Cat’s claw is a medicinal herb that has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.
In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of cat’s claw, as well as its safety and traditional uses.
Table of Contents
What is Cat’s Claw?
Cat’s claw is a large vine that is native to tropical regions, mainly growing in the Amazon rainforest, South America, and Central America.
The plant’s Latin name is Uncaria tomentosa, while its other common names are cat’s claw, una de gato, samento, and saventaro.
There are numerous constituents that makeup cat’s claw, including:
- Oxindole alkaloids
- Indole alkaloidal glucosides
- Beta sitosterol
Cat’s claw is commonly used as a herb for Lyme disease. In addition, it has been used for arthritis, cancer, anti-microbial purposes, and cognitive health.
Health Benefits of Cat’s Claw:
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of cat’s claw.
1. May Treat Lyme Disease
Cat’s claw is thought to help treat individuals with Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Borrelia burgdorfer is a bacteria transmitted by ticks that cause Lyme disease.
An in vitro study evaluated several botanicals, including cat’s claw, Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed), Artemisia annua (Sweet wormwood), Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Juglans nigra (Black walnut), Cistus incanus, and Scutellaria baicalensis (Chinese skullcap) on their effectiveness against Borrelia burgdorferi. It was shown that cat’s claw has a strong ability to halt the growth of Borrelia burgdorferi.
Lyme disease expert and author Stephen Buhner discussed a 6-month study involving individuals with Lyme disease. Cat’s claw was shown to alleviate the symptoms of Lyme disease. The ending results revealed that 85% of the patients tested negative for Lyme infection after treatment with cat’s claw.
Summary:Research shows that cat’s claw may have the ability to benefit individuals with Lyme disease, although additional human clinical trials are needed.
2. May Support Immune Health
It’s thought that cat’s claw has immunomodulatory properties. It works as an antioxidant, stimulates innate and adaptive immunity, as well as phagocytosis, and has antimicrobial and antiviral effects.
Buhner notes that cat’s claw extract can improve CD4/CD8 ratios (blood test to monitor immunity) and NK cell activity (fight against tumors and infections).
A randomized, controlled study examined the effects of cat’s claw on the bacteria Enterococcus faeclis in participants who had infected root canal dentin. Cat’s claw showed to have an anti-bacterial effect on E. faeclis and also prevented bacterial regrowth up to seven days post-treatment.
A recent in vitro study revealed that the extract of cat’s claw has antiviral effects against the Covid-19 virus.
Summary:Cat’s claw has been found to have several properties that make it an ideal herb for improving immune health. Further research is needed for verification.
3. May Help Improve Arthritis
The most common symptoms that occur in the later stages of Lyme disease include arthritis, joint pain, and swelling. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Cat’s claw showed to be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee in a placebo-controlled study. Participants of the study reported reduced activity-related pain within the first week of treatment. This may be due to cat’s claw’s strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Another placebo-controlled study examined cat’s claw for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. After 28 weeks of treatment, those given the cat’s claw extract showed to have a reduction in painful and swollen joints.
Summary:Several studies indicate that cat’s claw may decrease joint pain and arthritic symptoms.
4. Anti-Cancer Properties
A prospective phase II study of 51 participants assessed the effects of cat’s claw on patients with advanced tumors and a life expectancy of at least two months. Results revealed that cat’s claw can help improve the quality of life and reduce fatigue for those with terminal cancer.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer and may have adverse side effects such as neutropenia (low count of white blood cell neutrophils).
A randomized clinical trial examined the effectiveness of cat’s claw in reducing the adverse side effects of chemotherapy in patients with stage II breast cancer. Results concluded that cat’s claw can reduce the development of neutropenia and can help repair cellular DNA damage.
There are numerous in vitro studies that indicate cat’s claw extract can halt human cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells.
Summary:Cat’s claw shows evidence of being able to benefit individuals with cancer by reducing various side effects of chemotherapy. More research is needed to confirm this finding.
5. Neuroprotective Properties
During the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the accumulation of plaques and tangles occurs in the aging brain, which contributes to the memory loss and cognitive decline associated with this condition.
