What Are the Medical Uses of Uncaria Tomentosa?

Melissa Barrett

Uncaria tomentosa, commonly referred to as cat’s claw, shows promise in treating gastric discomfort and as a general anti-inflammatory. The herb has been historically used to boost the immune system and, as such, is frequently used as an antiviral. When combined with certain other herbs, cat’s claw has been known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and may act as a neuroinhibitor. The herb is occasionally used in complementary treatment of cancer and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); however, this practice is controversial.

Unicaria tomentosa can be used to treat gastric discomfort.
Unicaria tomentosa can be used to treat gastric discomfort.

Within the medical community, uncaria tomentosa has developed a somewhat bad reputation. This stems not from the herb itself but from the unsavory advertising practices of a number of manufacturers of herbal supplements containing cat’s claw. In some instances, these manufacturers promise complete cures for conditions including cancer and AIDS. Individuals who decline mainstream treatment in favor of the supplements generally experience a decline in their health. In some unfortunate cases, the patients die.

Studies have documented the anti-inflammatory properties of uncaria tomentosa, a dietary supplement.
Studies have documented the anti-inflammatory properties of uncaria tomentosa, a dietary supplement.

Reputable herbalists rarely claim that herbal treatments are cures for any medical conditions. Instead, the practice tends to focus on alleviating symptoms and promoting general health. In that capacity, uncaria tomentosa can be a valuable tool.

The anti-inflammatory properties of uncaria tomentosa are fairly well documented. In laboratory studies involving test animals, swelling of joints and general edema were reduced up to 40% after giving the herb. The effectiveness of cat’s paw in treating gastric discomfort is less well studied. The herb, however, has over a millennium of common uses for this purpose.

The effect of uncaria tomentosa on the immune system has been the most hotly debated aspect of the herb. Few studies have been done documenting its specific effects. Most agree, however, that the plant contains many of the same compounds as other herbs known to be immuniostimulants. Theoretically, a very powerful immuniostimulant could conceivably be an effective treatment for some cancers and AIDS. It is highly improbable that any herb, including cat’s paw, would have levels even remotely approaching curative for these conditions.

That is not to say that the immune-stimulating properties of uncaria tomentosa are useless. Those suffering from allergies often benefit from the combination of anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties. Preventative dosages of cat’s paw also show some promise for staving off colds and the flu. As there have been few side effects reported with the use of cat’s paw, many herbalists adopt a “can’t hurt, might help” stance on the herb’s preventative use.

Unlike many herbs, there are environmental concerns with the use of uncaria tomentosa. The tree grows primarily in rain forests. In addition, many of the healing properties of cat’s paw are concentrated in its roots. In practice, this often means that the trees are destroyed in the process of harvesting the herb.

Cat's claw may be used to treat allergies.
Cat's claw may be used to treat allergies.

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