What is Devil’s Claw?
A native of South Africa, devil’s claw derives its spooky sounding name from the little hooks covering its fruit. Known botanically as Harpagophytum procumbens, the plant has historically been used in the treatment of pain, fever and malaria and for kidney and liver conditions. Devil’s claw is also used topically in ointments for various skin conditions, boils and sores.
Devil’s claw is a leafy, perennial plant with branching shoots and roots. Secondary roots known as tubers grow from the primary roots. The roots and the tubers are the parts of the plant used to make medicine. The plant itself is odorless but has a very bitter taste.
Used in South Africa for centuries, it was introduced to the Europeans during the early part of the twentieth century. In Europe, the dried roots of the plant have been traditionally used to relieve pain and inflammation, as an appetite stimulant and to relieve indigestion and heartburn.
These days, devil’s claw is a popular natural remedy in parts of Europe especially in France and Germany. In fact, the German regulatory body – the Commission E has approved its use for arthritis as well as back, hip and knee pain.
Because of its excellent anti-inflammatory properties, devil’s claw is widely used to relieve headaches, rheumatism, gout, tendonitis and bursitis. It is also still used to stimulate the appetite and treat problems related to digestion.
Some Facts about Devil’s Claw
- Devil’s Claw is also known by a number of different names including Devil’s root tuber,Grapple plant, Grapple vine, Harpago, Kalahari devil’s claw and Wood spider.
- Its common name was derived from the multitude of hooks covering the plant’s fruit.
- It is a originally from South Africa but can also be found on other parts of Africa including Namibia, Madagascar and the Kalahari desert.
- It is also found in parts of North America especially in arid areas below 1000 meters such as Arizona, California, Nevada and Northern Mexico.
- The roots have traditionally been used to make medicine.
- It has been used to treat malaria, fever, liver disease, kidney issues and pain. It has also been used traditionally in Southern Africa to treat skin conditions like boils.
- The plant was brought to Europe during the 1900s and used for pain relief, to ease inflammation and restore appetite.
- These days, the plant is widely used in Germany and France to cure many painful conditions including lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.
The Health Benefits of Devil’s Claw
Modern research is beginning to tell us why devil’s claw was so widely used in the past. As with many herbal remedies, we are just starting to rediscover the value of this plant.
Most of the research has focused on its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties with very positive results. Devil’s claw may be an excellent alternative to the powerful prescription medications that so many sufferers rely on today.
Natural Pain Relief
If you are one of the millions of people suffering from constant muscular pain then read on. Recent studies have provided us with evidence that devil’s claw may be a safe and natural alternative to modern pain killing medications.
Research shows that devil’s claw has the potential to relieve pain in both the lower back, shoulder sand neck. 63 people with varying degrees of back, shoulder and neck pain took part in an experiment to analyze the effects of devil’s claw. Subjects who were treated with a daily dose of standardized extract from devil’s claw for a a period of 4 weeks experienced relief from their pain. (1)
Another larger scale study was conducted using 197 adults with chronic pain in the lower back. The people who were given the devil’s claw extract each day for a month experienced significant reductions in pain and had less need for painkillers than those in the placebo group. (2)
Another study conducted over the course of 54 weeks was done to compare the effects of a devil’s claw supplement with Vioxx – a prescription painkiller that has since been removed from the market. The results were extremely positive with the 38 people given the devil’s claw treatment experiencing as much pain relief as those taking the Vioxx. (3)
Devil’s claw has been used by people to treat their arthritis ever since it was discovered in Africa by earl European colonists. This traditional use is gathering support thanks to preliminary modern research into its use.
There have already been several studies showing that when devil’s claw is taken for a period of two or three months, it can have a wonderful impact on pain and mobility in arthritis patients.
In one study published, the effects of devil’s claw were compared to a popular European pain relief medication. The study which used 122 participants found that those treated with the herb experienced similar levels of pain relief to those who took the pain killing medication.
And that is not all; the people in the devil’s claw treatment group experienced far fewer negative side effects and had less need of pain relieving drugs throughout the period of the study. (4)
An analysis of the studies into the efficacy of devil’s claw for arthritis was also promising. According to the review, high quality studies demonstrate that devil’s claw is effective for relieving joint pain and other symptoms of arthritis.
Even less positive studies have showed that the herb has at least a moderate effect on arthritis and lower back pain.
