Cat’s Claw


Fact Checked

Written by James Dixon

What is Cat’s Claw, and what can it do for your health? And is there scientific evidence to prove it? Our expert James Dixon examines Cat’s Claw and all its history and latest research, right here.

Cat’s Claw is among my favorite supplement ingredients, one that I often like to see in the best nootropics and the like. It’s a medicinal herb, native to the Amazon rainforest, and believed to offer a range of health benefits. It enjoys a long and storied history, too, with plenty of traditional forms of medicine using it as a cornerstone of treatment.

These days, ongoing clinical research into these benefits is shining a light on what Cat’s Claw has to offer the modern world – and, happily, it turns out that it has quite a lot to offer. In fact, I’ve made good use of it myself over the years, enjoying it as part of a broader supplement regime.

What is Cat’s Claw?

cats claw plant

Cat’s claw, (botanical name Uncaria tomentosa), is a tropical vine that grows in areas of Central and South America, including the Amazon rainforest. It gets its name from the thorns on its stem, which make it look like a cat’s claw.

Cat’s Claw has been an integral part of traditional medicine in South America for centuries. Various indigenous tribes have held it in high esteem for its healing properties. Traditionally, they have made use of most of the plant’s different parts including the bark, roots, and leaves, all of which have their uses.

These uses were pretty wide and varied, and included common ailments like stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal issues, joint pain, and high fevers. The plant’s bark, in particular, has traditionally been hailed for its therapeutic potential.

Cat’s Claw has more recently become something of a darling in the modern supplement market. Clinical research looking into it has found a fair amount of evidence to underpin these more traditional claims, with its pentacyclic oxindole alkaloid showing particular potential for benefiting across a range of areas.

What are the benefits of taking Cat’s Claw?

But what exactly are these therapeutic properties being explored with Cat’s Claw? What are the potential benefits on offer? Well, there are actually quite a few of them, and some of them are pretty disparate, too. Cat’s Claw can potentially help across a wide range of areas.

And plenty of these benefits are lucky enough to enjoy a burgeoning degree of scientific justification.

These benefits include:

Immune support

Cat’s Claw is thought to help better regulate the immune system, promoting improved overall immune function.

This is thought to be down to the presence of certain active compounds found in Cat’s Claw. For instance, Cat’s Claw contains various alkaloids and polyphenols that have been found to interact with immune cells and signaling pathways. In turn, these interactions may have a very positive impact on our immune responses.

Studies have suggested that Cat’s Claw has the capability to stimulate immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells, which play vital roles in immune defense and eliminating harmful substances from the body. This should help to support the immune system’s overall healthy function.

As well as this, Cat’s Claw is thought to help better control the production of cytokines – immune-regulating molecules. Cat’s Claw may then help to regulate immune activity and maintain immune balance as it positively influences these important signaling molecules.

It’s been a part of my supplement regime for quite some time now, in large part for these immune-boosting properties. Alongside a few others, I take it daily to keep sickness at bay – I have a toddler who gets every cold going from playgroups and preschool, and so far (touch wood!), I’ve been able to steer clear of most of them.

In addition to its potential immunomodulatory effects, Cat’s Claw has also been explored for its potential benefits in autoimmune conditions. Some research suggests that Cat’s Claw may help modulate an overactive immune response, which could be particularly useful in managing autoimmune diseases in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Cat's Claw bark

Now we’re getting into the real meat of it. Cat’s Claw has some potential, potent anti-inflammatory properties.

This is always good news – I always make sure to fill my diet with anti-inflammatory ingredients due to the role inflammation plays in various chronic diseases and conditions. You really can keep yourself healthy and well (and young!) by eating and supplementing like this.

Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to injury or infection. However, it can become chronic or excessive. At this point, it can contribute to the development of diseases like arthritis and cardiovascular disease, as well as certain types of cancer.

There are a few active components present in Cat’s Claw, including the likes of alkaloids, flavonoids, and tannins. These are thought to contribute to its potential anti-inflammatory actions.

Research has shown that Cat’s Claw extracts can inhibit pro-inflammatory molecules’ production, including cytokines, which we’ve already seen, and prostaglandins, which play a role in the body’s inflammatory response. By targeting these molecules, Cat’s Claw may help to modulate the inflammatory process, thus reducing overall inflammation in the body.

As well as all of this, Cat’s Claw is potentially a potent antioxidant. This should contribute quite dramatically to its potential anti-inflammatory effects. Oxidative stress, caused by free radical release in excess of what the body can safely handle, can trigger inflammation. Antioxidants help to neutralize these free radicals, thus mitigating the effects of inflammation.

Potential anticancer properties

It’s possible that Cat’s Claw may also help us to keep cancer at bay – it has shown promise in being able to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. This is likely down to the alkaloids and flavonols that it boasts in its makeup. These compounds have been found to interact with signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells.

In one study, Cat’s Claw was found to be able to modulate the NF-κB pathway. This should lead to programmed cell death (or apoptosis) in human bladder cancer cells. Another study showed that it could reduce the viability of squamous carcinoma cells, potentially through mechanisms involving DNA repair impairment and increased oxidative stress.

However, whilst this all sounds very promising, it should be noted that we need far more research on Cat’s Claw’s potential in fighting cancer. Right now, we don’t fully understand the role that it might play in potential cancer treatment.

If you are suffering with any form of cancer, or suspect that you might be, you should always and immediately speak to your healthcare provider as a first port of call.

Antioxidant activity

Cat's Claw capsules

Cat’s Claw is potentially very rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, which could be very significant. As we know, antioxidants protect the body against oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

Polyphenols are a group of compounds found in various plants, which are known and rightly celebrated for their potent antioxidant properties.

Free radicals can damage cells and tissues when they build up in the body. This is oxidative stress, and it lies in large part behind various health issues, as well as much of the aging process itself.

Antioxidants counter free radicals – they neutralize them by essentially donating an electron to them, which in turn stabilizes the reactive molecules. This means that they help to reduce, mitigate, and offset the damage done by oxidative stress, meaning far less cellular damage.

A final word

Measuring the impact of Cat’s Claw can be challenging, as the benefits you get from it are generally non-acute and non-tangible. You won’t feel them immediately, if at all. This makes it different to something like caffeine, for instance. You take caffeine, you feel a buzz a few minutes later, and you have extra energy for a few hours.

There is nothing like this with Cat’s Claw. You won’t feel much different for taking it.

However, this is in large part because of its long-term nature. It is there in part to ringfence your long-term health – keeping oxidative damage at bay, warding off certain forms of cancer, propping up your immune health so that you get sick far less often.

Though non-tangible, these effects are far more important than anything you would feel immediately. With compounds like Cat’s Claw, you really are making an investment in your health for years to come.

It’s generally quite obvious when you see people get to a certain age. You can begin to visibly tell who has looked after their diet, including with supplementation, and who hasn’t. I used to see it all the time as a personal trainer – clients in their golden years who had spent a lifetime taking care of their diet were far healthier and fitter, in general, than those who didn’t.

This is where Cat’s Claw comes into play. You’ll see it in plenty of supplements. You can also take it by itself. Either way, you really should consider incorporating it into your daily routine. We’re talking about keeping yourself healthy and well for years to come, and the evidence is mounting that herbal supplements like Cat’s Claw can play a massive part in doing so.