Cat’s Claw: The Medicinal Plant From The Jungle

Whether arthritis, dermatitis, or cancer: In the traditional medicine of the Amazon Indians, the cat’s claw has been used for numerous diseases for 2,000 years. Research also speaks for a broad spectrum of effects. What should be considered when purchasing and using it?

Cat’s Claw: An ancient medicinal plant

According to estimates by the World Conservation Organization ( IUCN ), between 50,000 and 70,000 plant species are used in medicine worldwide. More medicinal plants thrive in the rainforests than in any other region on earth. According to a South American study, 1,400 plant species are used in Peru’s traditional medicine alone. This also includes the cat’s claw, which is widespread in the Amazon region – for example in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia.

The cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) – also known as Uña de Gato or Cat’s Claw – has been used for thousands of years for its extensive medicinal properties by the indigenous peoples of South America such as the Asháninca, Casibo, and Conibo, who still live in and with the rainforests sacred plant worshiped. The medicine men use the cat’s claw to eliminate disturbances in the communication between body and mind. In Europe, the medicinal plant is still considered an insider tip.

A legend about the cat’s claw

According to Asháninca legend, the healing powers of the cat’s claw were revealed by the god Kashiri. An unsuccessful and exhausted hunter saw a mighty cougar scratching the bark of a tree with its claws and then drinking the plant’s sap. The hunter did the same as the puma and fell asleep. In the dream, the hunter tried his luck again and was able to kill a large armadillo with just one accurate arrow. The Asháninca then believed that the cat’s claw must be a magical and at the same time healing and energizing plant.

Where the cat’s claw got its name from

The cat’s claw is a liana that belongs to the blushing family. It thrives in the rain and cloud forests on moist and shady soils. The trunks, which wind their way through the canopy of their supporting trees to dizzying heights, are about 30 cm thick and can reach 100 m in length.

In the leaf axils, there are sharp, slightly curved thorns that are reminiscent of cat claws and are probably responsible for the naming. Furthermore, the cat’s claw is referred to as a claw spike. The liana is also called “Villcaccora” by the locals, which means “sacred plant”.

There isn’t just one cat’s claw

It is important to know that Uncaria tomentosa is not the only plant referred to as a cat’s claw. For example the Uncaria guianensis. This is also a liana of the same genus, which is native to South America and is used as a remedy.

According to a 2016 Brazilian study, although the two plants differ in appearance and composition of ingredients, they are used by Amazonian peoples to treat more or less the same ailments, such as diabetes and cancer. But the Uncaria tomentosa has been scientifically studied for a long time, there are more studies and it is marketed more intensively.

Sometimes Uncaria guianensis is also sold under the name cat’s claw in the form of extracts or powder, as it is much cheaper due to the low demand. Consumers read the term cat’s claw and are convinced that it is the Uncaria tomentosa they want. For this reason, it is wise to pay attention to the Latin name, if given.

Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw: The Difference

The devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is often confused with the cat’s claw because of the similar name. The devil’s claw is also a medicinal plant. However, it comes from Africa, is used for digestive problems, and is in no way related to the cat’s claw. Since plants are often called the same or similar in the vernacular, it always makes sense to pay attention to the Latin name when buying. In this way, a mix-up can be reliably ruled out.

The main active ingredients

The healing effect of the cat’s claw is based on a whole range of ingredients. Oxindole alkaloids such as pteropodine and mitraphilline are among the most important active ingredients and, from a medical point of view, are primarily responsible for strengthening the immune system. Studies have u. It has been shown that taking a cat’s claw increases low levels of the white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections, and lowers levels that are too high.

It is often said that oxindole alkaloids are primarily hidden in the stem bark, but according to analyzes they are primarily distributed in the flowers (2 percent), in the leaves (1.6 percent), and in the roots (1 percent). In the trunk bark, the concentration is only 0.5 percent, and in the thorny branches 0.3 percent. However, the level of oxindole alkaloids in the different parts of the plant varies greatly and depends on many factors such as the plant in question, the age of the plant, and the time of year.

The medicine men do not need any chemical analyses, because they have thousands of years of experience and know exactly when which plant or plant part has the strongest healing power for the different applications. This is well-founded knowledge that, in terms of conventional medicine, must first be laboriously acquired.

