Cat's Claw - What You Should Know About This Herb

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

cat's claw (uncaria tomentosa)
cat's claw (uncaria tomentosa). Manfred Pfefferie/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

What is Cat's Claw?

Cat's claw is native to the Amazon. The name cat's claw comes from the thorns on the plant's leaves that look like the claws of a cat. The part used medicinally is the root bark. It comes in tablet, capsule, tea, dried herb or tincture forms. Other names include ​Uncaria tomentosa, una de gato, life-giving vine of Peru, and samento.

Health Benefits of Cat's Claw:

Cat's claw has a long history of traditional use by indigenous peoples in South America.

It has been used to treat digestive problems, arthritis, inflammation, ulcers and to promote wound healing. So far, scientific support for the potential benefits of cat's claw is limited.

1) Arthritis

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.

See more on Natural Remedies For Rheumatoid Arthritis and also 5 Remedies For Osteoarthritis Pain.

2) Cancer

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.

3) Other Conditions

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 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.

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.

Cat'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

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend cat's claw for any health condition. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of cat's claw, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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