Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) originates from the Kalahari and Savannah desert regions of South and Southeast Africa. In these parts of the world, devil's claw has historically been used to treat a wide range of conditions including fever, malaria, and indigestion. The medicinal ingredient of the devil's claw plant is extracted from the dried out roots.
Currently, the major uses of devil's claw are as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever for joint diseases, back pain, and headache. There is currently widespread use of standardized devil's claw for mild joint pain in Europe.
Potential side effects include gastrointestinal upset, low blood pressure, or abnormal heart rhythms (increased heart rate or increased heart squeezing effects).
Traditionally, it has been recommended to avoid using devil's claw in patients with stomach ulcers or in people using blood thinners (anticoagulants such as warfarin/Coumadin®).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Degenerative joint disease/osteoarthritis :
There is increasing scientific evidence suggesting that devil's claw is safe and beneficial for the short-term treatment of pain related to degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis (8-12 weeks), it may be equally effective as drug therapies such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), and it may allow for dose reductions or stopping of these drugs in some patients. However, most studies have been small with flaws in their designs. Additional well-designed trials are necessary before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Low back pain:
There are several human studies that support the use of devil's claw for the treatment of low back pain. However, most studies have been small with flaws in their designs, and many have been done by the same authors. Therefore, although these results can be considered promising early evidence, additional well-designed trials are necessary before a firm conclusion can be reached. It is not clear how devil's claw compares to other therapies for back pain.
Traditionally, devil's claw was commonly used as an appetite stimulant, and this remains a popular use. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence in this area, and it remains unclear if devil's claw is beneficial as an appetite stimulant.
Cancer (bone metastases):
Devil's claw is used to treat several types of pain, including osteoarthritis and low back pain. One case report indicates it may also be helpful for pain due to bone metastases. More research is needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.
Devil's claw is popular as a digestive tonic for the relief of constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence in this area, and it remains unclear if devil's claw is beneficial for these uses.