In addition to its beauty, South America conquers us with its biodiversity. Partly due to the specific climatic conditions, and partly thanks to the wonderful Amazonian rainforest, South America is home to a whole series of unique plants and fruits that have an extraordinary nutritional and healing effect on the human body. Beneficial Maca and superfruit Camu Camu are just a few examples, but the list of natural gifts from this part of the globe is much longer. Thus, among the interesting plants, it is definitely worth highlighting a plant with an unusual appearance, which is called cat’s claw. Other names by which it is known are Uncaria tomentosa, Uña de Gato, or Savéntaro.
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What is cat’s claw herb?
Also known as the “Peruvian life-giving vine”, cat’s claw is a woody vine whose thorns resemble cat’s claws, indigenous to the Amazon region of South America. It is highly valued and is considered a sacred plant thanks to its long tradition of use in folk medicine. The local population makes a decoction from the bark of the plant and drinks it as tea, most often for the purpose of relieving inflammation, allergies, arthritis, and numerous other inflammatory conditions. There are over 10 different and unrelated herbs with a name Uña de Gato or Cat’s Claw. Uncaria tomentosa is the most valued due to the wealth of active substances found in it.
The Uncaria tomentosa inner bark and root of the stalk contains 30 bioactive substances known for nootropic benefits. A soluble extract C-Med-100®, also called AC-11 extract of Uncaria tomentosa, is standardized to carboxy alkyl esters found to help DNA repair. This is the one that some commercial premade nootropic stacks use for cognitive benefits. It’s not a cheap supplement so you’ll not find it in many formulations. We have reviewed the NooCube nootropic stack that use 4:1 concentrated extract of Uncaria tomentosa inner bark.
Bioactive substances in cat’s claw
The more cat’s claw is researched, the more amazing bioactive substances with pharmacological effects are discovered in it. Among the significant ones are certainly different types of polyphenols, glycosides, and sterols, but it is worth highlighting unique compounds called oxindole alkaloids.
Although it is believed that the synergy of active ingredients is responsible for the healing properties of cat’s claw, many authors attribute the beneficial properties to various oxindole alkaloids. That is why most preparations are standardized on the content of oxindole alkali, which is also a sign of the quality of the food supplement.
Cat’s claw benefits for inflammation
The anti-inflammatory effect of cat’s claw is, in fact, very well documented by scientific studies, confirming the wisdom of ancient peoples. Numerous in vitro studies, and to a lesser extent clinical studies, have shown that cat’s claw has the ability to prevent the activation of the transcription factor NF-κB. This factor regulates numerous aspects of our immunity and serves as an important mediator in the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules.
By preventing the activation of NF-κB, the production of a molecule called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), which normally promotes inflammation, is also inhibited. In other words, cat’s claw has the ability to “put out the fire” that feeds the inflammation. Numerous authors point out that this ability to reduce the synthesis of TNFα is the main mechanism of action and the reason why cat’s claw gives good results in inflammatory conditions, especially arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
An interesting study on the healing cat’s claw benefits was published in 2007 in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. The study involved 95 subjects with osteoarthritis who were randomized into two groups: one group received 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate per day, while the other group received a combination of 300 mg of cat’s claw and 1,500 mg of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) twice daily. After 8 weeks of the protocol, a lower level of pain and stiffness was found in both groups, but only in the group with cat’s claw, and Maca was found a lower need for painkillers. Therefore, the authors concluded that the cat’s claw in combination with Maca can serve as a valuable natural aid to the health of the joints.
Among the studies, it is certainly worth highlighting the randomized double-blind trial that studied the effect of cat’s claw on the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. In a study published in 2002 in The Journal of Rheumatology, 40 subjects who received medication for their condition took part. In the first phase of the study, which lasted 24 weeks, subjects received either cat’s claw extract or a placebo, while in the second phase of the following 28 weeks, all subjects took cat’s claw in addition to standard therapy. The results showed a significant reduction in joint pain in all subjects, but especially in those who took cat’s claw along with the therapy throughout the trial. Of course, more studies are needed, but these results certainly give a reason for optimism and confirm the strong anti-inflammatory effect of cat’s claw.
