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Devil's claw

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Classification for devil's claw

Devil’s claw is a herbal medicine. You can buy capsules, tinctures (a medicine made by dissolving the active ingredient in alcohol) and fluid extract over the counter. We don’t yet understand how it works, but evidence suggests that devil’s claw is as effective as conventional medicines for osteoarthritis. Side-effects are still a concern.

What is it?

Family: Herbal medicine of the Bignoniaceae family
Scientific name: Harpagophytum procumbens
Other names: Grapple plant, wood spider, Doloteffin®, Rivoltan®, iridoid glycoside, WS 1531

Devil’s claw is a plant native to deserts of South and South East Africa. Extracts from the plant root are used medicinally to treat several diseases. You can buy devil’s claw from high-street retailers.

How does it work?

As yet, we don’t completely understand how devil’s claw works. Laboratory studies found that extracts from the plant root can block several pathways which cause joint inflammation. These anti-inflammatory properties are thought to be due to its active ingredient, harpagoside, but animal studies found that its painkilling properties can’t be explained by this ingredient alone.

Is it safe?

Although uncommon, devil’s claw can cause serious side-effects of abnormal heart rhythm and bleeding. Other, less serious side-effects include:

  • rashes
  • stomach upsets
  • diarrhoea
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite.

Devil’s claw has been reported to interact with anticoagulants, painkillers, heart drugs (for example digoxin) and stomach acid drugs (for example famotidine). You should use a dose of 500–1,500 mg of dried root or capsules three times daily.

Devil's claw trials for osteoarthritis

A summary of trial evidence for this complementary medicine.

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