Cat's Claw for Arthritis, Cancer, AIDS, Degenerative Diseases, and Premature Aging?

by Allen Buresz, D.C.

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Studies Beginning in the 1970's Suggest Many Uses for Cat's Claw

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A new botanical nutrient, Uncaria Tomentosa, is being called by many the "Miracle Herb from the Rain Forest of Peru". It has been drawing increasingly more interest among the proponents of natural health care. Although virtually unheard of in the United States until recently, the beneficial effects of the Peruvian herb Uncaria tomentosa, commonly known as "una de gato" in Spanish and "cat's claw" in English, have been studied at research facilities in Peru, Austria, Germany, England, Hungary and Italy, since the 1970's. These studies suggest that the herb may be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, bursitis, allergies, diabetes, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, herpes, organic depression, menstrual irregularities and disorders of the stomach and intestines. (References 1, 2, 3)

Properties attributed to cat's claw include:

  • Adaptogenic
  • Anti-microbial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-viral
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-tumor

This emergence of knowledge about the activity of cat's claw could not have come at a better time! Many people have become fearful that the war on cancer is being lost, that new potentially deadly viruses are evolving, and that more deadly "super-bacteria" are developing due to over use of prescription antibiotics. This is why increased attention is being placed upon "Nature's Pharmacy", the botanical or herbal nutrients that offer so much hope.

In referring to cat's claw, Newsweek reported that this "rain forest herb has been long used to treat asthma, ulcers, and cancer. ("Nature's Biggest Sellers", Newsweek, November 6, 1995, page 68) In an article in Newlife, this herb was described as having so many therapeutic uses that it far surpasses such well known botanicals as Echinacea, Golden Seal, Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng, as well as Reishi and Shaitake mushrooms. ("Cat's Claw - A Wonder Herb from the Peruvian Rain Forest", Newlife, February, 1995)

Dr. Brent Davis described cat's claw as "The Opener of the Way" in referring to its ability to detoxify the intestinal Tract and to treat a variety of stomach and bowel disorders. ( Cat's Claw News, May/June, 1995)

The anti-inflammatory qualities of cat's claw have been found to be useful in the treatment of arthritis. ( Journal of Natural Products, 54: Page 453, 1991; Arthritis News, 1: Summer, 1989)

The possible anti-cancer qualities of cat's claw were explored in a study on the mutagenic (ability to create mutations) activity in cigarette smokers' urine. Non-smokers did not show mutagenic activity in their urine, while cigarette smokers did. After taking this natural plant substance, smokers' urine showed a dramatic decrease of mutagenic activity. ("Mutagenic and Antimutagenic Activity of Uncaria", Journal of Ethnopharmacy, 38: page 63, 1993)

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The Effects of Cat's Claw on Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut Syndrome)

After using cat's claw in working with approximately 150 patients between 1988 and 1992, Dr. Brent Davis reports that "Uncaria tomentosa has the ability to break through severe intestinal derangements that no other available products can touch." He refers to the herb as "the opener of the way" because of its remarkable ability to cleanse the entire intestinal tract and help patients suffering from many different stomach and bowel disorders including leaky bowel syndrome. irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids. fistulas. gastritis, ulcers, parasites and intestinal flora imbalance. (References 1,2,3)

By cleansing the intestinal walls, cat's claw enables the body to better absorb nutrients, thus helping to correct nutritional imbalances created by digestive blockages. (Reference 2) Many doctors today believe that cat's claw may have a "profound ability to get rid of deep-seated infection lodged in the bowel and perhaps even the mesentery, which can derange the uterus and associated anatomic parts: the prostate, liver, spleen, kidneys, thymus and thyroid, for starters."(5) Davis calls cat's claw "a world class herb which has the power to arrest and reverse deep-seated pathology allowing a more rapid return to health...'' (References l, 2)

The Ashanika Indians of Peru have long regarded una de gato tea as a sacred beverage. It is used as a cleansing and tonic herb for the immune, intestinal and structural systems.