Cat’s claw benefits against viral infections
Perhaps the most propagated property of cat’s claw is that it is a beneficial supplement for immunity in both acute and chronic viral infections. But is there any truth? Several in vitro studies have addressed this issue, and it has been shown, for example, that cat’s claw extracts significantly inhibited the replication of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is usually associated with infections of the lips, mouth, and face. However, we are more interested in human studies, and there are also reasons for optimism.
23 volunteers aged 40-60 years participated in an interventional study published in 2001 in the journal Phytomedicine, which aimed to discover the possible influence of cat’s claw on the immune response after a pneumococcal vaccine. Subjects received either a placebo or cat’s claw extract at a dose of 350 mg twice daily. After 2 months of testing, results showed a significant increase in the ratio of lymphocytes/neutrophils in the blood of subjects receiving cat’s claw compared to placebo, as well as a smaller decrease in antibody levels after 5 months. The authors of the study concluded that cat’s claw extract can serve as a useful aid in increasing the effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine.
By the way, does cat’s claw kill COVID? The most recent study that focused on the potential effect of cat’s claw on COVID-19 is very interesting. It is an in silico study, that is, a study in which, with the help of a computer, it is predicted how a certain compound will react with proteins or pathogens in the body. The study was published this year in the Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics. Analysis of the cat’s claw identified several pharmacologically active substances believed to have the ability to prevent the attachment of the COVID-19 virus to host cells. Although it is only a computer model, the authors of the study point out that the cat’s claw has potential in the fight against COVID-19.
Cat’s claw nootropic benefits
Several herbs have a long tradition of use to improve cognitive function, and a cat’s claw is among them. The ability of cat’s claw or its bioactive ingredients to improve memory has been confirmed by several in vitro and clinical studies. Cat’s claw alone or in combination with other herbs has particularly shown a beneficial effect on short-term memory.
In light of these findings, scientists went one step further and began to study the possible effect of cat’s claw extract on Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disease characterized by loss of memory and reasoning ability. A study conducted on an animal model published in 2019 in the journal Scientific Report found that the application of cat’s claw extract to 8-month-old mice with Alzheimer’s disease for a period of 14 days significantly reduced the number of amyloid beta (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which are otherwise the main pathological characteristics of this chronic disease.
The scientists concluded that this discovery potentially represents a revolution in the treatment of negative changes that accompany brain aging, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, and call for clinical studies on humans.
Healing benefits of cat’s claw
Another potential area of application of cat’s claw is malignant diseases. Several studies have pointed to the ability of cat’s claw to prevent the proliferation of tumor cells. However, in addition to preventive purposes, cat’s claw has also been shown to be useful in supportive therapy for malignant diseases in some studies.
Thus, a randomized clinical study published in 2012 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine studied the effectiveness of cat’s claw in reducing the negative consequences of chemotherapy. 40 subjects with invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common malignant breast tumor, participated in the study. The test subjects were divided into 2 groups: one received 300 mg of cat’s claw extract per day in addition to chemotherapy, while the other received only chemotherapy and served as a control. Blood analysis before each of the 6 chemotherapy treatments that the subjects underwent showed that cat’s claw significantly reduced the occurrence of neutropenia that often accompanies chemotherapy and led the authors to conclude that cat’s claw can be an effective supportive therapy for breast cancer.
Additionally, a 2015 study from the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine evaluated the effect of taking 100 mg of Cat’s Claw extract 3 times a day on 51 subjects in the terminal stage of malignant disease. The results showed a significant improvement in the quality of life, as well as reduced fatigue in the subjects, which means that this plant can be a natural aid in the fight against malignant diseases, but only as a support for standard therapy, not as a substitute for it.
Dosage and restrictions of Cat’s Claw
Cat’s claw is typically administered in a dose of 20-350 mg of dried claw bark extract, or 300-500 mg of powder per capsule divided into 2 to 3 doses during the day. This dose is generally well tolerated and is not considered dangerous to health. In rare cases, nausea and abdominal pain may occur, but even if symptoms do occur, they are mild in nature and disappear quickly when the preparation is stopped.
Despite the safety, there are situations when it is better not to use this plant. In addition to pregnant and lactating women, this primarily refers to people on warfarin therapy or other anticoagulants or who are preparing for surgery, since it is believed that cat’s claw can increase the risk of bleeding. Thanks to its immunostimulating effect, it is not suitable even for people taking immunosuppressants.
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