What You Need to Know About Devil’s Claw

by Makayla Meixner, RD, Authority Nutrition

Devil’s claw, scientifically known as Harpagophytum procumbens, is a plant native to South Africa. It owes its ominous name to its fruit, which bears several small, hook-like projections.

Traditionally, the roots of this plant have been used to treat a wide range of ailments, such as fever, pain, arthritis, and indigestion (1). This article reviews the potential benefits of devil’s claw.

What is Devil’s Claw?

Devil’s claw is a flowering plant of the sesame family. Its root packs several active plant compounds and is used as an herbal supplement. In particular, devil’s claw contains iridoid glycosides, a class of compounds which has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects (2).

Some but not all studies suggest that iridoid glycosides may also have antioxidant effects. This means the plant may have the ability to ward off cell-damaging effects of unstable molecules called free radicals (345).

For these reasons, devil’s claw supplements have been studied as a potential remedy for inflammatory-related conditions, such as arthritis and gout. In addition, it has been proposed to reduce pain and may support weight loss.

You can find devil’s claw supplements in the form of concentrated extracts and capsules, or ground into a fine powder. It’s also used as an ingredient in various herbal teas.

Potential Devil’s Claw Health Benefits

May Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury and infection. When you cut your finger, bang your knee or come down with the flu, your body responds by activating your immune system (6).

While some inflammation is necessary to defend your body against harm, chronic inflammation can be detrimental to health. In fact, ongoing research has linked chronic inflammation to heart disease, diabetes and brain disorders (789).

Of course, there are also conditions directly characterized by inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), arthritis and gout (101112).

Devil’s claw has been proposed as a potential remedy for inflammatory conditions because it contains plant compounds called iridoid glycosides, particularly harpagoside. In test-tube and animal studies, harpagoside has curbed inflammatory responses (13).

For example, a study in mice showed that harpagoside significantly suppressed the action of cytokines, which are molecules in your body known to promote inflammation (14).

Though devil’s claw has not been studied extensively in humans, preliminary evidence suggests that it may be an alternative treatment for inflammatory conditions.

May Improve Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million adults in the US (15).

It occurs when the protective covering on the ends of your joint bones — called cartilage — wears down. This causes the bones to rub together, resulting in swelling, stiffness and pain (16).

More high-quality studies are needed, but current research suggests that devil’s claw may be effective at reducing pain associated with osteoarthritis.

For example, one clinical study involving 122 people with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip suggested that 2,610 mg of devil’s claw daily may be as effective at reducing osteoarthritis pain as diacerein, a medication commonly used to treat this condition (17).

Similarly, a 2-month study in 42 individuals with chronic osteoarthritis found that supplementing daily with devil’s claw in combination with turmeric and bromelain, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects as well, reduced pain by an average 46 percent (18).

May Ease Symptoms of Gout

Gout is another common form of arthritis, characterized by painful swelling and redness in the joints, usually in the toes, ankles and knees (19).

It’s caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood, which is formed when purines — compounds found in certain foods — break down (12).

Medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are typically used to reduce pain and swelling caused by gout.

Due to its purported anti-inflammatory effects and potential to reduce pain, devil’s claw has been proposed as an alternative treatment for those with gout (20).

Also, some researchers suggest it may reduce uric acid, though the scientific evidence is limited. In one study, high doses of devil’s claw decreased uric acid levels in mice (2122).

Though test-tube and animal research indicates that devil’s claw can suppress inflammation, clinical studies to support its use for gout specifically are unavailable.

May Relieve Back Pain

Lower back pain is a burden for many. In fact, it has been estimated that 80 percent of adults experience it at some point or another (23).

Along with anti-inflammatory effects, devil’s claw shows potential as a pain reliever, particularly for lower back pain. Researchers attribute this to harpagoside, an active plant compound in devil’s claw.

In one study, harpagoside extract appeared to be similarly effective as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called Vioxx. After 6 weeks, participants’ lower back pain was reduced by an average 23 percent with harpagoside and 26 percent with the NSAID (24).