In traditional medicine of Peru, una de gato is categorized as a "warm plant" or, more accurately, for warm conditions (inflammations) including arthritis, gastritis, asthma and dermal and genito-urinary tract inflammations. It is also used to treat diabetes, cancer, tumors, viral infections, menstrual disorders convalescence and debility. A few tribes also use cat's claw as a remedy for dysentery, (Reference 6) and at least one tribe uses the herb to treat gonorrhea. (Reference 7)

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Cat's Claw Can Reduce Pain and Inflammation in Arthritic Conditions

The anti-inflammatory effects of cat's claw have proven beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis and gout. As an antioxidant, it also helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Its beneficial effects in treating arthritis pain may also be due, in part, to its ability to cleanse the digestive tract and aid in removing toxins from the body. Arthritis, joint pain and inflammation as well as chronic fatigue, allergies, immune deficiency and a host of other conditions have been associated with defects in intestinal permeability (leaky bowel syndrome! and toxin overload. (References 9, 10)

Some of the glycosides present in the herb may also add protection from pain. This may explain, in part, how cat's claw has been helpful in reducing pain associated with chemotherapy, radiation treatment and AZT use. (Reference 11)

A wealth of beneficial phytochemicals have been found in cat's claw including quinovic acid glycosides, several oxindol alkaloids, proanthocyanidins, polyphenols, triterpines and the plant sterols beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol. (References l, 3) Researchers believe that the activity of the whole plant extract is greater than the sum of its parts. (References 3, 5, 7)

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Cat's Claw Alkaloids Stimulate General Immunity

Unique alkaloids in una de gato seem to enhance the immune system in a general way. These alkaloids have a pronounced effect on the ability of white blood cells to engulf and digest harmful micro-organisms and foreign matter. (Reference 3) Austrian researcher Klaus Keplinger has obtained two U.S. patents for isolating some of the herb's major components. According to these patents, six oxindol alkaloids have been isolated from cat's claw and four of these have been proven "suitable for the unspecified stimulation of the immunologic system". Laboratory testing has shown these alkaloids to have a pronounced enhancement effect on phagocytosis (the ability of the white blood cells and macrophages to attack, engulf and digest harmful micro-organisms, foreign matter and debris). The most immunologically active alkaloid appears to be isoteropodine or isomer A. (References 1, 2) Cat's claw has also been shown to increase the production of leukocytes and specifically T4 lymphocytes, thus blocking the advance of many viral illnesses. Quinovic acid glycosides in cat's claw back up the immune system and protect the body from viruses and virus caused cancers. (References l, 2)

Dr. Donna Schwontkowski, D.C., calls cat's claw the most powerful immune-enhancer of all the herbs native to the Peruvian Amazon. Preliminary studies suggest that the herb has the ability to stop viral infections in the early stages, help patients who are chemically sensitive, fight opportunistic infections in AIDS patients and de-crease the visible size of some skin tumors and cysts. (References 3, 8) According to Dr. Satya Ambrose, N. D., cats claw seems to enhance overall immunity while increasing stamina and energy in patients who suffer from physical and mental exhaustion due to an overactive or stressful lifestyle. (Reference 3)

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Rynchophylline Inhibits Platelet Aggregation and Thrombosis

Rynchophylline, a fifth alkaloid found in Uncaria tomentosa, has been studied at the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In laboratory testing, rynchophylline displays an ability to inhibit platelet aggregation and thrombosis. This suggests that cat's claw may be useful in preventing strokes and reducing the risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation, inhibiting formation of plaque on arterial walls and formation of blood clots in the brain, heart and arteries. (Reference 2)

It is important to understand that most of the clinical research, trials and reports completed to date which show the alkaloids to be antiviral, anti-inflammatory, immuno-stimulating, antimutagenic, antioxidant and have other benefits, are tests determining the alkaloid's active principals "in-vitro". This means they have been proven in the test tube - not "in-vivo", or in the human body. While these in-vitro tests are very promising, many more in-vivo tests will be needed to determine the true efficacy of this plant for specific diseases in humans.