Devil’s claw is used to help treat a range of digestive issues. It has traditionally been used to help stimulate a person’s appetite which may be necessary following a period of illness or to help somebody gain weight. It is also used to help maintain overall digestive health and also to deal with certain specific complaints like indigestion, heartburn and stomach upsets.
For the Skin
Devil’s claw has traditionally been used to deal with a variety of skin complaints like sores and boils. It can also be topically applied to help treat minor wounds, bruises and scrapes. Many people use devil’s claw topically to help ease muscular and joint inflammation and pain like arthritis and gout. There is no scientific evidence that it can help to treat the skin but it is readily available these days as a topical ointment.
Early studies indicate that Devil’s claw may have a use in the battle against cancer. Researchers tested its main compound – Harpagoside against environmental carcinogens. They found that it had antimutagenic properties and protected against chromosomal damage. This is probably due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. (4)
An interesting paper published in 2009 reported the observations of a doctor treating patients with lymphoma. The doctor noted a regression in the illness after ten months during which the patient was not treated with chemotherapy. The patient told his doctor that he had been taking two different supplements one of which was devil’s claw. Another patient began taking devil’s claw and a similar regression was observed 11 months after he started to take them.
The doctor was cautious about drawing firm conclusions but suggested that the evidence from these two cases justified further research in the future. (5)
It may be a little early to get your hopes up but if you are looking to lose weight, research suggests devil’s claw could help. An Irish study published in 2014 found that devil’s claw helped reduce hunger by stopping the production of the so called ‘hunger hormone; – slow ghrelin. By reducing feelings of hunger, the plant may help people to eat less and over time contribute to weight control or loss. (5)
Apart from its better known uses that are listed above, devil’s claw has also been used to treat headaches, migraines, fevers and to help reduce cholesterol. It should be noted however that the scientific support for these uses is lacking.
How Does Devil’s Claw Work?
The health benefits of devil’s claw are likely derived from its iridoid glucosides content. These are plant-based anti-inflammatory compounds which are bounf to the glucose molecules in the body. The main active compound is an iridoid glucoside called harpagoside. According to ESCOP – the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy, any devil’s claw supplements should contain a minimum of 1% harpagoside.
As well as these iridoid glucosides, devil’s claw contains various phytosterols and bioflavanoids with antioxidant and antispasmodic properties. The antioxidant actions contribute to many of the plant’s uses while the antispasmodic properties give the plant its ability to treat digestive issues.
France and the ESCOP has approved the use of devil’s claw for painful arthritis symptoms and tendonitis. It has also been approved to help restore appetite and treat dyspepsia.
How to Use Devil’s Claw
Devil’s claw is available these days in several delivery methods. You can find it in liquid extract and tincture form or as a tablet or capsule. A topical ointment is available to treat several skin conditions while a tea infusion is sometimes made from the dried leaves of the plant.
Adults should consult their doctor to establish the appropriate dose for their particular condition.
Children should avoid using devil’s claw due to the lack of scientific data regarding its safety.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of devil’s claw?
Devil’s claw has excellent anti-inflammatory properties as well as natural antioxidant and antispasmodic actions. It is mainly used to treat painful conditions like arthritis, tendonitis and headaches. It is also used to improve digestive health and may even help you to lose some weight. .
Why does devil’s claw work?
Devil’s claw contains iridoid glucsides including Harpagoside. these are natural anti-inflammatories usually found in plants. Devil’s claw also contains antioxidant phytosterols and bioflavonoids.
Although devil’s claw is a product of nature with several excellent health benefits, that does not mean you can take it without certain precautions. Always speak to your doctor before taking herbal remedies and do not exceed the recommended dose.
- Devil’s claw is non-toxic and believed to be safe when used by healthy adults for a short time.
- There is no scientific evidence regarding its use for more than a few months.
- When taken in high doses, there is a chance that devil’s claw may cause certain mild side effects such as nausea and stomach upset.
- Pregnant women should avoid taking devil’s claw and
Devil’s claw is a plant with a very long history of use especially for pain and inflammation. These days, it is still a popular remedy for arthritis pain, lower back pain and tendonitis as well as other painful joint conditions. Devil’s claw is also used to improve digestive health and to treat dyspepsia and has been approved by several European countries.
Have you ever used devil’s claw for arthritis, pain or any other reason?
Were you pleased with the results or disappointed?
Please let us know as we would love to hear from you.