Cat’s Claw: What Is It and What Are the Benefits?

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Balancing Your Hormones Leave a Comment

Cat’s claw has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine to support a variety of health conditions. It’s native to South and Central America, where it’s been an essential part of healing and spiritual practices.

In more recent years, interest in cat’s claw has grown throughout Europe and North America. It’s often used as an herbal remedy for conditions like arthritis or immune support because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

But as with any botanical, we have to consider the current research along with traditional uses to see if it’s a safe and effective choice. Keep reading to learn more about what cat’s claw is and how it could benefit you.

What is Cat’s Claw?

Cat’s claw is a vine found in tropical areas of South and Central America and the Amazon rainforest. It’s been traditionally used by indigenous tribes of the South American Rainforest to treat many different inflammatory conditions.

There are two species of Cat’s claw, Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis. Most of the research available focuses on Uncaria tomentosa. As a result, this variety is most commonly used in supplements, specifically the root and bark extracts, as capsules, or sometimes in tea and herbal tinctures. 

The somewhat unusual name for this botanical is because of its thorns that look like the claws of the cat. Also called una de gato, the thorns help the vine climb and grow up through the tall trees of the rainforest.

The health benefits of cat’s claw are related to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Cat’s Claw Benefits

Cat’s claw may support inflammatory health conditions by interrupting the immune process that activates inflammation in your body. 

There are compounds found in cat’s claw that may stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammatory cytokines, and even support DNA repair and cellular protection.

While more recent studies are needed on cat’s claw, here are some of the most researched benefits:

May Help with Symptoms of Arthritis

One of the most popular uses for cat’s claw is for arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammatory joint condition that leads to pain, swelling, and loss of function. Cat’s claw may be a natural way to support your joints if you’re experiencing arthritis-like symptoms.

Cat’s claw may inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Cytokines are signaling proteins that activate inflammation in your body, so cat’s claw may help turn them off.

Some studies suggest that taking cat’s claw may help reduce pain and stiffness for people with osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis that leads to tissue degeneration around your joints.

People with rheumatoid arthritis have experienced similar benefits as people with osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that results in swollen, painful joints. It’s associated with elevated markers of inflammation in your blood.

A study on forty people with rheumatoid arthritis found that those taking cat’s claw with their typical medication reported less joint pain than those taking a placebo.

Again, the reason cat’s claw may help is related to its anti-inflammatory properties. In some people, it may interrupt and calm the inflammatory markers that would otherwise signal a pain-promoting inflammatory response.

Cat’s Claw and Immune System Support

Cat’s claw may support your immune system by activating the white blood cells that help keep you healthy. And since inflammation is an integral part of your immune response, cat’s claw could help your body turn down inflammation when it’s not needed.

Several small studies suggest that cat’s claw could promote white blood cell production and other immune cells to support your immune response. 

Some studies also indicate that it could help people going through chemotherapy because the treatment usually results in a significant drop in healthy immune cells along with cancer cells. A trial on women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy found that cat’s claw helped reduce the expected decreases in immune cells usually seen with chemotherapy. It also helped support cellular DNA by protecting against damage from chemotherapy.

If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer, speak with your doctor before beginning any supplements or herbs.

The anti-inflammatory properties may also extend to your gut health. Some studies suggest that cat’s claw may help calm inflammatory markers associated with gut irritation. Cat’s claw is often added to supplements targeting leaky gut (intestinal permeability) or other gut imbalances. 

May Help People with Lyme Disease

While much more research is needed, early research suggests that cat’s claw could be part of a comprehensive plan to support people with Lyme.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a tick bite. People with Lyme disease can go years with debilitating symptoms and very few answers because it’s not always well understood. 

Samento, a specific extract from cat’s claw bark, may help people with Lyme disease by supporting the activity of the immune system and calming down inflammation.

