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Cat's Claw Update
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
In the July/August issue of the Well Being Journal, Vol.IV NO.4, readers learned about the immune system boosting properties of Cat's Claw. Naturopathic physicians now prescribe the herb for a wide variety of health problems, so wide in fact that it deserves further attention.

Uncaria Tomentosa, also known as Una de Gato or Cat's Claw, has enjoyed increasing popularity over the last five years. Actually, the herb has been under European scientific evaluation for the last ten years. This woody creeping vine is indigenous to the Amazon highlands region of the Peruvian rainforest, and is so named because the thorns of the vine resemble the claws of a cat. Holistic doctors in Peru most commonly prescribe it for particularly stubborn cases of intestinal dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance/infection of the small or large intestine), parasites, including blastocystis hominis, leaky gut syndrome (a condition which is associated with allergies), and as a profound blood purifier and immune system rejuvenator. (Whenever the word blood purifier is used to describe and herb, this usually means that it enhances the activity of the white blood cells to engulf and destroy pathogens). Both the wood and bark of Cat's Claw are medicinal, as is the root and root bark. Constituents such as several immunologically active alkaloids, glycosides, triterpenes and steroids possessing anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory activity, make Cat's Claw a very appropriate medicine for many of today's chronic disorders such as arthritis, viral infections, cardio-vascular disease including hypertension, and chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia. Innumerable, well-documented reports of cancer cures are also impressive. In interviewing many naturopathic doctors at the recent Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians co-management seminar, the most common answers to the question, "What do you use Cat's Claw for?" ranged from, for arthritis, parasites and bowel problems and adrenal exhaustion, to chronic sinus infections, PMS, HIV, and depression.

Since the chemical constituents of Una de Gato have already been analyzed and discussed, let us take a look at the actions of the herb in order to understand in a more holistic way how and why it works. As with most barks and woody herbs, Cat's Claw is highly astringent. The action of an astringent lies in its ability to contract cell walls, thus condensing and firming the tissue. An astringent usually contains tannins, which are also associated with reducing secretions and discharges. Some herbs act only on specific tissues, as in the case of White Oak Bark, which is almost exclusively used for treating ulcerations of the mouth and digestive tract. The astringent properties of Cat's Claw however do not seem to be system specific. This explains the effects on the digestive system, respiratory system, and even to some extent, the immune boosting properties, because tonified, tight tissues are more resistant to invading organisms.

Cat's Claw is a stimulant and tonic, contributing to increased energy and a feeling of well-being. Specifically, a stimulant quickens and enlivens physiological functions of the body, and a tonic strengthens. The herb also possesses adaptogenic (helps the body deal with stress), alterative (restores proper function, health and vitality), and analgesic (reduces pain) properties. It is an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-spasmodic. It is also diuretic, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), and anti-pyretic (lowers fevers). Cat's Claw is not to be used in pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant and could promote early labor.

Research on Cat's Claw is ongoing, but because of its availability to the general public in health food stores and herb shops, it is certainly worth trying for any of the above mentioned conditions.

On a final note, because the rainforest is endangered, choose products that are harvested in an ecologically sound manner.

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