Three trials that could be considered in-vivo, were in fact, human studies. Two were performed using "Krallendorn" which is a cat's claw extract produced by a German company called Immodal. One of these documents is termed a "therapy observation" and spans a ten year period with 78 patients suffering from brain tumors treated with Krallendorn. Another is a summary of a trial with 32 HIV-infected patients treated with Krallendorn from 1987 to 1991. The third in-vivo test was performed by an Italian group studying the plant's antimutagenic properties on smokers and non-smokers.

In-vivo tests and trials are currently underway at several institutions in several countries and some preliminary results look promising, but the final results are not in yet. Cat's claw has not been clinically proven to cure AIDS or cancer.

One of the best sources on cat's claw is the book, The Saga of the Cat's Claw, by Dr. Fernando Cabieses. Dr. Cabieses is a well known neurologist and neurosurgeon with residency in Lima, Peru. He is Professor Emeritus at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos and Honorary Professor at the Universities of Trujillo, Piura, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Cusco, Arequipa and Garcilaso de la Vega. He is also Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Miami, Florida, a member of the World Health Organization Committee for Traditional Medicine and is the Chairman of the Instituto Nacional de Medicina Tradicional of Peru, a branch of the Ministry of Health (The National Institute of Traditional Medicine of Peru). He has studied cat's claw extensively, as well as all available clinical research reports and trials. In his book, he gives a clear and easily understood translation of each of the clinical in-vitro studies and what they mean. We would like to share his views on cat's claw concerning AIDS in his book:

"Therefore, 'in-vitro', we already know that the alkaloids of our plant stimulate the immune mechanisms. This is excellent. It opens a promising avenue of research "in-vivo" in order to determine whether these substances are active in conditions where the immune system is depressed. None of us is unaware of AIDS, the horrible monster stalking humanity, and much hue and cry has been raised about Uncaria tomentosa's effects as a miracle cure for this cursed condition. But so far, no such cure exists. Most of the alleged successes are the works of quacks, adventurers and outright swindlers. Some of the noise comes from a few bona-fide but ignorant physicians or others influenced by cases which are certainly interesting but, unfortunately, poorly documented. The subject demands much more study, and to speak now of "cures" when the evaluation is still under way cruelly raises false hopes in desperate people. Several Peruvian groups, among them Professor Eduardo Gotuzzo and Doctor Rosario Rojas, are currently conducting topnotch studies which should soon give us more reliable information."

Dr. Cabieses' closing statements in The Saga of the Cat's Claw are the following:

"The proper design of research protocols for human application in neoplastic diseases and in severe problems of immune deficiency (AIDS) is not child's play, and the limits between the possible and the desirable are frequently cloudy and diffuse. A link between "in vitro" and "in vivo" is now being designed in Peruvian medical institutions of great prestige like the University Cayetano Heredia and Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplasicas, as well as under the direction of experts in alternative medicines like natural medicine (Father Edmundo Szeliga, Doctor Mirez, Doctor Lida Obregon) and homeopathy (Dr. F. P. Iaccarino). This leads me to believe that it won't be too long, dear reader, before you and I can sit down together again for a second edition of this monograph.

"Meanwhile, what should we do? What should you and I do with all the information invading our homes and our hospitals about "Una de Gato" in Peru? What do we do, dear aunt of my neighbor? What do we do, dear doctor, respected colleague? Do we resist the tide and abstain from using this interesting plant of our jungle? What do we tell our friend, the desperate father of the young fellow who has AIDS? Do we tell him to ignore this ray of hope? Do we, as doctors, tell our patient suffering from a malignant tumor not to seek refuge in "Una de Gato", at least to satisfy his desperate relatives? Or do we tell our patients and our friends to buy a ticket to this lottery and see what happens with "Una de Gato"? Do we love Uncaria or not? Do we accept it or prohibit it?