There’s not enough evidence supporting Samento for Lyme at this point as it’s all based on test-tube studies. Much more in-depth human research is needed. Still, it’s worth mentioning because it comes up a lot in discussions on alternative treatments for Lyme.

May Help Fight Cancer Cells (Anti-Tumor Activity)

For anything to be considered effective for cancer, there must be a lot of rigorous research. There’s not enough evidence to use cat’s claw as a treatment for cancer. Still, there is interesting early research suggesting cat’s claw could have anti-tumor activity and help improve the quality of life for people living with cancer.

A study on people with terminal cancer reported that cat’s claw could help with energy levels, social functioning, and overall quality of life. As mentioned above, cat’s claw may also help support the immune cells that usually drop during chemotherapy.

Some have suggested the cat’s claw has anti-tumor activity based on the results from test-tube studies. One study found that extract from cat’s claw inhibited the growth of specific cancer cells, including breast cancer. 

This same anti-tumor activity was seen for several other types of cancer cells, but all the studies were conducted in labs and not on humans. 

However, since cat’s claw has immune-stimulating effects that could impact cancer cell growth, much more research is needed before recommending its use.

May Support Hormone Balance 

While the evidence is scarce, one very small animal study suggests cat’s claw could help with hormone balance by supporting healthy estrogen levels. The study indicated that cat’s claw could inhibit estrogen receptors, which in theory could help women struggling with estrogen dominance. However, this was an old study, and it has not been replicated.

Another study that followed rats with endometriosis found that the animals had less inflammation when given cat’s claw and even noted a possible contraceptive effect. While interesting, there’s definitely not enough research to suggest this as a tool to avoid pregnancy. 

If you suspect your hormones aren’t what they could be, you can start balancing your hormones naturally today with my free hormone starter kit. It includes a seven-day meal plan, recipe guide, and much more info to nourish your body and get things back on track.

Other Medical Uses of Cat’s Claw

There are several other health conditions that cat’s claw supposedly helps with, but there isn’t sufficient research to back up the claims, including:

  • HPV
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Allergies and asthma 
  • Hypertension
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Wound healing
  • Parasites

Does Cat’s Claw Have Any Side Effects?

Even though herbs aren’t considered medications, they can still be powerful, so it’s essential to be mindful of potential side effects. There aren’t many human studies on cat’s claw, but it has been used therapeutically for thousands of years.

Generally, cat’s claw appears safe, and symptoms are rare. The most commonly reported side effects are related to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Headaches and dizziness have also been reported. However, this usually happens only if you take large amounts over the recommended dosage.

There are conditions or times where you should avoid taking cat’s claw, including:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Some autoimmune diseases
  • Hypertension
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Leukemia
  • Alzheimer’s Disease 

You should always check with your healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplement, including cat’s claw— especially if you take any medications as it could interfere with the drug’s effectiveness.

Dosage of Cat’s Claw

Since there isn’t a standard go-to dosage for cat’s claw, and dosage can depend on why you are taking it, you should follow the instructions on the label or the guidance from your healthcare practitioner.

You can find cat’s claw supplements as capsules, teas, tinctures, and salves to rub on your skin.

As with all supplements, make sure you purchase from a safe and reputable company. Herbs are notorious for contamination with heavy metals or bacteria, so you’ll want to choose an option that has third-party verification, such as the GMP stamp.

We include 100 mg of cat’s claw as part of our Gut Rebuild—a gut-supporting formula designed to help you maintain gastrointestinal health. Cat’s claw was included in this formula for its anti-inflammatory potential.

Cat’s Claw: Should You Take It?

Cat’s claw has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to help with many ailments. Research is still ongoing, but the preliminary evidence that it could be an effective immune system booster and arthritis treatment is promising. 

If you’re interested in trying cat’s claw out for yourself, talk to your doctor before taking it, especially if you have any of the above conditions or take medications. And definitely avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Have you tried using cat’s claw? What were your results? Let me know if you have any questions about this herb by leaving a comment below.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.