Devil’s claw is a native plant of southern Africa, especially the Kalahari desert, Namibia and the island of Madagascar. The name devil’s claw is derived from the herb’s unusual fruits, which are covered with numerous small claw-like appendages. The secondary storage roots, or tubers, of the plant are used in herbal supplements.1
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
2,610 mg daily (containing 57 mg harpagoside, 87 mg total iridoid glycosides daily)
Devil’s claw extract was found in one trial to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as the slow-acting analgesic/ cartilage-protective drug diacerhein.
Devil’s claw extract was found in one clinical trial to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as the slow-acting analgesic/cartilage-protective drug diacerhein.3 The amount of devil’s claw used in the trial was 2,610 mg per day. The results of this trial are somewhat suspect, however, as both devil’s claw and diacerhein are slow-acting and there was no placebo group included for comparison.
4.5 to 10 grams daily of powdered herb or 800 mg of a standardized extract three times daily
Devil’s claw has anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions and is a traditional herbal remedy for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Devil’s claw has anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions. Several open and double-blind trials have been conducted on the anti-arthritic effects of devil’s claw.4 The results of these trials have been mixed, so it is unclear whether devil’s claw lives up to its reputation in traditional herbal medicine as a remedy for people with RA. A typical amount used is 800 mg of encapsulated extracts three times per day or powder in the amount of 4.5–10 grams per day.
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
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Devil’s claw acts as a digestive stimulant and may be helpful for indigestion.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.5 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.6. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Low Back Pain
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One trial found that devil’s claw capsules were helpful in reducing acute low back pain in some people.
One double-blind trial found that devil’s claw capsules (containing 800 mg of a concentrated extract taken three times per day) were helpful in reducing acute low back pain in some people.7 Another double-blind trial (using 200 mg or 400 mg of devil’s claw extract three times daily) achieved similar results in some people with exacerbations of chronic low back pain.8
Herbalists often use ginger to decrease inflammation and the pain associated with it, including for those with low back pain. They typically suggest 1.5 to 3 ml of ginger tincture three times per day, or 2 to 4 grams of the dried root powder two to three times per day. Some products contain a combination of curcumin and ginger. However, no research has investigated the effects of these herbs on low back pain.
Numerous tribes native to southern Africa have used devil’s claw for a wide variety of conditions, ranging from gastrointestinal difficulties to arthritic conditions.2 Devil’s claw has been widely used in Europe as a treatment for arthritis.
The devil’s claw tuber contains three important constituents belonging to the iridoid glycoside family: harpagoside, harpagide, and procumbide. The secondary tubers of the herb contain twice as much harpagoside as the primary tubers and are the chief source of devil’s claw used medicinally.9 Harpagoside and other iridoid glycosides found in the plant may be responsible for the herb’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions. However, research has not entirely supported the use of devil’s claw in alleviating arthritic pain symptoms.10 , 11 In one trial it was found to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as the slow-acting analgesic/cartilage-protective drug diacerhein.12 One double-blind study reported that devil’s claw (600 or 1200 mg per day) was helpful in reducing low back pain.13
Devil’s claw is also considered by herbalists to be a potent bitter. Bitter principles, like the iridoid glycosides found in devil’s claw, can be used in combination with carminative (gas-relieving) herbs by people with indigestion, but not heartburn.
As a digestive stimulant, 1.5–2 grams per day of the powdered secondary tuber are used.14 For tincture, the recommended amount is 1–2 ml three times daily. For osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, 4.5–10 grams of powder are used per day. Alternatively, standardized extracts, 1,200–2,500 mg per day, may be taken.
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) was associated with purpura (bleeding under the skin) in a patient treated with warfarin.15 As with dan shen, until more is known, people taking ticlopidine should avoid taking devil’s claw concurrently.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) was associated with purpura (bleeding under the skin) in a patient treated with warfarin.16 However, key details in this case—including other medications taken and the amounts and duration of warfarin and devil’s claw taken—were not reported, making it impossible to evaluate this reported interaction. Until more is known, people taking warfarin should avoid taking devil’s claw.
1. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal, 3d ed. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1993, 111–2.
2. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988, 238–9.
3. Chantre P, Cappelaere A, Leblan D, et al. Efficacy and tolerance of Harpagophytum procumbens versus diacerhein in treatment of osteoarthritis. Phytomedicine 2000;7:177–83.
4. Bone K. The story of devil’s claw: Is it an herbal antirheumatic? Nutrition and Healing 1998;October:3,4,8 [review].
5. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168–73.
6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425–6.
7. Chrubasik S, Zimpfer C, Schutt U, Ziegler R. Effectiveness of Harpagophytum procumbens in treatment of acute low back pain. Phytomed 1996;3:1–10.
8. Chrubasik S, Junck H, Breitschwerdt H, et al. Effectiveness of Harpagophytum extract WS 1531 in the treatment of exacerbation of low back pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Eur J Anesthesiology 1999;16:118–29.
9. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 208–10.
10. Whitehouse LW, Znamirouska M, Paul CJ. Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): no evidence for anti-inflammatory activity in the treatment of arthritic disease. Can Med Assoc J 1983;129:249–51.
11. Grahame R, Robinson BV. Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): pharmacological and clinical studies. Ann Rheum Dis 1981;40:632.
12. Chantre P, Cappelaere A, Leblan D, et al. Efficacy and tolerance of Harpagophytum procumbens versus diacerhein in treatment of osteoarthritis. Phytomed 2000;7:177–83.
13. Chrubasik S, Zimpfer C, Schutt U, Ziegler R. Effectiveness of Harpagophytum procumbens in treatment of acute low back pain. Phytomed 1996;3:1–10.
14. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 120–1.
15. Shaw D, Leon C, Kolev S, Murray V. Traditional remedies and food supplements: a 5-year toxicological study (1991–1995). Drug Saf 1997;17:342–56.
16. Shaw D, Leon C, Kolev S, Murray V. Traditional remedies and food supplements: a 5-year toxicological study (1991–1995). Drug Saf 1997;17:342–56.
17. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 120–1.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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