Cat’s Claw: Support Immunity and Digestion

Published on May 02, 2022

By Gaia Herbs

Gaia Herbs

For over 2,000 years, native tribes in the Amazonian region and other areas of South and Central America have used Cat's Claw (aka Uña de Gato) traditionally and spiritually. The principal part of the plant used is the bark of Cat's Claw.

Cat's Claw is a woody vine named after its claw-like thorns that climb high into the Amazon rainforest canopy. REF#1400 It grows wildly throughout South America in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela, Suriname, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama.

History of Cat's Claw in Herbalism

Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) first came to the attention of the European scientific community in the 1970s, when Austrian researcher Klaus Keplinger learned about Cat's Claw from the Ashaninka people of central Peru.

The Ashaninka are one of the largest producers of the herb. The native people value this plant as highly spiritual and vital to folkways. Keplinger received two U.S. patents for isolating certain chemicals, pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids, of the herb. REF#1401

South American traditional medicine, particularly Peruvian, has used this herb for centuries and called it the "life-giving vine of Peru." The Ashaninka believe Cat's Claw has healing powers that can help cure various ailments.

In terms of pharmacology, Cat's Claw extract contains various compounds, including alkaloids, flavonoids, and tannins. Some of these compounds may work as inhibitors for enzymes involved in imbalanced immune responses.*

This phytomedicine belongs to the Rubiaceae family, which also includes coffee and gardenia. Another species of Cat's Claw, Uncaria guianensis, is also used for medicinal purposes.

Health Benefits of Cat's Claw

May Support a Healthy Immune Response

Researchers have conducted clinical trials to evaluate the effect of Cat's Claw on immune markers and quality of life in humans.

A study from the Journal of Rheumatology discussed the anti-inflammatory effects that Cat's Claw has on the human body.* In this study, over half of the participants taking Cat's Claw versus placebo found the herb helped maintain healthy joints and reduced pain.* REF#1410 

A study on the effect of Cat's Claw extract on irritation in vitro in a cell line model found that the extract interacted with specific signaling pathways involved in the immune response. This result suggests that Cat's Claw may have the potential as a complementary treatment for immune concerns.* REF#1404 

Cat's Claw Bark is ideal for athletes or anyone impacted by intense inflammatory response.* Of the herb's chemical makeup, the group of chemical compounds called glycosides has been the center of healthy inflammatory response research.* REF#1402 

May Support the Immune System

One of the most well-known health benefits of Cat's Claw is its potential to support the immune system.* Some studies suggest that Cat's Claw can support the immune system’s natural defenses against viral infections. REF#1403 REF#1404

Cat's Claw can have potential immune-supportive properties by supporting the body's natural defense mechanisms, including the production of white blood cells, also known as leukocytes, an essential part of the immune system. REF#1404 

The oxindole alkaloids and glycosides present in Cat’s Claw may best explain how the plant supports a healthy immune system. These compounds can help by inhibiting the production of irritating cytokines, such as TNF-alpha and IL-6.* REF#1405 

Some of Cat's Claw's beneficial properties come from quinovic acid and pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids. These can help neutralize free radicals, supporting DNA repair and further protecting cells from damage. REF#1406 

Cat's Claw may potentially support apoptosis, a natural process that occurs in the human body to maintain normal cellular functions. This process helps remove old or damaged cells. It also plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system by eliminating damaged or infected immune cells and preventing the body from attacking its healthy tissues.REF#1405 REF#1406

Supports Healthy Digestion

In traditional medicine, Cat's Claw is a natural remedy for digestive problems. Recent research has shown that components of the herb support a healthy digestive system through several mechanisms.* REF#1406 

An overactive immune response can damage the lining of the digestive tract, leading to various digestive problems, including irritation, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Minimizing this response in the digestive tract can help protect the lining and support digestive health. REF#1406

The gut microbiome also plays a role in digestive health, as imbalances in the microbiome may result in digestive problems. Studies have shown that Cat's Claw may help to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.* REF#1406

Meanwhile, the antioxidant properties of Cat’s Claw may help to protect the digestive tract from damage caused by free radicals. Neutralizing free radicals can help to protect the digestive tract from damage and support digestion.* REF#1408 

Supports Healthy Cardiovascular Function

In vitro studies have shown that certain compounds found in Cat's Claw, such as rhynchophylline and mitraphylline, may support healthy blood pressure levels.REF#1405 Other studies have shown that certain compounds found in Cat's Claw may support healthy blood clotting.REF#1409 

How to Take Cat's Claw

Consumers typically take Cat's Claw as a tincture or supplement, although you can brew tea from the plant's bark. The tincture is made by steeping the bark in alcohol, while the supplement form can come in capsules or tablets containing a standardized plant extract.

