The benefits of Cat’s Claw, known scientifically as Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis, as a supplement revolve largely around its ability to relieve arthritic symptoms—particularly those of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Its traditional use has been to relieve pain associated with both ailments, and at least one study has shown that it can be effective in treating knee pain from osteoarthritis. As a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, research suggests that Cat’s Claw may help reduce inflammation—though it should be noted that this does not mean that it will treat or stop the associated joint damage.
Cat's Claw Has Many Purported Applications
Though most research into Cat’s Claw’s benefits has focused on its use in treating the aforementioned arthritic symptoms, it has been used or recommended for a large variety of other ailments, including ulcers, digestive problems, hemorrhoids, shingles, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chicken pox, asthma, cancer, birth control, and even hay fever.
It is believed that the chemicals naturally present in Cat’s Claw help to stimulate the immune system—and those who tout its efficacy against viruses or cancer say that it works to eradicate or fight virus or cancer cells. However, it should be noted that no evidence exists that using the supplement will have any effect on these conditions, and more research is needed into uses of Cat’s Claw for anything other than relief of arthritis symptoms.
For those who seek to take advantage of the benefits of Cat’s Claw, it is important to take note of the possible side effects. It is generally considered safe for most users. However, a few who take it may experience headaches, nausea or vomiting. And, as with any new supplement, or medication, it is important to check with a doctor and ensure that it will not have a negative interaction with existing medication.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take Cat’s Claw, as it is considered unsafe during pregnancy (and too little is known about its safety for breastfeeding mothers and infants). In addition, people with low blood pressure should be cautious about using it, as there are indications that it may lower blood pressure.
These concerns over blood pressure extend to those who are scheduled for surgery, as the supplement may lower blood pressure to an unsafe level during surgery—it is recommended that you avoid use of Cat’s Claw for at least two weeks prior to surgery. Finally, those with leukemia or an auto-immune disorder should also be warned that it may aggravate or worsen their condition.
Is Cat's Claw the Right Option For You?
In all, Cat’s Claw offers very promising anecdotal evidence that it can help with arthritis pain and swelling—and many others can see positive effects on other illnesses and ailments. Though one should always check with a doctor before beginning any new medication or supplement, the evidence of its success helps explain why Cat’s Claw is still a popular herb.
As far as other treatments for arthritis and similar pain, we cover other herbal supplements in our Health Conditions section as well as on the page below. If you have any experience with Cat's claw, negative or positive, we'd love to hear about it.