What is "devil's claw," and can it be used for osteoarthritis?

Grant Cooper Health Guide
  • What is "devil's claw," and can it be used for osteoarthritis?


    Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a plant that grows in southern Africa.  Small hooks in the plant's fruit give the plant its memorable name. Devil's claw has been used for thousands of years in Africa to treat a whole host of diseases, including fever, malaria, gastrointestinal problems, liver problems, kidney disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.  The medicinal ingredient in Devil's Clas is extracted from the dried out roots. Topical preparations of devil's claw have also been used for certain skin disorders. 

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    Does Devil's Claw work for osteoarthritis?

    Devil's claw is particularly popular in Europe for the treatment of back and joint pain.  There is limited evidence that devil's claw may be helpful for back and/or joint pain associated with osteoarthritis, but more research is clearly needed. A study in 2001 in Phytotherapy Research found that devil's claw extract may be helpful in the treatment of chronic lower back pain.  Another study in 2003, also published in Phytotherapy Research, found that Devil's claw (harpagoside 50 mg) reduced pain and improved mobility in 75 patients with hip and knee pain attributed to osteoarthritis.

    It isn't possible to offer recommendations for using devil's claw for the treatment of spine and joint pain associated with osteoarthritis because of the methodological flaws and low numbers of research participants in the research published to date. 


    A review article in 2006 by Brien, Lewith, and McGregor in Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine concluded that, based on the available evidence, devil's claw for the treatment of osteoarthritis "appeared effective in the reduction of the main clinical symptom of pain."  The article went on to conclude that, with regard to safety information, "Devil's claw appears to be associated with minor risk (relative to NSAIDs), but further long-term assessment is required."

    Indeed, some research does send some promising signs that devil's claw might be helpful for the pain associated with osteoarthritis, but more research is sorely needed.  Furthermore, long-term safety outcomes are not known. 


    Should you take it for osteoarthritis?

    Only your doctor can tell you if devil's claw might be right for you.  Other supplements for osteoarthritis - glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, in particular - have more research associated with them.  It may be wise to talk with your doctor about trying glucosamine and chrondroitin sulfate before trying a less-researched supplement.  In any event, if you are interested in trying devil's claw, be sure to talk with your doctor first.

    If you and your doctor decide that this supplement might be appropriate for you to try, ask your doctor to monitor your kidney and liver function while taking it.  Also make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications and supplements that you are taking because this supplement may interact with those medications and supplements as well.  As with other supplements, if you decide to purchase this one, make sure that you buy only from a reputable company.  If you are pregnant, considering becoming pregnant, breast-feeding, or under the age of 18, you should not take this supplement. Also, if you have a history of stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure, heart problems, or are taking a blood thinner (such as warfarin [Coumadin]) or any medication to prevent any of the aforementioned conditions, do not take this supplement. 


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    Cited studies and further recommended reading

    Brien S. Lewith GT. McGregor G. Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) as a treatment for osteoarthritis: a review of efficacy and safety. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 12(10):981-93, 2006 Dec.


    Chrubasik S. Pollak S. Black A. Effectiveness of devil's claw for osteoarthritis Rheumatology. 41(11):1332-3; 1333, 2002 Nov.


    Gregory PJ. Sperry M. Wilson AF. Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. American Family Physician. 77(2):177-84, 2008 Jan 15.


    Laudahn D. Walper A. Efficacy and tolerance of Harpagophytum extract LI 174 in patients with chronic non-radicular back pain. Phytotherapy Research. 15(7):621-4, 2001 Nov.


    Wegener T. Lupke NP. Treatment of patients with arthrosis of hip or knee with an aqueous extract of devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens DC.). Phytotherapy Research. 17(10):1165-72, 2003 Dec.



Published On: June 20, 2008