Health Benefits of Devil's Claw
Devil’s Claw, also known by its scientific name of Harpagophytum procumbens, is a plant that has a long history of traditional use. Devil’s Claw has been used for a variety of complaints over the years, including as a diuretic, a sedative, a treatment for fever and to improve the digestion.
However it is the plants pain-relieving benefits that are best known, and have recently been rigorously tested by the scientific community. In response to this interest, Devil’s Claw has recently grown in popularity among consumers seeking a safe and cost-effective way to reduce joint and muscle pain.
What is Devil’s Claw?
Devil’s Claw is a low-growing plant found in southern Africa, including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Despite the ugly common name, Devil’s Claw is actually quite an attractive plant, with delicate red blooms during the summer months. The plant derives its common name from the seed pods that follow flowering, which are noted to be covered in black spines or hooks - reputedly resembling devil’s claws.
Since European immigrants discovered the many traditional uses of this plant it has grown in popularity. Namibia now reportedly exports the greatest volumes, where it is found in abundance in the Kalahari Desert. Indeed, exports have grown so significantly that rather than harvesting wild plants there have been moves in recent years to cultivate the plant commercially.
Benefits of Devil’s Claw
The active ingredient found in Devil’s Claw is known as “harpagoside”. Studies suggest that harpagoside offers anti-inflammatory benefits which, in turn, can help to ease away joint- or muscle-related discomfort.
While research is ongoing in this field, a number of interesting studies have found positive results from a Devil’s Claw supplement. In one study, 118 patients suffering from chronic back pain were either prescribed 6000mg of Devil’s Claw or an identical-looking placebo for a period of four weeks. By the end of the study period it was noted that nine of the Devil’s Claw group were pain free, whilst only one of the placebo group experienced the same benefit.
Other studies have demonstrated even greater results. A study from Germany recruited 63 volunteers suffering from muscle pain in the back, shoulders or neck. The treatment group received two 480mg Devil’s Claw tablets per day for a period of four weeks, with pain measurements being recorded every fortnight. The scientists running the trial reported “clear clinical efficiency” after noting “highly significant effects” on both muscular discomfort and stiffness.
Elsewhere, 2400mg of Devil’s Claw was provided to 75 patients suffering from knee or hip discomfort. The patients reportedly enjoyed a 24% improvement in pain scores, a 22% improvement in joint stiffness and averaged a 23% improvement in physical function. Considering that the study period was just 12 weeks these are very impressive results indeed, with doctors reporting a “continuous improvement” in discomfort and function. The researchers concluded that under these study conditions Devil’s Claw has a “clinically beneficial effect”.
While Devil’s Claw has been traditionally used as a general painkiller for muscular aches and pains, more recently experts have begun to assess its efficacy specifically in cases of arthritis.
A study here in the UK prescribed Devil’s Claw to 259 arthritis sufferers for a period of eight weeks. The results, published in Phytotherapy Research, demonstrated reduced pain and improved stiffness in all major affected joints including the hips, knees and hands. As a result of these improvements, surveys also reported significant improvements in quality of life.
The experts concluded that Devil’s Claw was “an effective and well-tolerated serious treatment option for mild to moderate degenerative rheumatic disorders providing improved quality of life".
How Much Should I Take?
Scientists are still assessing the optimal dosage, with this matter being complicated by the fact that some studies record the total volume of Devil’s Claw extract provided to participants, while others measure only the level of harpagoside.
Broadly speaking, most studies showing positive effects seem to use doses of around 50 - 100 mg of harpagoside. Depending on the strength of the preparation used, this is likely to be equivalent to roughly 1,000-4,000mg of standardised extract.
Scientific analysis suggests “limited evidence” for the effectiveness of Devil’s Claw extract containing less than 30mg of harpagoside, but that at higher volumes the impact is far more noticeable. Indeed, one study seeking to assess the impact of different doses concluded that “strong evidence exists for the use… at a daily dose equivalent to 50mg of harpagoside.”
The super-strength tablets sold at Simply Supplements offer 600mg of Devil’s Claw per tablet, and it is recommended that two are taken per day. Taking one in the morning and one after an evening meal is likely to be the most effective routine.
Side Effects & Interactions
One of the reasons for the growing popularity of Devil’s Claw is the impressive safety record established. One group of scientists gathered together the results from 28 clinical studies involving Devil’s Claw, looking for any possible problems. Their data demonstrated that side effects of taking Devil’s Claw are very unusual, amounting to roughly 3% of patients. Furthermore, the side effects tended to be very mild indeed, with minor stomach upsets being most common. Indeed, when comparing individuals taking Devil’s Claw with those being given a placebo tablet there was no difference between them.
No studies have been done to see its effect on children and therefore Devil’s Claw is not suitable for them. Additionally, people with stomach ulcers or gallstones should not take Devil’s Claw, nor should pregnant women. Individuals with high blood pressure or heart disease should consult a doctor before taking.