- Alternative & Natural Medicine
Cat's Claw for Health
Cat’s Claw – what is it and what does it do?
Cat’s Claw, Uncaria tormentosa in Latin, is a creeping, woody vine native to the Amazon and Central American rainforest, particularly in Peru. It grows to about 30 metres long, and climbs trees by use of the curving, hooked thorns that give the plant its name. The parts used in medicine include the inner bark and root; there is some controversy about its harvesting because some methods destroy the root and therefore the plant, and many of the better brands of commercial supplements using Cat’s Claw use exclusively the bark to reduce the ecological damage done.
Also, the plant comes in at least two different strains; one has a number of beneficial effects, the other if anything is slightly harmful, and as there is no way short of chemical analysis of distinguishing the two the only real defence is to use a reputable brand – which will have the version with beneficial effects, only.
Cat’s claw has been reported to have the following effects:
This may be the most potent effect of cat’s claw. Various components of cat’s claw have been shown to be potent inhibitors of viruses in general and rhinoviruses (the group that includes the viruses of colds and influenza) in particular. It is necessary to use large doses for this though; 6 grams of cat’s claw or an equivalent amount of extract per day, in divided doses.
Cat’s claw has been shown to boost the activity of T cells and phagocytes. Phagocytes are the immune cells that work by engulfing and digesting invading organisms, and also to some extent cancer cells. For this reason, cat’s claw improves the action of the immune system against all invading organisms including fungi and protozoa.
Healing effects; mucosal membranes
Cat’s claw increases the rate of healing of mucosal membranes, particularly those of the intestinal tract. Because of this and also because of its anti-microbial properties, this can mean that cat’s claw will help against gastric and duodenal ulcers, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. All these effects, plus antioxidant effects which it also has, will have be extremely helpful in cases of "leaky bowel".
Cat’s claw has components that are antioxidant, and therefore protect against cancer and other problems caused by free radical attack. In addition, cat’s claw contains substances (catechins) that specifically improve the liver’s ability to detoxify alcohol.
Cat’s claw helps against allergies in various ways. It is directly anti-inflammatory, which obviously helps. In addition, its tonic effect on the intestinal wall will reduce the leakiness of the bowel wall and therefore reduce the level of potential allergens in the bloodstream, in the case of allergies to ingested foods and drinks.
Circulatory system benefits
Various factors in Cat’s Claw lower platelet aggregation and blood clotting where not required, and inhibit plaque formation on arterial walls. It therefore improves blood circulation, reduces blood pressure and reduces tendency to strokes.
Tonic and anti-fatigue
Cat’s claw has a general tonic and stress-relieving effect on the entire body, in much the same way as various other adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng and Rhodiola rosea. Cat’s claw has a particularly strong tonic effect on the liver and kidneys.
Note that this is a traditional use only; it is highly unreliable and is only included because of the possibility that use of cat’s claw by women who are trying to get pregnant might well cause problems. In any case, as with any other supplement or herb (with the possible exception of a multivitamin especially designed for the job) it’s probably a good idea not to use cat’s claw while trying to conceive unless under the care of a professional.
For acute viral infections, six grams per day in four doses of 3x500mg seems necessary. For less acute problems, four doses of 500mg per day seem to be effective. As a maintenance or preventive dose, 2x500mg should be effective.
As usual for just about any herbal, pregnant women should be very careful with cat’s claw; it is probably best to use this or any other herbal under the care of a professional. Also, because it is anti-coagulant and increases immune system activity, cat’s claw won’t mix very well with warfarin or immunosuppressant drugs.