Clinical Pearl – Solved: The False TOA/POA Controversy Surrounding Cat’s Claw by Stephen Harrod Buhner

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2015dec_logoAs a master herbalist, he considers herbs exceptionally complex and contends that usually the whole herb works best as the body takes what it needs from the full spectrum of components in the whole herb. “They are not “raw drugs,” he has said, “though they may still be viewed in that manner by the Western model. Most possess between 100 and 1,000 chemical constituents and have complex actions within the body.  They are gifts that nature has provided.”  What follows is an excerpt from his book, Healing Lyme.

Biography: Herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner is the award-winning author of twenty books on nature, indigenous cultures, the environment, and herbal medicine. He comes from a long line of healers including Leroy Burney, Surgeon General of the United States under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and Elizabeth Lusterheide, a midwife and herbalist who worked in rural Indiana in the early nineteenth century. The greatest influence on his work, however, has been his great-grandfather C.G. Harrod who primarily used botanical medicines, also in rural Indiana, when he began his work as a physician in 1911. Buhner’s work has appeared or been profiled in Common Boundary, Apotheosis, Shaman’s Drum, The New York Times, CNN, and Good Morning America.

If you begin looking into cat’s claw for the treatment of Lyme infections, you will soon come across the product “TOA-free Cat’s Claw.” There is some amount of hysteria about this product. It is asserted that cat’s claw products containing TOAs are not effective. This is incorrect. A review of the literature shows that a single series of in vitro studies—that is, in the laboratory, in test tubes only—found that the TOAs in a uniquely prepared solution of isolated cat’s claw constituents, in some circumstances, had negative impacts on POA activity. This is a far cry from showing that TOAs inhibit the action of POAs in the human body.

The TOAs used in the study are incomplete to the plant. Only two were used—the plant contains at least five other TOAs.  Additionally, the amounts of the two TOAs used exceeds that found in the plants themselves. These were isolated constituents taken out of their plant matrix and purified. Within the whole plant, synergistic actions occur between the many plant chemicals. There is no evidence that in whole plant form these TOAs inactivate anything.

None of the many other researchers working with the plant the past 25 years in scores of studies found that the naturally occurring TOA alkaloids inactivated the naturally occurring POAs alkaloids. The majority of all the studies on the plant have been conducted using the whole herb or other proprietary formulations that contain both TOAs and POAs.

Some researchers make the point that there at least two (some say three) types of Uncaria tomentosa plants that grow in the Amazon and that natives distinguish between these types. This is true. The natives routinely harvest the type that contains the most POAs for making medicine. However, the plant they harvest and have been using for millennia, naturally contains both POAs and TOAs. This naturally occurring POA-TOA-containing herb has been successfully used for a very long time by these indigenous peoples to enhance immune activity. Additionally, the herb has been successfully used in clinical practice with thousands of people for over half a century in South America to enhance immune response. The herb itself, without any fiddling around, will work exceptionally well, especially for Lyme disease.
—excerpted with permission from Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections, Raven Press.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Rebecca Gurland
    January 7, 2020 3:30 pm

    Unfortunately, the problem here is that the cat’s claw with TOAs have caused an intense rash.

  • Paul Bernstein
    March 24, 2020 10:43 pm

    Dear Stephen: I read your article about TOA/POA cat’s claw. I have used Enzymatic Therapy Saventaro cats claw for the past 20+ years. It is now discontinued. Would you be able to recommed something I could use as a replacement.
    Thank you,

    • Sabra Perkins
      June 22, 2020 6:21 am

      Paul, I too have used Enzymatic Therapy for my Lyme disease for a very long time, and the only other product that works as well is NutraMedix Samento Tincture, which is also TOA free. The problem with Samento is that it is extremely expensive, and I prefer to take a pill over a tincture. From my personal experience, I have yet to find a Cat’s Claw that works for Lyme disease that is not TOA free. I would also be very grateful if the author could recommend a non TOA product that works as well as The TOA free Cat’s Claw.

  • Robert Scroggins
    July 5, 2023 2:28 pm

    Look at the compounds in cats claw and then try to find some other herbs that contain them.


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