By Joe Smulevitz, C.H., M.H.
From the lush green tropical rainforests of South America comes cat’s claw, a powerful medicinal vine, prized for centuries by South Americans to control inflammation, arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, and a variety of other ailments.
Cat’s Claw was virtually unknown to the outside world prior to the 1970s, until a European journalist, travelling in Peru, reported of its reputation as a valued South American folk remedy. He brought the medicinal plant to the attention of European scientists. They began experimenting with extracts of the plant to learn more about how it worked. Some of the components were identified as potent immune stimulants that might strengthen the general health of people undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or other conventional cancer treatments. This led to cat’s claw extracts in Germany and Austria, becoming a registered pharmaceutical that can only be dispensed with a prescription. Under a physician’s care, the extracts have been used on cancer patients, AIDS patients, and for the treatment of other diseases and disorders of the immune system. Scientists in European laboratories were able to verify what healers in South America have known for centuries: cat’s claw may provide powerful immune stimulating properties. The herb gained popularity in North America in the 1990s, with the news of its potential in treating serious conditions.
The plant is known as “una de gato” in Spanish and “cat’s claw” in English. The Spanish originated the name since the hooks of the plant resemble a cat’s claw. These Amazonian vines are found at high elevations in the South American rainforests. The massive woody vines can grow up to 100 feet in length with yellow white, bell-shaped flowers.
There are two species of cat’s claw that are used medicinally. Uncaria guianensis is widely used in Europe, and uncaria tomentosa is commonly found in supplements sold in North America. In traditional South American medicine, the two species are both employed interchangeably.
Research has acknowledged cat’s claw’s traditional use for the treatment of arthritis. Scientists found that cat’s claw offered relief for individuals suffering from osteoarthritis (the deterioration of joints due to wear and tear) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease of the body’s immune system marked by severe join inflammation and stiffness).
In animal studies, cat’s claw supplementation elevated the white blood cell count, indicating an improved ability to fight infection. Laboratory studies have shown cat’s claw may help prevent the proliferation of cancer cells, and may be useful to repair DNA damage done by chemotherapy or radiation. This effect has not been thoroughly proven.
Purchase only products that label the plant’s species as Uncaria tomentosa or Uncaria guianensis. A common plant found in the southwestern United States, Acacia greggii, is also called cat’s claw, but it is completely unrelated. There should not be a problem when purchasing from a reputable supplier.
The Amazon rainforest may contain numerous undiscovered botanicals that can promote human health. There should be more human studies to substantiate cat’s claw healing potential. Perhaps, the plant would become a significant agent for relieving joint pain, fighting off infection, and enhancing the body’s defences against cancer.
Mild side effects such as dizziness and nausea may occur during use. Avoid during pregnancy and nursing. Not recommended for young children, organ transplant recipients or persons on immune suppressing drugs.
Author Bio: Joe Smulevitz is a Chartered Herbalist, a Master Herbalist, a nutritional researcher, and author of numerous health articles.