Boosting the immune system and anti-inflammatory

The healing effect of the cat’s claw is primarily based on strengthening the immune system and inhibiting inflammation. Inflammation is actually a vital reaction of the body to protect itself from stimuli or pathogens. But if the inflammation gets out of control, it becomes chronic and turns against the body.

There are many diseases such as psoriasis, neurodermatitis, rheumatism, asthma, periodontitis, multiple sclerosis, and many more that are triggered by inflammation. Inflammation can also pave the way for conditions like diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer. anti-inflammatory drugs such as B. ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid, and metamizole are therefore among the most commonly prescribed drugs. The problem is that they are associated with numerous side effects and weaken the body’s defenses.

In 2018, Indian researchers scrutinized over 70 medicinal plants used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation, including cat’s claw. It was weighed up whether these could keep up with synthetic drugs such as steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

The scientists came to the conclusion that medicinal plants have a comparable mechanism of action, work just as well or better and lead to fewer or milder side effects. As a result, they indicated that medicinal plants are a safer, more effective, and better option than synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs. The human studies that are judged to be promising are also slowly increasing.

Can Cat’s Claw Cure Cancer?

Medicinal plants always attract a great deal of media attention when it is announced that they help with diseases that are difficult to treat or incurable. In some places you can read that cat’s claw can cure cancer. It is true that this medicinal plant is used by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon to treat cancer. However, outsiders hardly have the pleasure of learning more about the forms of preparation and dosages.

The antitumor effect of a cat’s claw has already been confirmed by some in vitro studies. For example, it was discovered that cat’s claw extracts kill cancer cells and can enhance the antitumor effect of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy can have numerous side effects such as B. associated with the decrease in white blood cells, which basically have nothing to do with the tumor itself. A Brazilian study with 40 breast cancer patients showed that the administration of 300 mg dry extract per day can reduce the aforementioned side effect.

However, it is important to remember that there are hardly any human studies in cancer research, and almost exclusively laboratory studies. The study situation is not yet sufficient to be able to provide clear information regarding the application (e.g. dosage). Cancer is not the same as cancer and everyone reacts differently to therapy.

Application in traditional cancer therapy

Studies have noted that when researchers want to record what is said in the form of notes or tape recordings, medicine men do not take it as a vote of confidence. And so with regard to the therapy of cancer and other ailments, only the knowledge that the scientists could keep in their minds could be “taken away”. There were also language barriers. It took 25 years for the scarce and incomplete information gained on 9 study trips to be confirmed by studies.

According to one report, a medicine man in Peru boiled 20 g of cut root bark in 1 liter of water for 45 minutes to treat cancer. The losses caused by evaporation were replenished in the form of water. The decoction obtained in this way represented a dose for 10 days. The recipe was copied in the laboratory and the daily dose was then estimated at 4 mg of oxindole alkaloids.

According to another traditional recipe, 0.5 kg of cat’s claw roots is boiled in 5 liters of water for 30 minutes. In the case of cancer, 1 cup is drunk three times a day. In another application, 2 teaspoons of the cat’s claw bark are boiled in 1.5L of water for 30 minutes. Then let the tea cool down and take half a glass three times a day before meals.

The application also varies because, in traditional medicine, tumor treatment is tailored exactly to the patient.

Against viruses

Cat’s claw is one of the medicinal plants with the greatest potential for treating viral diseases. These include feline leukosis (FeLV) and feline aids (FIV), which are not yet curable and, if left untreated, lead to death in up to 90 percent of the affected animals. As luck would have it, cats were also able to benefit from a study with the cat’s claw. Because 44 percent of the animals were completely virus-free after a 5-month treatment with the cat’s claw (administered by injections). Unfortunately, there is currently no approved drug for animals. Perhaps you can find a vet who specializes in natural medicine and knows how to use a cat’s claw.

Human studies are still rare, but they exist. For example, 44 HIV patients were treated with a cat’s claw root extract as an additional therapy. As a result, the immune system could be strengthened and lower susceptibility to infections was found.

The strong antiviral effect of a cat’s claw has long been confirmed in test tube studies. It is not without reason that since the advent of SARS-CoV-2, there have been many investigations into whether the medicinal plant can be helpful in prevention and healing. So far, the scientists researching this area have all come to the conclusion that a cat’s claw could definitely be used as alternative medicine.