"Biology's dizzying advances have confronted us with hundreds of dilemmas like this one. When you face a true dilemma, you suddenly find that you have no answers. A dilemma is a question without answers. Or, to put it better, a dilemma is a question with two or more answers, whose every answer is at once attractive and defensible and capable of leading us to defeat and frustration. Modern biology has brought us to a vast field paved with dilemmas like this; disoriented, we now seek satisfaction for all our doubts and questions. Such satisfaction does not exist. A road there must be built and found in the labyrinth of biological dilemmas, and the way to do so is called Bio-ethics.

"The ethics of Biology: a science that still does not clearly exist. An elusive, slippery, unattainable moral law. A set of rules where it is always difficult to find what is good, what is proper, what is just. A time bomb hidden behind each scientific discovery.

"That is why I wrote this monograph. To shed some light on this difficult path. Here we have a "new" medication which is recommended and praised by many people who have used it. Here we have scientific evidence that it is not toxic. Laboratory tests carried out in serious academic institutions prove that the extracts of this plant have clear anti-inflammatory effects, that it has some action modulating the immune mechanisms, and that, in certain circumstances, it inhibits the crazed growth of cancerous cells. . . .

"So we still have not identified the active principal? We have not identified how it works? For two hundred years, quina bark saved more lives annually than those killed by the atomic bomb in 1945. And during all those years, nobody knew that there was an alkaloid which would later be named Quinine. For a hundred years, humankind used aspirin to stop pain and inflammation, though nobody knew until the discovery of prostaglandins why it worked.

"Of course, in this dangerous quagmire of official indecision, the indifference of the authorities and the absence of controls acts as an incentive to fraud, to the illegal substitution of products, to falsification, adulteration and deceit. These should lead us, physicians and conscientious citizens, to help our patients and friends help themselves against con artists and quacks and who promote spurious and adulterated products. All physicians who have patients taking this particular medicinal plant should try to document seriously and scientifically all those cases, positive or negative, in order to gather enough scientific information about the medical effects of Uncaria."

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Quotes and Claims about Cat's Claw

The following are quotes that have been extracted from the compilation of many documents from around the world. These are the opinions and claims of each individual author:

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Excerpted from the book: Herbs of the Amazon - Traditional and Common Uses, by Dr. Donna Schwontkowski, Doctor of Chiropractic:

"Una de Gato is considered one of the most important botanicals in the rain forest. In Peru, Una de Gato tea is used as a medicinal herb with almost unlimited curative properties. This herb is a powerful cellular rejuvenator. It has been used for the treatment of gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), ulcers, cancer, arthritis, rheumatism, irregularities of the female cycle, and acne. It is also used to treat organic depression. External applications of Una de Gato include the treatment of wounds, fungus, fistulas and hemorrhoids. European research shows that Una de Gato activates the immune system by increasing lymphocytic (white blood cell) activity."

Excerpted from the book: Traditional Uses of Rainforest Botanicals by John Easterling:

"It is considered one of the most important botanicals in the Rainforest. By supporting and enhancing immune system function, Una de Gato is indicated in a broad spectrum of conditions including all types of infections. Urarina tribesman of Peru tell stories of Una de Gato curing tumors. Una de Gato was one of the plants researched by the National Institute for Health as an anti-cancer agent. Studies from various laboratories indicate it normalizes the immunoglobins by activating T-lymphocytes and macrophages."

Excerpted from the book: Powerful and Unusual Herbs from the Amazon and China, Published by the World Preservation Society:

"Una de Gato from the Peruvian rain forest is a favorite for stimulating the immune system. World wide research done on this powerful herb has led scientists to patent many of the single chemicals found in it for use in healing cancer, arthritis, AIDS, and other diseases. However, traditional wisdom shows that using the whole plant can be far more powerful than any one isolated ingredient."