Also, two clinical studies found that 50–100 grams of harpagoside per day were more effective at reducing lower back pain compared to no treatment, but more studies are needed to confirm these results (2526).

May Promote Weight Loss

Besides reducing pain and inflammation, devil’s claw may suppress appetite by interacting with the hunger hormone ghrelin (27).

Ghrelin is secreted by your stomach. One of its primary functions is to signal your brain that it’s time to eat by increasing appetite (28).

In a study in mice, animals that received devil’s claw root powder ate significantly less food in the following four hours than those treated with a placebo (28).

Although these results are fascinating, these appetite-reducing effects have not yet been studied in humans. Therefore, substantial evidence to support using devil’s claw for weight loss is unavailable at this time.

Devil’s Claw Side Effects and Interactions

Devil’s claw appears to be safe when taken in doses up to 2,610 mg daily, though long-term effects have not been investigated (29).

Reported side effects are mild, the most common being diarrhea. Rarer adverse effects include allergic reactions, headache and coughing (30).

However, some conditions may put you at a higher risk for more serious reactions (31):

  • Heart disorders: Studies have indicated that devil’s claw can affect heart rate, heartbeat and blood pressure.
  • Diabetes: Devil’s claw may reduce blood sugar levels and intensify the effects of diabetes medications.
  • Gallstones: Use of devil’s claw may increase the formation of bile and make problems worse for those with gallstones.
  • Stomach ulcers: Production of acid in the stomach can increase with the use of devil’s claw, which may aggravate peptic ulcers.

Common medications may also negatively interact with devil’s claw, including prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood thinners and stomach acid reducers (31):

  • NSAIDs: Devil’s claw may slow the absorption of popular NSAIDs, such as Motrin, Celebrex, Feldene and Voltaren.
  • Blood thinners: Devil’s claw may enhance the effects of Coumadin (also known as warfarin), which may lead to increased bleeding and bruising.
  • Stomach acid reducers: Devil’s claw may decrease the effects of stomach acid reducers, such as Pepcid, Zantac, Prilosec and Prevacid.

This is not an all-inclusive list of medication interactions. To be on the safe side, always discuss your use of supplements with your doctor.

Recommended Devil’s Claw Dosages

Devil’s claw can be found as a concentrated extract, capsule, tablet or powder. It’s also used as an ingredient in herbal teas. When choosing a supplement, look for the concentration of harpagoside, an active compound in devil’s claw.

Doses of 600–2,610 mg of devil’s claw daily have been used in studies for osteoarthritis and back pain. Depending on the extract concentration, this typically corresponds to 50–100 mg of harpagoside per day (17242526).

In addition, a supplement called AINAT has been used as a remedy for osteoporosis. AINAT contains 300 mg of devil’s claw, as well as 200 mg of turmeric and 150 mg of bromelain — two other plant extracts believed to have anti-inflammatory effects (18).

For other conditions, sufficient studies to determine effective doses are unavailable. In addition, devil’s claw has only been used for up to one year in studies. However, devil’s claw appears to be safe for most people in doses up to 2,610 mg per day (29).

Keep in mind that certain conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney stones and stomach ulcers, may increase your risk of adverse effects when taking devil’s claw. Also, any dosage of devil’s claw may interfere with medications you may be taking. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood thinners and stomach acid reducers.

The Bottom Line

Devil’s claw may relieve pain caused by inflammatory conditions like arthritis and may suppress hunger hormones. Daily dosages of 600–2,610 mg appear to be safe, but no official recommendation exists.

Side effects are generally mild, but devil’s claw may worsen some health issues and interact with certain medications. As with all supplements, devil’s claw should be used with caution. Be sure to speak to your doctor before taking it.

Image via Thinkstock.

48 comments

Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Thanks.

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Anne G
Anne G2 months ago

Interesting, but I think I'll take a miss on this one. No proof and too many maybes.

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TYFS

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Sophie A
Sophie A2 months ago

thanks

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h2 months ago

tyfs

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Carole R
Carole R2 months ago

Thanks. I'm not real big on unregulated suppliments.

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Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn P2 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Grest info and help Thank you for caring and sharing

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