Devil’s Claw: the natural NSAID

Most of the people who turn to alternative and natural treatments do so because they fear secondary effects and dangers of conventional treatments. Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are some of the medications most commonly used in the world: from menstrual cramps to sport injuries and rheumatic diseases, they all are treated with NSAIDS in order to reduce pain and inflammation. Some of the most widely used NSAIDS are:






Despite doing their job very well -reducing inflammation- NSAIDS are associated to severe side effects which must be taken into account: COX-1 inhibitors increase intestinal permeability, damage the digestive tract and produce ulcers in the small bowel. Just what autoimmune patients should avoid. Therefore, chronic use of NSAIDS should be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, COX-2 inhibitors, which were created in order to avoid gastrointestinal side effects, increase the risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks. Moreover, many of them have been eliminated from the market precisely because of their side effects.

In summary, conventional NSAIDS are very effective in acute cases (fractures, treatment of postoperative pain, other injuries, etc…) but shouldn’t be used in chronic diseases due to the fact that their risks are often bigger than their advantages.

The fact that NSAIDS are being used for many different ailments added to the important risk of side effects has increased the popularity of natural anti-inflammatories that represent a healthier alternative to the classic ibuprofen. Amongst all the natural anti-inflammatories, we’d like to highlight both curcumin and boswellia due to their effectiveness and absence of side effects. You can read more about these two natural alternatives on our article:

Despite the efficacy of curcumin and boswellia, the natural anti-inflammatory that ressembles ibuprofen the most is devil’s claw.

Devil’s claw, also known as Harpagophytum, is a native South African plant. Its root has been used for centuries for the treatment of different musculoskeletal diseases. The scientific evidence around this plant has increased during the last 20 years to the point that devil’s claw is nowadays the most widely used natural anti-inflammatory.

Devil’s Claw

The interest that devil’s claw elicits is due its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is possibly the most consumed natural anti-inflammatory together with curcumin. In Germany, 7 out of 10 prescriptions for rheumatic diseases are devil’s claw products. The main active ingredient in devil’s claw is the so called harpagoside, however, synergistic effects between different devil’s claw ingredients have been observed. Therefore, we encourage the consumption of whole root products in order to increase the absortion and efficacy of the plant.

¿How does it work?

Devil’s claw extracts inhibit the production of inflammatory enzymes such as cyclooxygenases and lypooxygenases. Furthermore, harpagophytum inhibits the production of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor. Actually, devil’s claw works quite similarly to conventional NSAIDS such as ibuprofen.

¿When is it useful?

The main benefitial effects of devil’s claw are its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. However, during the last decades several different benefits have been observed:

-regulation of blood sugar

-decrease in blood pressure

-increased healing of bruises and cuts

-diuretic properties


-arrhythmia fighting properties

-hunger stimulant

-strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic

Scientific evidence:

Over 20 research papers have been published in regard to the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of devil’s claw, six of which could be considered as high level of evidence. In this study, 60mg of harpagosides per day were as effective as Vioxx, a potent NSAID that was eliminated from the market due to its strong side effects. In another study, 50mg of harpagosydes were effective for treating back and osteoarthritic pain. The benefits of devil’s claw were still present after 12 months of administration according to this study. In this other study, devil’s claw was more effective and less dangerous in the treatment of osteoarthritis compared to a commonly prescribed NSAID. Water extracts are also useful, according to this research. All scientific papers agree on the dose: at least 50mg of harpagosydes per day are necessary in order to achieve substantial concentrations in blood and greater efficacy than placebo.

How is it taken?

With both solid and water extracts our goal should be to consume between 50 and 100mg of harpagosides per day. This dose should be divided in three smaller doses taken with each major meal. Choose a product that offers a huge amount of harpagosides per dose. Our favourite is this one not only because of the quantity of harpagosides but also because of the competitive price.


Devil’s claw is a safe plant, even when consumed in large amounts. Despite of that, there are some contraindications that must be taken into account:

-In less than 5% of the patients some gastrointestinal symptoms may occur. These symptoms usually resolve after cessation of the treatment.

Devil’s claw has blood thinning properties. Consult your doctor if you’re taking blood thinning medicines.

-There haven’t been any studies regarding pregnant women and devil’s claw. Therefore, we can’t recommend this plant to this subgroup.

Devil’s claw increases the production of gastric acids and can worsen the symptoms of peptic ulcers.

Devil’s claw may reduce blood  glucose levels, which should therefore be taken into account by diabetic patients.

Other considerations:

As with other plants, devil’s claw has an accumulative effect in the organism and full blown results may take some months. However, some patients report improvements in their pain perception after just some days of use.

Also, don’t confuse devil’s claw with cat’s claw, which is another plant used in the treatment of several conditions.


Devil’s claw is a cheaper, healthier and less dangerous alternative to NSAIDS and can be used for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. It’s specially effective in arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Without any doubt it’s worth a try, given its pros and cons. If you have any doubt about natural anti-inflammatories and their use, don’t hesitate to contact us through our contact form:

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