The Benefits of Cat’s Claw
This helpful herb has a history of health benefits. For hundreds of years, indigenous peoples of Peru have taken advantage of cat's claw medicinal properties. Americans and Europeans learned of the herb during the 1970s when Austrian Klaus Keplinger learned of the plant from healer-priests of the Ashinaka tribe during his travels in the rain forests of Peru. Keplinger received patents for isolating the active ingredients from the plant.
Cat's claw is now a popular herbal supplement in the United States and Europe. Due to the high demand for this herb, the Peruvian government now outlaws harvesting the roots of the plant. The same compounds are present in the bark as in the root, and so the plant is now harvested 3 feet above ground. This preserves the plant so that it can be harvested again a few years later.
Cat’s claw has been known to boost the immune system and protect the body’s cells. Its power to fight inflammation may be due to the presence of beta-sitosterol and campesterol, which is likely the reason why it has been effective in reducing symptoms of arthritis. It also can be effective in treating some prostate conditions, such as prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and the often painful urinary symptoms that go along with those conditions.
Prostatitis is the medical term used for inflammation of the prostate. The three main types of Prostatitis are acute bacterial, chronic bacterial and non-bacterial prostatitis. The conditions of acute and chronic prostatitis symptoms are the same, although acute prostatitis is associated with a sudden and severe onset of symptoms. This is a higher medical concern requiring prompt treatment as it can become quite serious very quickly. Chronic bacterial prostatitis tends to develop slowly over time and is not usually associated with the severity of the acute type but still requires prostate treatment. Non-bacterial prostatitis refers to prostate inflammation that cannot be contributed to bacterial infections.
Another source of prostate distress is BPH. As the prostate gland swells, it clamps down on the urethra, interfering with normal urine flow. Although experts are not certain of all of the causes of BPH, one of the main theories is the level of a type of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the prostate. When DHT levels are elevated, cell growth is stimulated and the prostate enlarges.
Beta-sitosterol can help alleviate an enlarged prostate by inhibiting a certain enzyme, preventing testosterone from being converted into DHT or dihydrotestosterone, thereby decreasing the amount of DHT in the body. Because DHT is a factor in the enlargement of the prostate, the lower levels of DHT can lessen BPH.
The prostate of older men has a DHT concentration up to 4 times higher than that of younger men. Also, beta sitosterol inhibits another enzyme, aromatase, which helps with the production of estradiol. Estradiol levels invariably increase with age. This is considered to be another important factor in the development of BPH.
It is the beta-sitosterol in cat’s claw that is beneficial to these prostate issues.
Cat's claw is popular among the native people of Peru. It is used to treat a variety of maladies such as cancer, diabetes, allergies, ulcers, arthritis, and infections, and even to help in the recovery from childbirth. It is also used as a contraceptive. There are two primary species of cat’s claw used medicinally: Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis.
The herb is most often marketed as a treatment for viral diseases, such as herpes, shingles, AIDS, and feline leukemia virus. However, the evidence for these uses is extremely preliminary.
A significant study on cat's claw showed that the Uncaria guianensis species may bring relief for osteoarthritis. Individuals in the treatment group showed reduced pain with activity as compared to those in the placebo group. Also, one double-blind trial indicates that a certain type of Uncaria tomentosa may be modestly helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis, due to the anti-inflammatory powers of beta-sitosterol and campesterol.
In general, use of cat’s claw has not been associated with adverse effects more serious than occasional digestive upset or allergic reactions. However, full safety studies have not been completed, and there has been one report of kidney failure apparently triggered by cat's claw.4
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Some evidence suggests that cat's claw might interact with various medications by affecting their metabolism in the liver, but the extent of this effect has not been fully determined. Consult your doctor about any current medications you may be taking.
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