Devil’s claw is an anti-inflammatory and pain-killing agent when used in its recommended form. It also inhibits the production of inflammatory compounds that worsen many diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. In folk medicine, devil’s claw has been used in an ointment for skin injuries and disorders. As a dried root, it is used for pain relief, pregnancy discomforts, arthritis, allergies, and disorders of the kidney, bladder, liver, and gallbladder. It has also been used in South Africa as an appetite stimulant.
According to the German Commission E, it is approved for stomach complaints, loss of appetite, and rheumatism. However, there are numerous conflicting reports in clinical studies on its use as an anti-inflammatory agent. It may be that it is more effective when combined with an anti-inflammatory herb, such as willow bark.
arthritis root, Grapple plant, wood spider; Sengaparile (Botswana)
Africans have used the herb for centuries to treat skin cancer, fever, malaria and indigestion. In Europe, the tea is recommended for arthritis, diabetes, allergies, senility and is widely utilized as an appetite stimulant and a digestive aid. Since the end of World War II, devil’s claw has been used in medical institutions throughout southern Africa, and in some hospitals and clinics in Germany, as a treatment for inflammatory diseases. Most of these trials have been partially to totally effective. The first published report of this early research appeared in 1958. In that paper, devil’s claw was reported to be effective in reducing inflammation and swelling in experimentally-induced arthritis. Using simple water extracts, the researcher was able to reduce swelling from 300-800% in a matter of days.
Antiepileptic, anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic (muscles), carminative, hypotensive, nervine tonic
Cardiovascular disease including arrhythmia, hypertension and myocardial ischaemia, musculoskeletal disorders including arthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis, digestive disorders including anorexia, digestive weakness and diarrhoea, anxiety, migraine, neuralgia.
Arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, gout, and tendinitis.
The use of devil’s claw in the treatment of pain required a number of tests before the herb was accepted within the scientific community. Animal tests showed that it relieves inflammation and stops pain, but the first set of tests with healthy human volunteers found no significant anti-inflammatory or analgesic power. Moreover, chemical analysis of the herb found that it did not act in the same way as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The resolution of the conflicting findings concerning devil’s claw is that the analgesic components of the herb break down the longer they are in contact with the gastric juices of the stomach. Taking devil’s claw in an enteric-coated form protects it from digestion in the stomach. This increases its usefulness in controlling pain.
Repeated clinical trials found enteric-coated tablets of the herb effective against pain. Questions about the pharmacology of the herb were clarified when it was discovered that devil’s claw contains chemicals, like those in many other pain-relieving herbs, that stimulate circulation and carry inflammatory chemicals away from affected tissues.
Devil’s claw has been most extensively tested for the relief of lower back pain. In an open label study, seventy-five patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis took 2.4 grams of devil’s claw from a product called Doloteffin for twelve weeks. Standardized measurements of pain and disability were reduced by 25 percent and adverse side effects were minor. A randomized, double-blind study in Germany with 183 subjects produced the surprising result that not only was devil’s claw effective in relieving lower back pain, it was most effective for people who had the most severe, radiating pain, with numbness in the extremities.
- In a randomized, double-blind, controlled, multicenter study, devil’s claw powder taken over a period of 4 months significantly reduced both spontaneous pain and functional disability, and it was as efficacious as was diacerhein (an anthrone analgesic) in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. The number of patients using NSAIDs and other analgesic drugs at the completion of the study, and the frequency of adverse events, was significantly lower in the devil’s claw group. The daily dose was 2.6 g of a freeze-dried powder containing 87 mg of total iridoid and 57 mg of harpagoside.
- In patients with arthrosis and articular pain, devil’s claw extract decreased the severity of pain when compared with placebo in two randomized, double-blind studies. Improvements were more frequent in moderate cases of arthrosis than they were in severe cases. Spinal mobility was also increased compared with placebo in the articular pain trial. The arthrosis patients received 2.4 g per day of an extract (containing 36 mg/day of iridoid glycosides) for 3 to 9 weeks and those with articular pain received 2.0 g per day of an extract (containing 60 mg/day of iridoid glycosides) for 8 weeks.
- In another randomized study in patients with chronic back pain, treatment with devil’s claw extract (equivalent to 6 g/day of root and containing 50 mg/day of harpagoside) for 4 weeks demonstrated a greater reduction in a back pain index than did placebo. The reduction in pain, however, was confined almost exclusively to the sub-group of patients whose pain did not radiate to one or both legs. More patients in the treatment group were pain-free compared with the placebo group at the end of the treatment. A subsequent study of similar design confirmed that more patients receiving devil’s claw extract (equivalent to 4.5g/day or 9 g/day of root and containing 50 mg/day or 100 mg/day of harpagoside, respectively) for 4 weeks were pain-free compared with placebo.
- In a large, uncontrolled study of patients with various rheumatic illnesses, 42% to 85% of patients showed significant improvement after 6 months’ treatment with devil’s claw extract (75 to 225 mg/day of iridoid glycosides). However, one open study of 13 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthropathy found no benefit from devil’s claw treatment.
- In Germany, the Commission E supports using devil’s claw to treat loss of appetite and dyspepsia and as supportive therapy for degenerative disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
- ESCOP recommends devil’s claw for treating painful arthrosis, tendonitis, loss of appetite, and dyspepsia.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Powder: 1,000 – 10,000mg
• Tincture: .3 – 12 mL (1:2)
Gastric and duodenal ulcers and cases of known hypersensitivity to the roots. Should not be used during pregnancy and lactation due to oxytocic activity.
Mild gastrointestinal disturbances may occur in sensitive individuals, especially at the higher dose levels.
Interactions with other drugs
Consult with a professional if taking blood-thinning medication.
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- Herbalpedia (2013)
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- Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh; London: Churchill Livingstone.
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