Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
Cat's Claw is a tropical vine that grows in rainforest and jungle areas in South America and Asia. Some cultures refer to the plant as the "Sacred Herb of the Rain Forest". This vine gets its name from the small thorns at the base of the leaves, which looks like a cat's claw.
Cat's Claw root and/or inner bark is a medicinal herb used primarily for it's anti-inflammatory actions. Traditionally it has been used to treat gout, inflammation, and swelling. There are also reports that Cat's Claw has been used as a contraceptive, for cleansing the intestinal tract, and in helping resist viral infections. It is thought to be an anti-oxidant. There have been suggestions it may be useful in the treatment of arthritis, ulcers, cancer, tumors, and AIDS.
Cat's Claw appears to give the immune system a boost, accounting for its popularity in the treatment of AIDS, cancer, viral diseases, and other infections. At this point, however, there's little hard evidence that it has a major impact. This herb also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, making it a candidate for treatment of arthritis, gastritis, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disorders. Again, however, there's no clinical research verifying its actual value. In its native South America, Cat's Claw is a popular folk medicine for intestinal complaints, ulcers, arthritis, and wounds, and has been used (in large doses) as a contraceptive. Elsewhere, it has also been used for ailments ranging from asthma and diabetes to menstrual disorders, premenstrual syndrome, depression, acne, and hemorrhoids.
Cat's claw has anti-inflammatory activity in arthritis, alone and as an adjunct to conventional therapies to reduce pain, stiffness and swelling and to decrease the frequency of conventional therapy (I8-month study of 6 patients and 9-week study of 70 patients). Pilot studies have also shown anti-inflammatory activity in inflammatory gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.
Animal and in vitro studies have shown that cat's claw has anti-inflammatory activity in acute and chronic inflammation, protecting against NSAID enteropathy and stress-induced ulcer formation. It has shown immunostimulant and anti-infectious properties both in animals and in vitro. In vitro studies have shown immunomodulator, and antimutagenic activity. Cat's claw has antineoplastic properties, and antioxidant activity. It is antiviral against RNA viruses in vitro. Cat's claw may have contraceptive properties. Recent in vitro evidence that cat's claw inhibits amyloid fibril formation and growth suggests that it may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and diabetes mellitus.
Cat's Claw is found in nature in two different "chemotypes" producing different alkaloidal constituents. Pentacyclic oxindoles are found in the roots of one type, while the tetracyclic oxindoles are present in the second type. Uncarine C and uncarine E are two stereoisomers of the pentacyclic oxindoles. Other alkaloids of the tetracyclic oxindoles found in Cat's Claw include mitraphylline, rhynchophylline and isorhynchophylline. Cat's Claw also contains a glucoindole alkaloid, 3,4-dehydro-5-carboxystrictosidine. Seven quinovic acid glycosides were also identified in the chloroform/methanol extract of the herb, and three polyhydroxylated triterpenes were found in the chloroform extract obtained from the bark. In addition, two acids were isolated from the bark portion of the plant: ursolic acid and oleanolic acid. Three steroidal compounds are also present in Cat's Claw: beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol.