What is Cat’s Claw?
Cat’s claw is a large, woody vine native to the Amazon rainforest and other parts of South and Central America. Taking up to 20 years to reach maturity, it wraps itself around native Amazonian trees, reaching over 100 feet in length.1
The name cat’s claw comes from the distinctive hook-like thorns that grow along the vine and resemble cat claws. Beyond its characteristic thorns, the vine produces small yellow flowers and bright green leaves.
Cat’s claw has been used as a sacred plant of healing for over 2000 years by indigenous South American and Central American tribes. Modern research confirms many of these traditional medicinal uses.
Cat’s claw contains a variety of phytochemicals, like alkaloids, that contribute to its many health-promoting benefits, including immune support, microbiome balance, cognitive health, and cardiovascular support.
Benefits of Cat’s Claw and How It Works
Cat’s claw supports the immune system through a range of actions.
It has immune-stimulating properties that include its ability to increase lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system.2
Additionally, in vitro studies have demonstrated its balancing effect on excessive inflammation.3
Increasing research is focusing on cat’s claw’s use as a potential adjunct to conventional cancer treatment. Its alkaloids and other constituents show anti-tumor properties in vitro. This may be due to cat’s claw’s ability to aid DNA cellular repair and prevent cells from mutating.4
One 2021 in vitro and in vivo study, showed that cat’s claw extracts inhibited mouse melanoma cells.5
A 2012 human clinical trial in the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found cat’s claw extract to be a safe and effective adjunct therapy in reducing adverse chemotherapy effects in breast cancer patients.6
An in vitro study demonstrated that cat’s claw extract has an antiviral effect against SARS-COV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Possible mechanisms of action include inhibiting viral entrance into host cells and viral replication. It is also thought to have a beneficial effect through its ability to control the excessive inflammation and oxidative stress that accompanies viral infections.7,8
Cat’s claw has also shown a broad spectrum of antibacterial and antifungal activity in various studies.
A 2010 in vitro study evaluated the antimicrobial activity of cat’s claw against microorganisms frequently found in infected root-filled teeth. The study demonstrated that cat’s claw has antimicrobial activity against Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans.9
In an in vitro study, cat’s claw had antifungal activity that produced a synergistic effect against resistant candida strains when combined with the antifungals fluconazole and terbinafine.10
Cat’s claw is also a common addition to treatment protocols for chronic Lyme disease. Efficacy for activity against Borrelia burgdorferi associated with Lyme disease is documented in a 2020 study from Johns Hopkins University.11
Cat’s claw exhibits impressive anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity that can support healthy joints and reduce joint discomfort.
In a 2002 human clinical trial published in The Journal of Rheumatology researchers gave cat’s claw extract or a placebo to rheumatoid arthritis patients already taking prescription antirheumatic medications such as sulfasalazine or hydroxychloroquine. Patients receiving the antirheumatic drugs in combination with cat’s claw extract experienced a reduction in the number of painful and swollen joints.12
In another human clinical trial, osteoarthritis patients were given freeze-dried cat’s claw or placebo for four weeks. Patients taking cat’s claw had decreased pain with activity, with benefits occurring within the first week of administration.13
Emerging research suggests there may be a link between the gut microbiome and joint health. In this regard, herbs like cat’s claw, which help balance the body’s microbiome, may be of use in promoting healthy joints.14
Recent research suggests that cat’s claw can benefit cognition and support the brain as it ages.
In vitro and in vivo studies show that this herb has the ability to reduce brain plaques (protein clumps that can disrupt cellular function), tangles (twisted protein strands in brain cells), and inflammation, which are all factors of an aging brain, and in excess, are hallmark characteristics of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.1,15
A 2016 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial administered a supplement containing cat’s claw bark powder to healthy adults aged 18 to 35. After six weeks, those taking the supplement saw significant improvements in short-term memory and executive functions compared to the control group.1,16
This human clinical trial suggests that cat’s claw, combined with additional herbal nootropics (herbs that enhance cognitive function), can have a positive impact on brain health.
In other research, certain phytochemicals present in cat’s claw have a beneficial effect on some brain neurotransmitters associated with mood and pain.4,17
And yet another study showed that these same phytochemicals in cat’s claw increased the neurologic growth factor BDNF and moderated other neurological changes associated with stroke.20
Cat’s claw can help balance the gut microbiome and reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
In a 2021 animal study, mice with colitis were given a combination herbal supplement that included cat’s claw extract. The authors observed that the herbal supplement improved the colitis by restoring gut integrity and balancing inflammation.21
Cat’s claw contains a phytochemical called rhynchophylline that has hypotensive and vasodilating properties. These effects are attributed to its ability to relax the smooth muscles that make up the vascular walls.18
History & Traditional Use
Cat’s claw has a long history of use in South and Central America, where it grows. Many indigenous tribes have used cat’s claw for thousands of years for a variety of ailments.
The Ashaninka tribe of Peru, the largest commercial source of cat’s claw from the country, uses the herb for asthma, urinary tract health, arthritis, gastric ulcers, and more.4,19 In the Ashaninka tradition, a cat’s claw decoction is prepared and given for 10 days. A decoction is similar to a tea, but it involves simmering the woody parts of the plant for a longer. Cat’s claw, in this form, is very bitter and primarily used for therapeutic purposes rather than as a beverage tea.
Other indigenous South American tribes use cat’s claw for menstrual irregularities, fever, tumors, and cancer.4
The medicinal value of cat’s claw made its way into Western consciousness with the help of an Austrian journalist named Klaus Keplinger, who organized the first definitive work on the herb. This work brought attention to the herb’s immune-stimulating properties, leading to more research and the manufacturing of cat’s claw extracts.
How to Use and Dosing
The vine bark of cat’s claw is most commonly consumed as an extract in either capsule or tincture form.
General dosing for a cat’s claw powdered extract capsule is 300-400 mg per day. An extract standardized to at least 1% alkaloids is preferable.
If using a tincture, 1-2 mL up to four times daily is standard.
Cat’s claw requires activation by stomach acid to be effective, so it should be taken with food. Acid-blocking drugs can prevent the activation of cat’s claw. Taking apple cider vinegar with the herb may enhance activation.
If taking blood-thinning medications, consult with your health care practitioner before taking cat’s claw as it may affect platelet aggregation.
Always check with your health care practitioner before use if you are taking medications. For more general education on potential interactions between herbs and medications, check out Dr. Bill Rawls’ article: Is it Safe to Take Herbs with My Medications?
Precautions & Side effects
Cat’s claw is generally well tolerated, with the most common potential side effect being occasional stomach upset. It’s best to avoid the use of cat’s claw while pregnant or breastfeeding unless otherwise directed by your health care provider.
Disclaimer: This information is intended only as general education and should not be substituted for professional medical advice. Any mentioned general dosage options, safety notices, or possible interactions with prescription drugs are for educational purposes only and must be considered in the context of each individual’s health situation and the quality and potency of the product being used. Use this information only as a reference in conjunction with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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