It has become increasingly apparent to me over the course of my scientific research and article writing that many supplement manufacturers are more than happy to twist the wording or misconstrue the results of a study. In the case of Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa), there has been a strong link between its use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease–but no real evidence that it can help healthy people with cognitive function.
Some supplement makers can and have made the case that if something is good for the treatment of a disease or its symptoms, then it must be helpful for healthy brains, as well. In this article, I’ll look at the science behind this reasoning.
Cat’s Claw has been seen in animal studies to help with several of the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), or that contribute to its symptoms. So much so that many research papers have called for the integration of Cat’s Claw and other herbs into traditional AD treatment regimens.
Much of this evidence surrounds the tau tangles that result in aging and degenerating brain tissue. These tangles, like many physiological mechanisms, start out serving a good purpose–but when over-excited or over-productive, can choke off the function of the very cells their meant to protect.
Some researchers have found that Cat’s Claw can “detangle” these clusters of protein matter, and even remove something known as brain plaque. Scientists have even been able to photograph and scan these effects, and the images are stunning. Researchers in this field have been so impressed with its efficacy that they have suggested that even non-AD patients take Cat’s Claw as a preventative measure, and to help with non-AD related memory impairment.
Further chemical analysis has shown that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Cat's Claw indicate that it can and should be developed into a clinical treatment for AD in its own right. In head-to-head comparisons, Cat’s Claw has performed better than many related compounds, and has even garnered the attention of neuroscientists with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.
How It May Apply to the Rest of Us
But how, then, have supplement makers made the leap from “good for AD” to “improves cognitive performance”? After all, chewing nicotine gum helps the health of smokers (provided they smoke less), but doesn’t do a lot for non-smokers.
The fact is, many supplement makers are stretching causality. The antioxidant powers of Cat’s Claw are noted in a lot of scientific literature. And the brain and central nervous system are highly susceptible to oxidative stress. But so far, no one has demonstrated in a clear study that taking Cat’s Claw improves cognitive performance or function.
Similarly, some manufacturers have made the leap that Cat’s Claw’s “detangling” effect, if healthy for aging brains and AD brain tissue, is then good for everyone. While that may be the case in terms of preventing tissue damage in the future, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can help with mental performance in the here and now.
This doesn’t mean that Cat’s Claw doesn’t work, or that its proponents are wrong or misleading anyone. It only means that speculation isn’t proof. It may well be that a clinical study will see that antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties seen in Cat’s Claw can boost mental performance in healthy people–but we haven’t seen that yet.
Until more rigorous, cognitive function-specific data are collected–from in vivo human participants–there simply isn’t the evidence that Cat’s Claw can help with cognitive function in healthy adults. The good news is that all reports indicate it is safe in supplement levels, and it clearly has anti-aging benefits. Beyond that, however, there isn’t a lot to go on.