cat’s claw extract (uncaria tomentosa) when taken with other medications (sulfasalazine or hydroxchloroquine) for 24 weeks can help reduce the symptoms of painful and swollen joints in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

There isn’t enough evidence to support other claims such as protecting against genital warts, stomach ulcers, haemorrhoids, shingles, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, HIV or cancer.

How long does cat’s claw take to work?

To see effects of taking cat’s claw you’ll need to take it for around eight weeks, although there is some evidence suggesting that symptoms of knee pain, for example, can be relieved within a week or so of taking cat’s claw.

Where can I get cat’s claw?

Cat’s claw supplements, dried cat’s claw and tincture are all available online or at healthfood shops.

What are the side effects of cat’s claw?

Cat’s claw can cause headaches, dizziness and vomiting in some cases.

Are there any contraindications when taking cat’s claw?

If you have been diagnosed with any auto-immune disease you must see your GP before taking cat’s claw as it has an effect on your immune system, potentially making it more active.

It’s possible too that cat’s claw has an impact on circulation and blood clotting. For this reason, it’s best to see your GP before taking cat’s claw, if you have any bleeding disorders, low or high blood pressure, or if you have surgery planned.

Finally, cat’s claw may have an impact on how some medications are processed by the body, specifically the liver, so check with your GP to ensure it won’t affect any medications you have been prescribed.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.