Devil’s claw is an herb that gets its name from the appearance of its hook-covered fruit. The hooks attach to animals to spread seeds. Its botanical name is Harpagophytum, which means “hook plant” in Greek.

People use the roots and tubers of the plant to make medicine for a range of conditions, including osteoarthritis, back pain, and rheumatoid arthritis.

There is currently not enough reliable scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of devil’s claw for these uses.

Read on for information about what devil’s claw is, potential health benefits, side effects, risks, and some alternatives.

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Devil’s claw is a plant that belongs to the sesame family and grows in southern Africa.

For centuries people have used botanical and herbal products containing devil’s claw in remedies for muscle pains, arthritis, and various skin conditions.

The plant contains several active compounds, mostly in its roots, which people use as an herbal supplement. In particular, devil’s claw contains iridoid glycosides, which is a compound that may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Because of this, researchers studied devil’s claw supplements as a potential remedy for conditions that lead to inflammation, such as gout and arthritis. As a result of this animal study, researchers suggested that the plant may contribute to pain reduction and have antioxidant properties.

A person can take devil’s claw as a supplement in the form of a powder, herbal tea, capsules, or concentrated extracts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not scrutinize or quality control herbal and botanical products to the same degree as pharmaceuticals. This means that effectiveness could vary between products, and further studies must take place to fully evaluate the true effectiveness and safety of devil’s claw.

Researchers believe devil’s claw may have potential as a remedy for inflammatory conditions because the plant contains iridoid glycosides, particularly the compound harpagoside. In animal and test-tube studies, researchers found that harpagoside helped to improve inflammatory responses.

For example, an older study on mice showed that harpagoside significantly suppressed the action of cytokines, which are molecules in the body that promote inflammation. Though the effectiveness of devil’s claw has not been studied extensively in humans, early evidence from an animal study suggests it may serve as an alternative treatment for inflammatory conditions.

Possibly effective

Devil’s claw may be effective as a treatment for these conditions:

Osteoarthritis: If a person with osteoarthritis takes devil’s claw alone, with other ingredients, or with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), research shows the supplement appears to reduce osteoarthritis-related pain.

Some evidence suggests that devil’s claw may be as effective as a slow-acting drug for osteoarthritis, called diacerhein, for easing pain in the knees and hips after 16 weeks of treatment.

Back pain: Research suggests that if a person takes devil’s claw by mouth, it seems to reduce back pain. Devil’s claw may work as well as certain NSAIDs.

Insufficient evidence

For the majority of claims about the effectiveness of devil’s claw, there is not enough evidence to rate how well it may work. More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of devil’s claw in a variety of conditions. These include:

Devil’s claw may be safe if an adult takes it by mouth for up to a year.

There are possible side effects associated with devil’s claw. These include:

Uncommon side effects include:

  • changes in blood pressure
  • allergic skin reactions
  • menstrual problems

There is not enough reliable evidence for experts to advise on the safety of using devil’s claw for more than a year. There is also not enough evidence for experts to know if devil’s claw is safe for topical application and what side effects this might cause.

People may be at higher risk for an unsafe interaction with devil’s claw if they:

  • Are pregnant: Devil’s claw may be unsafe for pregnant people to use and may cause harm to the fetus.
  • Are breastfeeding: There is not enough evidence for doctors to know whether devil’s claw is safe for people to use while breastfeeding.
  • Have low sodium levels: Devil’s claw may reduce a person’s sodium levels, which may worsen symptoms for people who already have low levels of sodium.
  • Have diabetes: Devil’s claw may lower a person’s blood sugar level. If a person with diabetes uses it in combination with other medications that lower blood sugar, it may cause blood sugar to drop too low.
  • Have heart problems or high or low blood pressure: Devil’s claw may affect heartbeat, heart rate, and blood pressure. It could be harmful to people who have heart and circulatory disorders.
  • Have gallstones: Devil’s claw may increase the production of bile, which may be harmful to people with gallstones.
  • Have peptic ulcers: Devil’s claw may increase the production of stomach acids, which can exacerbate stomach ulcers.

Devil’s claw may also interact with certain medications, as it may affect how quickly the liver is able to break down some medicines. A person should be cautious and discuss the safety of taking devil’s claw alongside their medications with their physician. It may also interact with NSAIDs, blood thinners, and medication that reduces stomach acid.

People most commonly take devil’s claw to treat inflammation or symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or gout. Natural alternatives to devil’s claw for fighting inflammation include:

  • turmeric
  • zinc
  • green tea
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • capsaicin
  • frankincense

Learn more about herbs and supplements for inflammation here.

Learn more about natural remedies for inflammation here.

Devil’s claw is an herb native to southern Africa. People have used it for centuries to treat various conditions.

Researchers most often focus on the potential benefits of devil’s claw as an anti-inflammatory. Lab and animal studies have shown that it may be beneficial for the treatment of inflammation. This is mostly due to a compound it contains called harpagoside.

There are possible side effects of devil’s claw. These include diarrhea, vomiting, headache, and stomach pain.

People may be at higher risk for an adverse reaction if they take devil’s claw and are pregnant or breastfeeding, have diabetes, gout, peptic ulcers, or heart or blood pressure conditions. Devil’s claw may also interact negatively with certain medications.

A person can try other natural alternatives for inflammation, including an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, other supplements, and improved sleep.