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Q
Cat's Claw for Lyme Disease?

What do you think of using cat's claw to treat Lyme disease?

A
Answer (Published 6/17/2008)

Lyme disease is caused by a type of bacteria carried in deer ticks, and spread by the ticks' bite. If you recognize the symptoms of an infection early on, a few weeks' treatment with antibiotics (doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil) can eliminate the problem. However, if not promptly diagnosed and correctly treated, Lyme disease can lead to severe, chronic symptoms including arthritis and nerve damage that may be irreversible.

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Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) comes from a woody vine with claw-shaped thorns native to the Amazon highlands of Peru and other areas of South and Central America. Amazonian Indians have used the bark and root for centuries, primarily for treatment of arthritis, ulcers, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer. My colleague Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of education and botanical studies at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, tells me that an Austrian study published in the April, 2002, Journal of Rheumatology showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with 60 mg a day of a standardized extract of cat's claw for one year experienced a reduction in the number of painful and swollen joints. However, no definitive conclusions have emerged from other studies evaluating cat's claw as a treatment for inflammation and arthritis.

I know that cat's claw is being promoted on the Internet as a remedy for Lyme disease, but I've seen no scientific studies to support its use. If the infection has become chronic, my preference would be treatment with modern Chinese medicine. I have referred patients to Qingcai Zhang, M.D., a Chinese-trained physician in New York City who specializes in the treatment of Lyme and other chronic infectious diseases using antimicrobial and immune-supportive herbs (with and without antibiotics) and with acupuncture to regulate immunity and manage pain. Visit Dr. Zhang's Web site for more information.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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