Cat's claw, or uncaria tomentosa, has a long history of use by the native peoples of the Peruvian rain forest. For many centuries, the native tribes have used the inner bark and root to prepare a medicinal tea used for arthritis, cancer, gastritis, and female hormonal imbalances.
The group of plants known as cat's claw are woody vines that grow over 100 feet in length as they wind their way up through trees growing in the highlands of the Amazonian jungle. The name, cat's claw, is derived from the two carved thorns at the base of each leaf that resemble a cat's claw. In 1974, an Austrian by the name of Klaus Keplinger brought knowledge of the plant to the west. He had the active ingredients analyzed and patented them.
Dr. Julian Whitaker, in his newsletter Health and Healing (May 1995) states that "as late as 1993, cat's claw was not mentioned in any of the herbal or naturopathic reference books. Yet studies in Austria, Germany, England, Hungary and Italy were suggesting that the bark of this plant could be helpful in treating cancer, AIDS, and a host of other ailments, including arthritis and intestinal disorders."
Researchers have isolated many active constituents. One has been shown to enhance the immune system by improving the ability of white blood cells to attack foreign invaders. Another inhibits clot formation.
Studies so far indicate that cat's claw also has anti-viral effects. Thus, some doctors have used it successfully to treat genital herpes and herpes zoster and alone or in conjunction with AZT for AIDS. It also has been shown to reduce side effects of radiation therapy for cancer. Other beneficial effects include antioxidant and anti-tumour effects.
One of the most important effects of cat's claw is that it has a marked anti-inflammatory effect. It seems to improve the overall function of the gastrointestinal tract through a deep cleansing action, and has been successfully used for bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis.
Only the inner bark is used so the plant can live on. The usual dose is one to three grams a day, available as a tablet or a tincture and taken preferably on an empty stomach. The quality of herb available on the market is highly variable. Make sure that the herb you are taking is from a reputable source and most importantly, that its active ingredients are standardized. It is a slow acting herb, requiring at least 30 to 60 days before there will be noticeable improvement. The most common side effect is diarrhea. In this case, the dose should be lowered until there is no diarrhea.
While some claims about this herb still need to be proven, cat's claw is an exciting addition to our herbal pharmacopoeia. More high quality research needs to be done on this herb. Remember that this herb should not be used during pregnancy and nursing, or for transplant patients or those with auto-immune diseases. Treating yourself for a serious illness with this herb should be done only under the supervision of your family doctor or other qualified practitioner.
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