In preclinical studies, researchers investigated the neuroprotective effects of cat’s claw and its constituents on the aging brain and Alzheimer’s disease. Findings revealed that cat’s claw works to reduce and inhibit the formation of brain plaques and tangles.
A placebo-controlled study tested a dietary supplement, Alpha BRAIN®, which contains cat’s claw bark powder, on memory and cognitive function. The results demonstrated that this supplement can improve short-term memory.
Summary:Although additional research is required, several studies show that cat’s claw may benefit short-term memory and cognitive function.
Cat’s Claw Safety:
Safety Class: 2b
Interaction Class: A
The safety class of 2b indicates this herb should not be used during pregnancy
The interaction class of A indicates that no clinically relevant adverse reactions are expected to occur when taking this herb appropriately.
It is not advised to use cat’s claw if you are taking immunosuppressive or blood-thinning medications.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive to use cat’s claw unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
The safety of cat’s claw for use during lactation has not been established.
The following dosages are reported by Lyme disease expert and author, Stephen Harrod Buhner:
Powder: Take 1 tsp. 3-6 times per day in water or juice.
Capsules: Take 1-4 500mg capsules 3 to 4 times per day for 8 to 12 months.
- Start at the lowest dose and increase incrementally every 7 days to the highest dose
- Continue the highest dose for at least 2 months
Tincture (1:5; 60% alcohol): Take ½ to 1 tsp. 3 to 6 times per day.
Infusion: Add 4 oz. (7 g) of herb to 1 quart (1 liter) of water. Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let it steep for one hour (or overnight). Strain herbs, then drink in 3 divided doses throughout the day.
Cat’s claw is not on the United Plant Saver’s “species-at-risk” list of plants that are sensitive to the impact of human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Cat’s claw’s scientific name is Uncaria tomentosa. It belongs to the Rubiaceae (i.e. coffee) family of plants.
The plant is a large woody vine that climbs and extends in search of sunlight. It gets its name from the distinctive claw-like thorns on its leaves.
Some other species of Uncaria include:
- Uncaria rhynchophylla
- Uncaria guianensis
- Uncaria gambir
- Uncaria macrophylla
- Uncaria hirsuta
- Uncaria sinensis
- Uncaria sessilifructus
History & Traditional Use:
For thousands of years, cat’s claw has been used by Indigenous people in the Amazon. It was used for treating asthma, inflammation of the urinary tract, arthritis, bone pain, rheumatism, childbirth recovery, wound healing, tumors, diabetes, gastric ulcers, fevers, cirrhosis, dysentery, prostatitis, shingles, skin disorders, cancer, and kidney healing. In a strong concentrated form, this herb has also been used as a contraceptive.
It is said that the South American species of cat’s claw has a more potent effect on immunity in inflammatory conditions, cancer, and Lyme disease.
In the 1930s, it was said that a Bavarian immigrant to Peru, Arturo Brell, used cat’s claw to help treat hundreds of people with cancer. It was not until 1974 after Arturo Brell’s death that cat’s claw began to be used in herbal practice, mainly by Austrian, Klaus Keplinger.
Cat’s claw has been used since the 1990s for treating Lyme disease, cancer, AIDS, arthritis, and immune disorders.
Uncaria gambier, a related species, is used as a bitter astringent in traditional Ayurvedic practice.
Uncaria rhynchophylla, another related species, is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating central nervous system conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, tremors, convulsions, dizziness, and vertigo.
While cat’s claw is considered a very safe herb to consume, there should be caution around taking this herb while on certain medications or while pregnant and breastfeeding.
If you are considering taking cat’s claw for the treatment of Lyme disease or another condition, there are various preparations and dosages. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult with a licensed health practitioner if you are thinking about making any changes to your daily routine.
Buhner, S. H. (2015). Healing Lyme: Natural healing of Lyme borreliosis and the coinfections chlamydia and spotted fever rickettsioses (2nd edition). Raven Press: Boulder, CO.
Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). American Herbal Products Association.