After a certain age, many of us start experiencing joint pain. We can feel discomfort in our lower back, knees, and hips as a result of physical activity or simply as a consequence of the passage of time. But does that mean you have to accept living with this discomfort day after day?
The devil's claw or Harpagophytum is a plant with known analgesic properties. Despite being a traditional remedy, medical agencies around the world have recognized its potential to relieve minor joint pains. If you want to learn more about the benefits of this natural remedy, keep reading our guide!
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Devil's Claw Supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Devil's Claw
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- The devil's claw is an African plant with analgesic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Various studies carried out throughout the globe have demonstrated that it could contribute to alleviating certain articular and digestive discomforts.
- You should consider various factors before purchasing devil's claw supplements. These include dietary restrictions you may have, the part of the plant used in the product, and its harpagoside concentration, among others.
Our Selection: The Best Devil's Claw Supplements
The analgesic effect of products containing devil's claw can vary greatly, each formulation offering very different results. To help you make the right decision, we have selected some of the most popular supplements currently available on the market:
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Devil's Claw
The devil's claw is an African plant with medicinal properties recognized for treating joint and digestive discomforts. However, the effectiveness of supplements containing this ingredient may vary depending on the concentration of therapeutic active components.
What is the devil's claw exactly?
Its medicinal properties reside in its roots, and more specifically in the secondary tuberous roots. Once this part of the plant is dried, the powder obtained can be added to decoctions, infusions, or poultices. Nowadays, you can also find liquid and dry extracts from the root of the devil's claw (2).
What are the properties of this plant?
Unfortunately, scientists are yet to fully understand its mechanism of action. Despite this great mystery, devil's claw extract has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant effects, among others. You can find out more about these properties in the table below (1):
|Antinflammatory|| In animals, it reduces joint inflammation.
In vitro (on isolated cells), it inhibits the secretion of inflammatory molecules.
|Analgesic||In animals, it reduces sensitivity to painful stimuli.|
|Antioxidant||In vitro and in animals, the devil's claw extract proves to be able to capture and neutralize free radicals.|
|Antimicrobial|| In vitro, the harpagoside molecule prevents the reproduction of the human herpesvirus 1 (HSV-1).
In vitro, the extract prevents the growth of the Candida krusei fungus.
|Antidiabetic||In animals, it reduces the concentration of blood sugar.|
|Antimalarial||In vitro, it shows activity against the parasite responsible for malaria (Plasmodium falciparum).|
In addition, the devil's claw may have effects on the nervous system by helping to reduce seizures, the cardiac system by relaxing the myocardium, and at the gynecological level by increasing uterine contractions. Researchers have also explored a potential link between this plant and an anti-tumor effect, due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties (1).
There is no doubt that these findings are very promising. The real question is, can these effects influence the human body? The previous data, obtained from animal models (laboratory rats) or from cells in controlled environments (in vitro), isn't enough to confirm the validity or safety of devil's claw products in humans.
Is devil's claw really effective?
- Useful for relieving joint pain: According to the EMA, these supplements can be used to soothe joint discomfort, as long as its intensity is mild.
- Potential improvement of digestive discomfort: Devil's claw can also be used to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating or flatulence.
- Possible treatment for poor appetite: According to European experts, the extract could help improve lack of appetite.
Note that these treatments are suitable for healthy adults. In any case, you should consult a doctor if joint discomfort persists after four weeks of treatment. For digestive pathologies, you must seek specialized help if you see no improvement in your condition after two weeks of supplementation with devil's claw (2).
Keep in mind that the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) has warned of the little information available on this plant. While it has been safely used in traditional medicine for over 30 years, its mechanism of action remains a mystery (2, 3).
|Remedy used safely for over 30 years||Little information regarding its mechanism of action|
|Relief of joint pain and joint inflammation from arthritis||Small, inconsistently designed clinical trials with no placebo controls|
|Relief of digestive discomfort and lack of appetite||Presence of side effects and hypersensitivity|
|According to some studies, it may reduce the consumption of drugs such as ibuprofen.||The effects can change depending on the formulation (harpagoside concentration) of each product.|
How should I use devil's claw products?
However, Western medicine has tried to standardize the use of these supplements as much as possible. Thus, the Cochrane organization (4) states that Harpagophytum-based formulations that have proven to be useful in relieving joint pain contain between 50-100 milligrams of harpagoside.
When buying a supplement with devil's claw, you should look at the amount of the plant's extract and the harpagoside concentration inside.
Natural remedy experts generally use a daily dose of harpagoside ranging from 1 to 3 grams for joint pain. You can also drink infusions for gastric discomfort (5). Find out more about these recommendations in the following table (4, 5, 6):
|Daily dose of devil's claw|| 1-3 grams of dry extract (joint pain)
1.5 gram in decoction (gastric discomfort)
|Harpagoside concentration (Cochrane)||50-100 milligrams|
|Traditional posology for infusions (EMA)||4.5 g of powder in 500 milliliters of boiling water. Divide it into three doses to be taken every eight hours.|
|Traditional posology for dry extract (EMA)|| 100-1,200 mg, two to three times a day.
(Maximum daily dose: 2.4 g)
|Traditional liquid posology (EMA)|| 0.5-1 ml, three times a day.
(Maximum daily dose: 3 ml)
How can I choose a suitable devil's claw product?
