What is Devil’s Claw?
The devil’s claw plant is native to southern Africa. It’s in the sesame family under the genus Harpagophytum procumbens. Its nickname comes from the spikey fruit, which is covered in little hooks that look like claws. This fierce-looking little plant is actually a source of pain relief for many people (x).
The secondary roots (the offshoots of the main root) are harvested
manually. The root of the plant is dug free of dirt, and the roots with the most medicinal value are then cut off. The cut roots are subsequently cleaned, sliced and left to dry in the sun until they are ready to be prepared for use. Unfortunately, the whole plant is destroyed in the process, and countries such as Namibia have had to work to make it a sustainable process (x, x).
The Many Uses of Devil’s Claw
A popular herb in folk medicine in Africa for centuries, many believe devil’s claw can act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Other uses of devil’s claw are for the treatment of fevers and allergies as well as stomach ailments like indigestion. When a German soldier brought the plant to Europe in the mid 20th century, it gained popularity there as a tea (x, x).
The most noted use of devil’s claw has been to relieve pain in patients with osteoarthritis (arthritis caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage and bone). Taken in combination with other pain killers, people have found extra relief from their joint pain.
Some other uses of devil’s claw include the topical treatment of skin issues like boils and rashes. It has also been historically used as a salve over broken bones and sprains (x).
Devil’s Claw Benefits
Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Reliever
The devil’s claw plant contains a chemical in its extracts called harpagoside that studies have shown to be responsible for an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Certain carcinogens in the environment may interfere with healthy cells in your body, causing mutations that can lead to cancer. Harpagoside, as well as other devil’s claw root extracts, may counteract one of the most common carcinogens people breathe in from diesel exhaust — 1-nitropyrene (x).
Another chemical produced by devil’s claw plant, beta-sitosterol, may also contribute to the anti-inflammatory qualities of this supplement. Clinical trials for the effectiveness of devil’s claw as an anti-inflammatory are mainly inconclusive, but there is evidence to support that it does give some people relief (x, x).
Relief for Osteoarthritis
Because of the anti-inflammatory nature of devil’s claw, it may be especially helpful for pain relief in people with osteoarthritis or lower back pain. Many people have found that by supplementing their pain treatment plan with devil’s claw, they were able to reduce the amount of medications they were using. H. procumbens may block inflammatory responses relative to osteoarthritis, relieving pain and stiffness in the joints for participants in scientific studies (x, x, x).
Because so many are affected by osteoarthritis (OA) and because current pain medications are not a long-term solution for everyone, it may be worth looking further into H. procumbens. So, what exactly is OA and how does it affect the joints?
OA is the most common form of arthritis. It is often a result of low inflammation levels combined with stressors to the joints (like trauma, long-term physical work that is hard on the joints and genetics). As cartilage in the joints wears down, the bones are less protected and start to become damaged (x).
Symptoms of OA are a “deep ache” and stiffness in areas like the knees, neck, lower back and hips. People with this condition say inactivity makes them feel worse, but low-impact exercise (like swimming) followed by rest helps. Those with OA often rely on medications like NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors, injections and muscle relaxers to relieve pain (x).
You know that grumble you feel in your belly that makes you want to raid the fridge? That’s because of a hormone called ghrelin. Getting that hungry feeling too often can lead to overeating as a result. There is some evidence that devil’s claw can prevent this.
When the body releases ghrelin, telling you it’s time to eat, a receptor (GHS-R antagonist) should detect it. However, studies reveal that when it comes to ghrelin and GHS-R, devil’s claw may interfere with one or both (x).
Devil’s claw root may make an effective appetite suppressant because of that interference with hunger hormones. This is good news for people who overeat and are seeking something to curb their hunger(x).
Another interesting point is that ghrelin has been detected in some cancerous tumors. What this suggests is that ghrelin can exist outside of gastric tissues and plays a role in tumor growth. However, ghrelin’s receptor, GHS-R, has notable anti-cancer properties (x, x).
While devil’s claw is not a substitute for chemotherapy and radiation, it may be able to change the course of tumor development. For example, two cancer patients reportedly saw tumor regression without the use of anti-cancer drugs. These cases were unusual enough that it was looked into by a researcher who noted that these patients’ type of lymphoma had a 16 percent spontaneous regression rate. The timing between when the patients began taking devil’s claw and when their tumors decreased is what is most of interest, stating again that devil’s claw has anti-inflammatory properties. It could have been coincidence, or it could have been the devil’s claw (x).
Devil’s Claw Extract Supplements
Devil’s claw extract is typically made using the root of the plant as this is where the medicinal properties are concentrated (x). You can take devil’s claw extract in the following forms:
- Dried root (tea)
Those who take devil’s claw usually do so to treat pain related to osteoarthritis. Study participants reported some level of improvement depending on the dosage of devil’s claw and their level of pain (x).
Devil’s Claw Side Effects
Side effects may include stomach upset, changes in blood pressure, headaches or skin reactions; stop using this product and seek medical attention immediately if these side effects occur (x).
Devil’s Claw Dosage
It is best to take 1,000 mg of devil’s claw extract powder one to three times daily. If a doctor suggests otherwise, follow their instructions. Devil’s claw extract comes as a fine, brown powder and has a strong taste. You can dilute it by mixing the powder into fruit juice or a smoothie.
When taken as advised, this supplement should be safe to take by healthy adults. However, pregnant women and those who are nursing should not take this supplement. Sometimes this supplement contains dextrin, so do not take if you have an allergy. Talk to your doctor before taking this product if you have a history of heart or blood pressure problems, diabetes, peptic ulcer disease, menstrual problems or gallstones (x).
The Bottom Line
Devil’s claw may be an essential supplement for your anti-inflammatory toolkit, especially if you are suffering from osteoarthritic pain.
This extract could be useful for treating pain in the neck, hips, lower back, hands and knees as a result. It may also give you some relief from stomach upset and other digestive woes. There isn’t much evidence to back up claims that this extract is an effective topical ointment. However, it has been used in this way by herbalists for millennia. It’s long history alone may be evidence enough to give it a try!