Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is an interesting plant substance increasingly coming to the attention of Western physicians for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has a long history of use as a traditional medicine by the indigenous people of Peru. It is usually administered as a decoction prepared from the bark of the plant that is
native to the Amazon rain forest and in some areas of the Andes mountains. It is widely available as an over the counter supplement and there are many anecdotal reports of its effectiveness. But, what do the recent scientific studies conclude about its usefulness and possible toxicity and risks?
January, 2005 edition of Phytochemistry
Researchers from Portugal found that the substance did have anti-inflammatory properties that were related to its anti-oxidant properties. This was shown by the ability of the substance to scavenge harmful molecules such as superoxide anion, peroxyl radicals, hydroxyl radicals, diphenylpicrylhydrazyl radical, hydrogen peroxide radical, and hypochlorous acid.
It was also found to protect membrane lipids from destruction through peroxidation from the iron/ascorbate system.
Beneficial molecules that were present in the decoction were found to be proanthocyanidins and caffeic acid.
July, 2005 edition of International Immunopharmacology
Researchers from Brazil gave several different doses of cat’s claw to mice and then infected them with a lethal dose of Listeria monocyogenes, a bacteria that can cause severe and sometimes fatal food poisoning in humans, particularly from contaminated meat. Thirty-five percent of the mice who received the cat’s claw survived, whereas none of the mice who were infected with the bacteria but did not receive cat’s claw survived.
The researchers studied the bone marrow and blood of the mice in both groups and found the cat’s claw group had an increased immune response, particularly in cells called granulocyte-macrophage progenitors. These cells in the bone marrow activate a process that causes increased activity of white blood cells, the cells that fight infection.
The researchers also pointed out that this increase in the ability of the marrow is noteworthy, as the Listeria bacterium is notable for actually suppressing bone marrow activity.
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