Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2010
Written by  Ann Hearden

The sacred botanical: Cat’s Claw

Cat’s Claw is a woody vine which grows in the Peruvian rain forests of the Andes Mountains in South America. Cat’s Claw is the English translation of the Spanish name, Una de Gato. This name originated from the appearance of the thorns which cover the vine. They look like the claws of a cat. These hooked “claws” enable the vine to wind up among the trees of the canopied rainforest. There are many species of Cat’s Claw, but one of the most helpful to man is also known by the botanical name, Uncaria tomentosa. The Uncaria vine may take more than 20 years to reach its full size. (over 100 feet in length)

Historically native Peruvians have made decoctions or teas from the Uncaria tomentosa vine. The bark and the roots of the vine have both been used as a natural medicine. The native Peruvians considered Cat’s Claw to be a sacred botanical. Their tribal history records the ability of Cat’s Claw to cure tumors, soothe arthritis, ease gastric upsets and strengthen the immune system. The Ashanica Indians used both the bark and roots of the vine for generations to treat numerous health problems, including those related to the immune and digestive systems. Several Peruvian tribes valued Uncaria tea for its ability to relieve dysentery. It has been theorized that the use of Cat’s Claw may date back to the time of the ancient Incas.

Cat’s Claw has shown great potential for health benefits in modern times. The following universities and research organizations have conducted clinical research on Cat’s Claw:  The University of Innsbruck, Austria, the University of Munich, Germany, the Huntington Research Center, England, the Central Research Institute of Chemistry, Hungary, the University of Milan, Italy, the University of Naples, Italy, and several Peruvian research facilities.

Cat’s Claw exhibits promise for its anti-inflammatory properties. Generations of Peruvians have used Cat’s Claw for any type of rheumatism or arthritic joint condition. Clinical studies on the plant metabolites of Cat’s Claw have revealed that this herb does inhibit the inflammatory response.

Tradition shows us that South Americans have used Cat’s Claw to treat disorders specifically connected with the immune system. Tradition is supported by modern science.  In one study active compounds in Cat’s Claw called pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids were shown to enhance the proliferation of normal human B and T lymphocytes in human endothelial cells. Other Cat’s Claw compounds called tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids reduced the beneficial activity of the pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids on the human endothelial cells.  The following is a quotation taken from an abstract of scientific studies presented at the 46th Annual Congress of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research, Vienna, Austria, 1998:

“…in numerous, well-documented case studies with patients suffering from allergies, HIV, and tumor treatment side effects-whenever an over-reacting or deficient immune system is present-the oral application of root extracts containing only pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids significantly improved the situation.

The use of extracts of uncontrolled mixtures of both chemotypes of Uncaria tomentosa in many commercial preparations is-in the light of the antagonistic in-vitro effects-at least of doubtful value.

…products which are produced from a controlled harvest of Uncaria tomentosa root to contain solely pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids are the choice with respect to the traditional use in order ‘to restore the communication between body and spirit,’  the harmony of immunologic processes.”

Be sure to consult a health care professional or a professional in a health food store who is knowledgeable in the selection of quality Cat’s Claw in order to obtain a product that is safe and effective.

Sources:  Abstracts, Uncaria Tomentosa. Cat’s Claw. Healthnotes, Inc., 2010 Aisle7. Elkins, Rita, MH.  Cat’s Claw. PP. 9-22, Woodland Publishing Inc., Pleasant Grove, UT, 1995.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only. If you are seeking medical advice, please consult with a qualified healthcare provider. 

Ann Hearden received her certification in nutrition from American Health Science University in 2002. She started working at Bay Natural Foods in 1996. Ann has been a Certified Nutritionist with Streu’s Pharmacy Bay Natural since October 2005.
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