What should be considered when buying

Whether whole roots, root bark, stem bark, leaves, thorns, or flowers: the medicine men in the Amazon region use practically every part of the cat’s claw. The therapy is tailored to the respective disease to be treated.

In Europe, on the other hand, almost only extracts are available in the form of capsules, drops, or tablets, which are obtained from the stem or root bark. Powders and gels are also sold. Only the whole root or the root bark (Uncaria tomentose radix) is regarded as a medicinal drug, but not other parts of the plant such as the stem bark or the leaves.

Standardized preparations are only available in countries like Austria, where cat’s claw has already been officially classified as a medicinal plant. Standardized means that e.g. B. must contain the same amount of active ingredient in each tablet. So you know exactly how much of one or more active ingredients you are taking. Because the content of ingredients in medicinal plants can vary extremely. In the optimal case, attention is paid to a minimum content of pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids (POAs) and a maximum content of tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids (TOAs) during production (e.g. claw thorn from Immodal: 0.5 mg TOAs and 13.5 mg POAs).

Non-standardized preparations do not count as medicinal products but as food supplements. However, this does not mean that they are automatic of poor quality. This is because food supplements can be of a similar or the same high quality as medicinal products. However, it can also be the case, for example, that the effectiveness is subject to large fluctuations. That is why it is very important when buying to rely on trustworthy manufacturers.

How to recognize high-quality capsules

You can buy non-standardized, high-quality cat’s claw extracts e.g. B. can be recognized by the following information:

  • High-quality raw materials (e.g. checked for pesticides, residues, heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, and fungi)
  • Raw material type: (extract should not contain the stem bark, but the root or root bark)
  • place of origin of the raw materials
  • Active ingredients and their content (e.g. 15 g alkaloids per tablet; minimum content of POAs and maximum content of TOAs)
  • no questionable or undesirable additives (e.g. preservatives)
    production method
  • Drug to extract ratio (e.g. 4:1, meaning 4 parts of the drug were used to make 1 part extract)
  • Solvents (water or ethanol, the latter offers the advantage that it contains water-soluble and water-insoluble ingredients)
  • Dosage (e.g. one tablet twice a day)
  • Recommended consumption (e.g. before or after a meal)

If you feel unsure, then contact your alternative practitioner or pharmacist, who can give you competent advice on the purchase. It is also possible to obtain preparations from abroad.

The side effects

The cat’s claw is not one of those medicinal plants, such as the lily of the valley, which are classified as poisonous. In clinical studies, high doses of up to 2,000 mg of extract per kg of body weight were administered to weigh up the side effects or toxicity, without anyone being harmed.

With the typical, i.e. mostly used dosages, side effects hardly ever occur. A comparatively high dosage can cause nausea, mild gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, an increase in uric acid levels, and even mild cardiovascular problems. However, an excessively high content of tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids can also be responsible for this.

Contraindications for taking a cat’s claw

People with organ, bone marrow, or skin transplants are better off avoiding cat’s claw because of its immune-stimulating effects. In these patients, the immune system has to be shut down with medication using so-called immunosuppressants so that the transplant is not rejected.

Women trying to conceive should also exercise caution, as a cat’s claw has traditionally been used to prevent pregnancy. To be on the safe side, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take the cat’s claw, as there are no corresponding studies. Children shouldn’t be given cat’s claw either, as we don’t know how it affects the not-yet fully developed immune system.

The cat’s claw, species protection, and the indigenous peoples

More than half of all active ingredients in our modern medicine come from plants. Is it any wonder that the interest of pharmaceutical companies to plunder the rainforest pharmacy and secure patents is constantly growing? Unfortunately, the profit from the marketing of the cat’s claw usually does not come at all or only a tiny fraction of it benefits the Amazon Indians.

The Convention on Biological Diversity ( CBD ), which came into force in 1993, is the only legally binding instrument for environmental protection to date. Because it not only refers to the preservation of biodiversity, but also to the commitment of the indigenous peoples who are committed to it. Among other things, the agreement is about a fair share of the profits that arise from the use of medicinal plants.

If you would like to help strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples and put a stop to so-called biopiracy, we recommend that you contact nature conservation organizations such as the WWF or NABU.

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