Another reason why the use of Cat's Claw has gained traction is the availability of dietary supplements containing the herb. Cat's Claw supplements are widely available in health food stores and online, making it easy for people to try the herb as a natural remedy.

Potential Side Effects

Cat's Claw has a relatively low risk of side effects, making it an attractive alternative to pharmaceutical drugs for many people. While some people may experience mild side effects, such as headaches, nausea, or diarrhea, these side effects are generally mild and short-lived.* REF#1403

It may also interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners and immunosuppressants. Consult your healthcare provider for medical advice before taking Cat's Claw supplements or extracts. REF#1411 Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use Cat's Claw. 

Cat's Claw is an interesting herbal remedy with potential health benefits. While Cat's Claw is not a cure-all, its potential health benefits make it a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle. 

It is important to note that not all Cat's Claw supplements are created equal, and you should generally aim to seek high-quality products from reputable sources.

With a better understanding of what Cat's Claw is and how it can support the body, you can make informed decisions about incorporating it into your wellness routines.

The Bottom Line on Cat’s Claw

From the rainforests of South and Central America, Cat's Claw proves to be another amazing herb that we get to share with the earth. Its immune and inflammatory response support properties make it a great choice for those living an active lifestyle to continue living life to the fullest.*

The history and cultural significance of Cat's Claw are intriguing, as well as the ongoing research to explore its possible health benefits. It is always exciting to discover new natural remedies, and Cat's Claw is just one of many that may be worth exploring.


  • 1. , "Cat's Claw", National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  • 2. , "Uses and Benefits of Cat's Claw", All-Natural Natural Healing Resource Center.
  • 3. , "Cat's Claw", Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
  • 4. Reis SR, Valente LM, Sampaio AL, Siani AC, Gandini M, Azeredo EL, D'Avila LA, Mazzei JL, Henriques Md, Kubelka CF, "Immunomodulating and antiviral activities of Uncaria tomentosa on human monocytes infected with Dengue Virus-2", Int Immunopharmacol. 2008 Mar;8(3):468-76.
  • 5. Batiha, Gaber El-Saber, Amany Magdy Beshbishy, Lamiaa Wasef, Yaser H. A. Elewa, Mohamed E. Abd El-Hack, Ayman E. Taha, Adham Abdullah Al-Sagheer, Hari Prasad Devkota, and Vincenzo Tufarelli. 2020, "Uncaria tomentosa (Willd. ex Schult.) DC.: A Review on Chemical Constituents and Biological Activities", Applied Sciences 10, no. 8: 2668.
  • 6. Sears B, Saha AK, "Dietary Control of Inflammation and Resolution", Front Nutr. 2021 Aug 10;8:709435.
  • 7. Azizian-Farsani F, Osuchowski M, Abedpoor N, Forootan FS, Derakhshan M, Nasr-Esfahani MH, Sheikhha MH, Ghaedi K., "Anti-inflammatory and -apoptotic effects of a long-term herbal extract treatment on DSS-induced colitis in mice fed with high AGEs-fat diet", Nutr Metab (Lond). 2021 Aug 11;18(1):77..
  • 8. Yoshikawa T, Kondo M, "[Free radicals in digestive diseases]", Nihon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi. 1990 Mar;27(2):155-60. Japanese..
  • 9. Kolodziejczyk-Czepas J, Ponczek M, Sady-Janczak M, Pilarski R, Bukowska B, "Extracts from Uncaria tomentosa as antiplatelet agents and thrombin inhibitors - The in vitro and in silico study", J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Mar 1;267:113494..
  • 10. Mur, E., Hartig, F., Eibl, G., and Schirmer, M, "Randomized double blind trial of an extract from the pentacyclic alkaloid-chemotype of Uncaria tomentosa for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis", The Journal of Rheumatology. 29(4):678-81.
  • 11. , "Cat's Claw", Mount Sinai.