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What is Devil's Claw?


Devil's claw is the common name for Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri, which belong to the sesame family. Originally from southern Africa and Madagascar, they are now found in the savannas and on the outskirts of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and Namibia. Both plants are used to make the devil's claw root, or Harpagophytum radix. Medical researchers have found that devil's claw root can reduce inflammation and reduce pain.

For thousands of years the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari Desert have used devil's claw root, in remedies for treating pain and complications of pregnancy and in topical ointments for treating skin problems. Today, devil's claw is sold as a digestive aid and appetite stimulant. It also has mild pain-relieving action.

Health care providers use devil's claw root to treat loss of appetite, rheumatism, arthritis, fever, myalgia, tendinitis, gastrointestinal problems, and liver and gallbladder problems. Devil's claw is also an effective therapy for degenerative musculoskeletal conditions (disorders of locomotive system). It is also used as a pain reliever (analgesic), sedative, and diuretic.

Studies in animals have shown that devil's claw reduces the inflammation associated with arthritis. However, other studies have not demonstrated any anti-inflammatory properties. Devil's claw seems to work differently from most nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Its active compound, harpagoside (or a related compound called harpagide) is changed into another substance inside the body. The new substance, harpagogenin, may be the active ingredient that actually decreases the inflammation associated with arthritis.

Devil's claw has been used by native Africans as a folk remedy for diseases ranging from liver and kidney disorders to allergies, headaches, and rheumatism. It's marketed in Canada and Europe as a home remedy for the relief of arthritic disease. Devil's claw is available as capsules, fresh herb, and tincture.

Reported uses:
Devil's claw is used for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It's also used to treat allergies, atherosclerosis, GI disturbances and heartburn, menstrual difficulties, menopausal symptoms, nicotine poisoning, neuralgia, and liver, kidney, and bladder diseases. In Germany, devil's claw is approved for use as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid.

Administration:
Decoction: 0.5 gin 150 ml water by mouth three times a day for loss of appetite; 1.5g in 150 ml water by mouth three times a day for other conditions

Fluid extract (1 g/ml): 0.5 ml taken by mouth three times a day for loss of appetite; 1.5 ml by mouth three times a day for other conditions

Fresh cut tuber: 1.5 g by mouth every day

Dried tuber/root: 6 g by mouth every day

Infusion (4.5 g of herb in 300 ml, steeped in boiling water for 8 hours): three portions by mouth every day

Standardized extracts: 600 to 800 mg by mouth three times a day; standardized to 2% to 3% iridoid glycosides or 1 % to 2% harpagoside.

Hazards:
Adverse reactions associated with devil's claw include headache, tinnitus, anorexia, and allergic reaction. Devil's claw may decrease blood glucose levels and have an additive effect when used concomitantly with antidiabetic agents. Herbal products prepared with alcohol may cause a disul-firam-like reaction.

Oral use of devil's claw should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation due to its oxytocic effects. Patients with gastric or duodenal ulcers should avoid use because devil's claw increases production of stomach acid.

Patients taking a beta blocker, calcium channel blocker, antihypertensive, or antiarrhythmic should use cautiously because herb may have hypotensive, bradycardic, and antiarrhythemic effects. Patients with heart failure should use cautiously because herb may have negative inotropic effects at high doses.

Clinical considerations:
Devil's claw may increase the intended therapeutic effect of conventional drugs.

Tinctures may contain between 15% and 60% alcohol and may be unsuitable for children, alcoholic patients, those with liver disease, and those taking metronidazole or disulfiram.

Warn patient to seek appropriate medical evaluation right away, to avoid delaying diagnosis of a potentially serious medical condition.

Advise patients taking a heart drug or a blood pressure drug to promptly report any light-headedness, dizziness, abnormal heartbeats, or swelling.

Instruct patient to seek medical attention if symptoms don't resolve.

Tell patient to remind pharmacist of any herbal or dietary supplement that he's taking when obtaining a new prescription.

Advise patient to consult his health care provider before using an herbal preparation because a treatment with proven efficacy may be available.

Research summary:
Devil's claw extracts contain chemicals that possess anti-inflammatory activity, the ability to reduce blood pressure, decrease heart rate, and slow anti-arrhythmic activities in animal studies.

The literature states that these extracts appear to be free of significant toxicities when given for short periods of time; however, the long-term toxicity or potential interactions isn't known. The concepts behind the use of devil's claw and claims made regarding its effects must be studied further and validated scientifically.

Research One double-blind. study followed 89 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis for a 2-month period. The group given devil's claw showed a significant decrease in pain intensity and improved mobility (Lecomte et al., 1992). Another double-blind study of 50 people with various types of arthritis found that 10 days of treatment with devil's claw provided significant pain relief (European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy, 1996-1997).

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