Excerpted from The Herb Quarterly, Winter 1994, in an article titled "Cat's Claw (Una de Gato) A Wondrous Herb From the Amazon Rain Forest" by Phillip Steinberg:

"In July 1989, U.S. Patent No 4,844,901 was issued to an Austrian scientist named Klaus Keplinger, and a second patent, No. 4,940,725, was issued to him in July 1990. These patents explain how Dr. Keplinger isolated six oxindole alkaloids from the root of Uncaria tomentosa and that four of these alkaloids have been proven to be "suitable for the unspecified stimulation of the immunologic system". According to Keplinger's research, these four alkaloids have been shown to have a pronounced enhancement effect on phagocytosis (the ability of the white blood cells and macrophages to attack, engulf and digest harmful micro-organisms, foreign matter, and debris.) According to both patents, the most immunologically active alkaloid is isopteropodine or isomer A. Besides isomer A and the other three immuno-stimulating alkaloids, there exists another alkaloid known as rynchophylline. This alkaloid has been studied at the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine. According to their findings, rynchophylline has demonstrated an ability to inhibit platelet aggregation and Thrombosis, which suggests that rynchophylline may be useful in preventing strokes and reducing the risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation, and inhibiting both the formation of plaque on the arterial walls and the formation of blood clots in the brain, heart, and arteries."

References:

  1. Steinberg, Phillip N., C.N.C., "Uncaria Tomentosa (Cat's Claw) a Wondrous Herb from the Peruvian Rain Forest," Townsend Letter for Doctors, May, 1994.
  2. Steinberg, Phillip N., C.N.C., "Uncaria Tomentosa ('Cat's Claw'): Wonder Herb from the Amazon," Herb Quarterly, Winter, 1995.
  3. Steinberg, Phillip N., C.N.C., "Cat's Claw Update (Uncaria Tomentosa): That Wondrous Herb from the Peruvian Rain Forest," Townsend Letter for Doctors, August/September, 1995.
  4. Whitaker, Julian, M.D., "Take Una de Gato for All-Around Immunity," Health & Healing," May, 1995.
  5. Sanchez, Don, D.C., "Cat's Claw," New Editions Health World, Dec., 1995, p.40-45.
  6. Babal, Ken, C.N., "Cat's Claw: Healing Herb From the Amazon," Health Store News, Dec. 1995 / Jan. 1996., 1996, p.6.
  7. Blumenthal, Mark, "Una de Gato (Cat's Claw): Rain Forest Herb Gets Scientific and Industry Attention," Whole Foods Magazine, October, 1995.
  8. Schwontkowski, Donna D.C., "Herbal Treasures from the Amazon, Part 1," Healthy and Natural Journal, Oct., 1994 p.64-65.
  9. De Vos, M., "Articular Diseases and the Gut: Evidence for a Strong Relationship between Spondylarthropy and Inflammation of the Gut in Man," Acta Clinica Belgica, 1990; 45 (1): 20-24.
  10. Hazenberg, M. P., "Intestinal Flora and Arthritis: Why the Joint?" Scandinavian Journal. of Rheumatology, 1995; 24 (Supplement 101): 207-211.
  11. "New Quinovic Glycosides from Uncaria Tomentosa," Journal of Natural Products, Vol. 51, No. 2: p. 257-61, March/April, 1988.
  12. "Nature's Biggest Sellers", Newsweek, November 6, 1995, page 68
  13. "Cat's Claw - A Wonder Herb from the Peruvian Rain Forest", Newlife, February, 1995
  14. Cat's Claw News, May/June, 1995
  15. Cat's Claw, Woodland Books, 1995
  16. "Mutagenic and Antimutagenic Activity of Uncaria", Journal of Ethnopharmacy, 38: page 63, 1993
  17. Journal of Natural Products, 54: page 453, 1991
  18. Arthritis News, 1: Summer, 1989
  19. Scheck, Jack, "Cat's Claw: Treasure of the Amazon", Explore More!, 17: pages 25-26, July/August 1996

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