By Michael Leidig
VIENNA (Reuters Health)Jan.7, 2003 - A Peruvian plant called Uncaria tomentosa, or Cat's claw, seems to be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, according to preliminary research conducted at Innsbruck University Hospital.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissues that line the joints, leading to pain, inflammation and deformity. In a small study, the plant extract was found to modulate patients' immune systems, safely reducing the number of swollen and tender joints.
Dr. Erich Mur of the hospital's rheumatology outpatient department was this week awarded a prize from the Austrian Society of Phytotherapy for the study, which included 40 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.
The patients were taking traditional medications, including sulfasalazine or hydroxychloroquine as well as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
In addition to this, they were given a standardised extract of Uncaria tomentosa.
The first phase of the study lasted 24 weeks. In the second phase, which lasted 28 weeks, all patients were given the plant extract. Patients were continuously examined to ascertain the number of their tender and swollen joints. Morning stiffness and pain were also monitored.
"The number of tender joints in patients, as well as morning stiffness were reduced in the first study phase," Mur told Reuters Health.
In a recent report in the Journal of Rheumatology the researchers said treatment with the extract reduced the number of painful joints by 53% compared to 24% for patients given an inactive placebo.
In the second phase, the number of swollen joints as well as the number of tender joints were also found to be reduced in patients."The reduction in swollen joints occurred, however, only in the second phase," Mur said.
The Peruvian plant is known to reduce the activity of several components of the immune system, Mur said.
"One advantage of using the plant is that there were no or only minor side effects," Mur said.
He said that the plant extract can be used effectively as an additional element in standard treatment.
SOURCE: Journal of Rheumatology 2002;29:678-681