By: Griffin McKenzie
Entrepreneur, Health Coach, and Blogger
Devil’s claw is a root that is making a name for itself in the world of natural pain remedies. It is one of the most frequently used supplements for arthritis, but its abilities don’t stop there. The root, or the Harpogophytum procumbens plant, is found in the Kalahari savannah of southern Africa, and it is dried to produce the supplement that we ingest (6). The plant actually has small “hooks” all over it, which give it the name “devil’s claw”. It is typically consumed in a capsule form, but can also be used topically as a skin ointment. Among its many benefits, devil’s claw addresses both inflammation and digestive issues, which are linked together in the worlds of chronic illness and mental health.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Depression, chronic pain, inflammation, trauma, and…your gut? One of these things doesn’t sound like the others, but research shows that your microbiome, your gut bacteria and environment, is central to physical and emotional pain. While it sounds strange to a newcomer, the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is sensitive to emotion in more ways than one. The GI tract is also home to the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is made up of 2 thin layers that contain more than 100 million nerve cells; they control blood flow, but they also help us feel what’s happening inside the gut and aid in digestion (4). Many people refer to the ENS as the “second brain” because of its vast capabilities that are still being uncovered.
Emotional reactions to different situations can cause extreme physical responses. If you’ve ever been stressed out before a big test or performance, you may have felt butterflies in your stomach or experienced diarrhea as a result of your nerves. Likewise, when your body undergoes trauma or a period of sustained anxiety, it is not uncommon to develop gastrointestinal issues that range from heartburn to ulcerative colitis. Stress and trauma affect our hormones by raising our cortisol, which cause our bodies to be in a constant state of anxiety and reactivity (3). When we live in this never-ending stress, we become susceptible to chronic inflammation, which is linked to a variety of autoimmune diseases.
Additionally, gut inflammation can be triggered by other sources, such as constantly eating a food that you are allergic or sensitive to. Just as your body can be stressed from an outward provocation, it can also become inflamed from an internal stressor. If you regularly feel bloated, gassy, or in pain after eating a specific food, that might be your body asking you to pay attention. While a food may show up negative on an allergy test, it can still be positive as a sensitivity and wreak havoc on your gut. The health of the microbiome is also linked to other mental and behavioral disorders such as autism, depression, ADHD, and anxiety, to name a few of the many conditions that research is showing have connections through the gut-brain relationship (4).
Because the gut-brain connection is worsened through both emotionally taxing experiences, such as PTSD and trauma, and through breakdowns in the digestive system, it is not uncommon to find patients who are dealing with both chronic pain, mental disorders, and digestive issues, all at the same time. Often times, the consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) for the treatment of pain or inflammation, is linked to the breakdown of gut health, further corrupting the sensitive ENS. With this knowledge in hand, many functional medicine practitioners are looking to address pain without OTC drugs, and solutions range from curcumin to medical cannabis to devil’s claw. Because bioindividuality (the awareness that every individual has different genetic makeup, gut bacteria, experiences, and environmental exposures) must be taken into account, it is important to explore the health benefits of each proposed alternative.
Rethinking Pain Medication
More and more research is emerging to support the use of natural alternatives to treat both mental illness and chronic disease, as they are undoubtedly connected. Unfortunately, American society has been conditioned to believe that popping an Advil for sore muscles or taking a prescription medication for mental illness is the only solution for disease. In the United States, over 70 million prescriptions for NSAIDs are written each year, and the count soars over 30 billion when you include over the counter NSAIDs (5). Whether it’s a minor discomfort or an ongoing issue, our reliance on NSAIDS has become so commonplace that few even recognize the danger.
NSAIDs inhibit your body’s ability to synthesize hormone-like prostaglandins, which are made in response to cell injury (5). While many NSAIDs are not habit-forming, the result of chronic use can create new problems that require even more medication and long-term discomfort. NSAIDS are typically given over the counter (OTC) to reduce pain and inflammation, and they range from common medications, like aspirin, to prescription medication, that is stronger and comes with more potential side effects. While NSAIDS work quickly, they can also increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and potential liver damage. For those who rely on NSAIDS to manage chronic pain, they are also at risk of bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), digestive issues, and leaky gut syndrome as a result of intestinal permeability (1).
Studies have been conducted on patients who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and they have shown that medications that alter intestinal homeostasis, such as NSAIDs and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) were more frequently used in IBS patients compared to controls (8). The cyclical nature of dealing with chronic pain, medicating with a substance that further disrupts the gut biome, and experiencing more chronic pain is a dangerous path that leads to breakdown of the gut-brain connection and often, a reliance on NSAIDs for a lifetime.
Finding Natural Alternatives
Thus, the need for natural alternatives to combat the strenuous side effects of NSAIDs is preeminent. Devil’s claw is an anti-inflammatory herb that is used to treat pain and inflammation, and it’s found in our Infla IQ, along with several other herbs that provide an alternative to NSAIDs. Devil’s claw has analgesic effects that make it useful for degenerative and painful rheumatic conditions, such as osteoarthritis (OA), and adverse effects are mild, even at very high doses (6).
Devil’s claw reduces acute pain and has been used to treat conditions such as sciatica, arthritis, psoriasis, IBS, and potentially lymphoma (2). If obesity-related disease or pain is an issue, devil’s claw may have weight-loss benefits for certain consumers, as it is known to suppress ghrelin, the hunger hormone (7). By inhibiting ghrelin, devil’s claw works to control appetite and help individuals maintain or reach a healthy weight. It is also rich in antioxidants and inhibits TNF-alpha, a cytokine (cell-signaling protein) that leads to chronic inflammation when activated on a continual basis (2).
Even though devil’s claw is known to have so few adverse effects, it is still important to maintain consistency in your dosage, monitor results, and adjust if you experience any unusual or uncomfortable side effects. There has been little to no research in the realm of devil’s claw and pregnancy, so it is advised to avoid the supplement while pregnant until more knowledge is gained.
How Devil’s Claw Works in Infla IQ
While devil’s claw has not been shown to heal conditions such as leaky gut syndrome or IBS, it has been shown to effectively treat chronic pain and allow patients to move away from reliance on NSAIDs to a supplement that creates the same effect, without fear of addiction or side effects. Our Infla IQ supplement uses devil’s claw and other synergistic ingredients to promote relief from aches and inflamed tissue from the result of chronic inflammation.
Though Infla IQ will tackle your pain, strategies to eliminate processed sugar, allergens, and environmental toxins should be introduced in order to alleviate your symptoms and promote balance and positive vitality moving forward. With daily doses, most individuals notice benefits from consuming Infla IQ within the first 2 to 3 weeks, and restoring balance in your body is the ultimate goal. Devil’s claw is just one of many powerful analgesics in this formula that help heal your body and get you in better health to do the activities you love.
Brien, S., Lewith, G. T., & McGregor, G. (2006). Devil’s Claw ( Harpagophytum procumbens) as a Treatment for Osteoarthritis: A Review of Efficacy and Safety. Journal Of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 12(10), 981-993.
Torres-Fuentes, C., Theeuwes, W. F., McMullen, M. K., McMullen, A. K., Dinan, T. G., Cryan, J. F., & Schellekens, H. (2014). Devil’s Claw to Suppress Appetite—Ghrelin Receptor Modulation Potential of a Harpagophytum procumbens Root Extract. Plos ONE, 9(7), 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.
Keszthelyi, D., Dackus, G. H., Masclee, G. M., Kruimel, J. W., & Masclee, A. M. (2012). Increased proton pump inhibitor and NSAID exposure in irritable bowel syndrome: results from a case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology, 12121. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-12-121