- Search for a reliable manufacturer: Stick to recognized and experienced nutrition brands. If you can, look for information regarding the laboratory and the origin of the raw material.
- Opt for a formula as close as possible to the official indications: Many devil's claw products provide a lower amount of harpagoside than the Cochrane organization recommends. However, you can find supplements that contain enough root, both in liquid and solid form.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions: You should never improvise while using dietary supplements, even to try and match the quantities recommended by the most prestigious studies. Following the brand's guidelines is the best way to minimize the likelihood of side effects.
So, are all preparations equally effective? According to experts, we find wide variations between the harpagoside concentration of different supplements, which influences their effectiveness (7, 8). This means that the results may be better with one manufacturer than another.
These products may contain different concentrations of this plant and often contain a multitude of other ingredients. Once again, we encourage you to choose a safe brand that offers a formula that is as pure as possible. If you're not happy with the results, don't hesitate to change supplements!
Check in with your physician if your pain doesn't improve after four weeks of treatment (two weeks for digestive conditions). In any case, these products cannot replace professional care. Any new discomfort (joint or digestive) requires medical attention to rule out any potentially dangerous problems.
Are there side effects or contraindications?
- Digestive symptoms: Paradoxically, the devil's claw may worsen digestive conditions in specific individuals, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
- Hypersensitivity reactions: It could produce allergic reactions that generally affect the skin, causing a rash that may result in itching. Swelling of the face is a particularly severe symptom that requires immediate medical assistance.
- Aggravations of gastric ulcers: The devil's claw can stimulate gastric secretion, causing ulcers in predisposed people or aggravating preexisting lesions.
- Hypertension: There have been reports of cases of hypertension as a consequence of the consumption of devil's claw. This is why you should be particularly cautious with these supplements if you suffer from hypertension or prehypertension.
- Effects on pregnancy: Experts strongly advise against the use of this plant during pregnancy. In animal experiments, it is capable of stimulating the development of uterine contractions, even bringing forward the birth and endangering the life of the fetus.
- Blood clotting disorders: The devil's claw can cause alterations in hemostasis (the mechanisms that stop and control bleeding). Individuals with hemorrhages or coagulation problems should refrain from using it.
- Other symptoms: This plant can also cause dizziness, headache, and loss of appetite in the most sensitive people. People weakened by kidney, heart, liver, or lung failure should stay away from these supplements, as they could aggravate those conditions.
In addition, this herbal remedy can affect the function of a large number of drugs. If you are currently following a pharmacological treatment, you are advised to consult with a physician regarding the potential interactions between the devil's claw and your medication. Here is a list of the most common ones (10):
|Antiarrhythmics and cardiac function regulators||Digoxin, bisoprolol, and atropine|
|Antidiabetics||Insulin and biguanides (metformin)|
|Blood-thinning and antiplatelet medication||Warfarin, aspirin, acenocoumarol (sintrom), and heparin|
|Hepatic metabolism drugs (cytochromes P450)||Antibiotics, antifungals, antidepressants, antihypertensives, and analgesics|
|Antacids||Omeprazole and ranitidine|
In addition, you must keep in mind that the devil's claw may be harmful to children and should, therefore, not be given to minors. Its use is also prohibited during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Always consult your physician if you plan on using these supplements for over four months in a row, as the safety of the long-term treatment is still unknown (10).
There is a wide variety of Harpagophytum-based supplements on the market, and the differences in their formulas make it challenging to find an appropriate product. To help you make the right purchase, you should keep the following criteria in mind:
The laboratories that produce devil's claw supplements often handle products with gluten, soy, and lactose, among other allergens. Besides, the capsules may contain gelatin of animal origin. If you are prone to allergies or vegan, don't forget to check the product before purchasing it.
The label of every nutritional supplement should include detailed information regarding its ingredients and traces of allergens. If you opt for liquid products, you may want to make sure they don't contain ethanol; this is not suitable for individuals with alcohol dependency.
Type of Extract
Remember that the harpagosides responsible for the analgesic effect are concentrated in the secondary root of the plant (1). High-quality products should specify that it contains Harpagophytum root or root extract. Products containing leaves, flowers, or the generic grapple plant are likely to be much less effective.
The unique molecule of the devil's claw can be found in varying concentrations depending on the supplement. You are advised to purchase a product with 50 to 100 milligrams of harpagoside. You should find the concentration of this molecule (in grams or as a percentage) on the label.
Devil's claw root extract is a product that fascinates phytotherapy experts. It may relieve the discomfort caused by joint wear and even help control the inflammation of arthritis. In addition, this plant may also treat stomach pain and lack of appetite.
Scientists are starting to recognize the effectiveness of the devil's claw based on the good results of medicinal therapies. However, it is essential that you take a quality supplement with a sufficient concentration to make the most of this plant. Are you ready to give this natural remedy a go?
We hope that you found our guide helpful and informative. Feel free to give us your opinion below, and don't forget to share this article with your friends and family!
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Ouitas NA, Heard C. Estimation of the relative antiinflammatory efficacies of six commercial preparations of Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw). Phyther Res [Internet]. 2010 Mar [cited 2020 Apr 1];24(3):333–8.
Vlachojannis J, Roufogalis BD, Chrubasik S, Chrubasik J. Systematic review on the safety of Harpagophytum preparations for osteoarthritic and low back pain. Vol. 22, Phytotherapy Research. 2008. p. 149–52.
Devil’s Claw: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 31].
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