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Cat's claw

What is cat's claw?

Cat's claw is a shrub with thick vines that can grow up to 100 feet. It grows in the rain forests of Central America and South America, particularly Peru. The plant's stems contain a bitter, water-like liquid and are dotted with curved, claw-like thorns that give cat's claw its name.

Why do we need cat's claw? What is it used for?

Cat's claw preparations are made by scraping the bark off the root of the plant's vine. The root and bark contain various chemicals, including tannins, oxyindole alkaloids and glycosides, which are believed to stimulate the immune system and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

In South America, cat's claw is popular for treating inflammation, ulcers and arthritis, and to promote wound healing. In the U.S., it is used to combat cancer and HIV infection. One study of cigarette smokers found that subjects taking a cat's claw extract showed lower amounts of mutagens in their urine. Other studies using cat's claw extract have shown lower infection rates and improved CD4 cell counts in patients with HIV.

How much cat's claw should I take?

For mild stomach pains and sore throats, and to improve immune function, the following doses are recommended:

  • Tea: 1 gram of root bark to 260ml of water, boiled for 10-15 minutes, cooled, then strained.
  • Tinctures: 1-2 milliliters two or three times a day.
  • Capsules: one capsule (20-60mg) of standardized extract per day.

What forms of cat's claw are available?

Cat's claw is available in the raw root/bark form, as well as in capsules, extracts and tinctures.

What can happen if I take too much cat's claw? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

The American Herbal Products Association has given cat's claw a class 4 safety rating, which means there simply isn't enough evidence on which to base a definitive rating. However, the AHPA has stated that the tanning content of cat's claw may cause abdominal pain or intestinal problems if taken in high doses.

In addition, some practitioners believe cat's claw should not be used in patients receiving skin grafts or organ transplants, or in patients with HIV, AIDS or tuberculosis. It is also not recommended for children under age three, or women who are pregnant or lactating.

Furthermore, you should not use cat's claw if you have received the following treatments: vaccinations; fresh or frozen blood plasma; drugs that use animal proteins or peptide hormones; intravenous hyperimmunoglobulin therapy; intravenous thymic extracts; bovine insulin; or porcine insulin.

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  • Blumenthal M. Herbal update: Una de gato (cat's claw): rainforest herb gets scientific and industry attention. Whole Foods Magazine 1995:62—68,78.
  • Davis BW. A "new" world class herb for applied kinesiology practice: uncaria tomentosa – a.k.a. una de gato (UDG). Collected Papers of the International College of Applied Kinesiology, 1992.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997.
  • Steinberg PN. Cat's claw: medicinal properties of this Amazon vine. Nutrition Science News, 1995.
  • Yepez AM, de Ugaz OL, Alvarez CM, De Feo V, Aquino R, De Simone F, Pizza C. Quinovic acid glycosides from uncaria guianensis. Phytochemistry 1991;30:1,635—1,637.


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