Other names: Uncaria tomentosa, una de gato, life-giving vine of Peru, samento
It is called by many the "Miracle Herb from the Rain Forest of Peru". It has been drawing increasingly more interest among the proponents of natural health care. Although virtually unheard of in the United States until recently, the beneficial effects of the Peruvian herb Uncaria tomentosa, commonly known as "una de gato" in Spanish and "cat's claw" in English, have been studied at research facilities in Peru, Austria, Germany, England, Hungary and Italy, since the 1970's. These studies suggest that the herb may be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, bursitis, allergies, diabetes, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, herpes, organic depression, menstrual irregularities and disorders of the stomach and intestines.
After using cat's claw in working with approximately 150 patients between 1988 and 1992, Dr. Brent Davis reports that "Uncaria tomentosa has the ability to break through severe intestinal derangements that no other available products can touch." He refers to the herb as "the opener of the way" because of its remarkable ability to cleanse the entire intestinal tract and help patients suffering from many different stomach and bowel disorders including leaky bowel syndrome. irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids. fistulas. gastritis, ulcers, parasites and intestinal flora imbalance.
By cleansing the intestinal walls, cat's claw enables the body to better absorb nutrients, thus helping to correct nutritional imbalances created by digestive blockages. Many doctors today believe that cat's claw may have a "profound ability to get rid of deep-seated infection lodged in the bowel and perhaps even the mesentery, which can derange the uterus and associated anatomic parts: the prostate, liver, spleen, kidneys, thymus and thyroid, for starters." Davis calls cat's claw "a world class herb which has the power to arrest and reverse deep-seated pathology allowing a more rapid return to health...'' The Ashanika Indians of Peru have long regarded una de gato tea as a sacred beverage. It is used as a cleansing and tonic herb for the immune, intestinal and structural systems.
In traditional medicine of Peru, una de gato is categorized as a "warm plant" or, more accurately, for warm conditions (inflammations) including arthritis, gastritis, asthma and dermal and genito-urinary tract inflammations. It is also used to treat diabetes, cancer, tumors, viral infections, menstrual disorders convalescence and debility.
A few tribes also use cat's claw as a remedy for dysentery, and at least one tribe uses the herb to treat gonorrhea.
Unique alkaloids in una de gato seem to enhance the immune system in a general way.
These alkaloids have a pronounced effect on the ability of white blood cells to engulf and digest harmful micro-organisms and foreign matter. Austrian researcher Klaus Keplinger has obtained two U.S. patents for isolating some of the herb's major components. According to these patents, six oxindol alkaloids have been isolated from cat's claw and four of these have been proven "suitable for the unspecified stimulation of the immunologic system". Laboratory testing has shown these alkaloids to have a pronounced enhancement effect on phagocytosis (the ability of the white blood cells and macrophages to attack, engulf and digest harmful micro-organisms, foreign matter and debris). The most immunologically active alkaloid appears to be isoteropodine or isomer A. Cat's claw has also been shown to increase the production of leukocytes and specifically T4 lymphocytes, thus blocking the advance of many viral illnesses. Quinovic acid glycosides in cat's claw back up the immune system and protect the body from viruses and virus caused cancers. Dr. Donna Schwontkowski, D.C., calls cat's claw the most powerful immune-enhancer of all the herbs native to the Peruvian Amazon. Preliminary studies suggest that the herb has the ability to stop viral infections in the early stages, help patients who are chemically sensitive, fight opportunistic infections in AIDS patients and de-crease the visible size of some skin tumors and cysts. According to Dr. Satya Ambrose, N. D., cats claw seems to enhance overall immunity while increasing stamina and energy in patients who suffer from physical and mental exhaustion due to an overactive or stressful lifestyle.
Cat's claw is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects and has been used for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Compounds in cat's claw are thought to block the body's production of inflammation-producing substances called prostaglandins and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Cat's claw is believed to reduce pain somewhat, but it doesn't appear to have much of an effect on reducing swelling. More evidence is needed before cat's claw can be used as a treatment for arthritis.
There's some evidence cat's claw may affect the immune system. Preliminary laboratory studies suggest it may halt the spread of cancer cells. A few animal studies suggest it may help with cell damage caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Much more evidence is needed before it can be used as a cancer treatment, and it should never replace conventional care.
Cat's claw has also been used for high blood pressure, HIV, diverticulitis, gastritis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but there's insufficient evidence on the effectiveness of cat's claw for these conditions.
Side Effects and Safety ConcernsSide effects may include nausea, headache and dizziness.
Cat's claw shouldn't be used by people who have had organ transplants.
The safety of cat's claw in people with certain autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and Crohn's disease isn't known.
Cat's claw shouldn't be taken within two weeks before or after surgical procedures or by people who have bleeding disorders.
Pregnant or nursing women or children should avoid cat's claw.
Cat's claw shouldn't be confused with another herb called cat's claw acacia, catclaw acacia or Acacia gregii which is believed to contain a compound related to cyanide and should not be taken orally.
Possible InteractionsCat's claw may decrease the effectiveness of drugs that suppress the immune system such as Imuran (azathioprine), CellCept, Neoral, Sandimmune (cyclosporine), Prograf, Rapamune and Zenapak.
Cat's claw is thought to be broken down by the liver, so it could theoretically interfere with the effectiveness of medications that are broken down by the same liver enzymes such as:
- oral contraceptives
- allergy medication such as fexofenadine
- cholesterol medication such as lovastatin
- antifungals such as ketoconazole
- cancer medications such as paclitaxel or vinblastine