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Uncaria tomentosa Family: Rubiaceae
Common Names: cat's claw, unha de gato
Parts Used: Vine bark, root
Cat's claw (U. tomentosa) is a large, woody vine that derives its name from hook-like thorns that grow along the vine and resemble the claws of a cat. Two closely related species of Uncaria are used almost interchangeably in the rainforests: U. tomentosa and U. guianensis. Both species can reach over 30 m high into the canopy. The studies carried out on cat's claw refer to Uncaria tomentosa, therefore consequently the various properties allotted to cat's claw are related to this specie.
Cat's claw is indigenous to the Amazon rainforest and other tropical areas of South and Central America, including Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela, Suriname, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama. Traditional uses
Cat's claw has been used medicinally by the Aguaruna, Asháninka, Cashibo, Conibo, and
Shipibo peoples of Peru for at least 2,000 years. The Asháninka use cat's claw to treat asthma, inflammations of the urinary tract, arthritis, rheumatism, and bone pain; to recover from child- Rémi Denecheau birth; as a kidney cleanser; to cure deep wounds; to control inflammation and gastric ulcers; and for cancer. Other Peruvian indigenous tribes use cat's claw to treat diabetes, urinary tract cancer in women, hemorrhages, menstrual irregularity, cirrhosis, fevers, abscesses, gas- tritis, rheumatism, and tumors as well as for internal cleansing and to "normalize the body." Reportedly, cat's claw has also been used as a contraceptive by several different tribes of Peru (but only in very large dosages). Cat's claw has been used in Peru and Europe since the early 1990s as an adjunctive treatment for cancer and AIDS as well as for other diseases that target the im- mune system. In herbal medicine today, cat's claw is employed around the world for its ability to cleanse the entire intestinal tract and its effectiveness in treating stomach and bowel disorders.
Cat's claw has grown quite popular in the natural products industry and is mostly taken today
to boost immune function, as an all over tonic and preventative to stay healthy, for arthritis and inflammation, for bowel and colon problems, and as an complementary therapy for cancer. Cat's claw has several groups of plant chemicals that account for much of the plant's actions and uses. First and most studied is a group of oxindole alkaloids that has been documented with immune-stimulant and antileukemic properties. Another group of chemicals called quinovic acid glycosides have documented anti-inflammatory and antiviral actions. Antioxidant chemi- cals (tannins, catechins and procyanidins) as well as plant sterols (beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol) account for the plant's anti-inflammatory properties. A class of compounds known as carboxyl alkyl esters found in cat's claw has been documented with immunostimu- lant, anti-inflammatory, anticancerous, and cell-repairing properties. Many of the studies published from the late 1970s to early 1990s indicated that the whole oxin- dole alkaloid fraction, whole vine bark and/or root bark extracts, or six individually-tested oxin- dole alkaloids, when used in relatively small amounts, increased immune function by up to 50%. In addition to its immunostimulating activity, in vitro anticancerous properties have been docu- mented for these alkaloids and other constituents in cat's claw. Five of the oxindole alkaloids have been clinically documented with in vitro antileukemic properties, and various root and bark extracts have demonstrated antitumorous and anticancerous properties. Subsequent re- searchers have reported that cat's claw can aid in DNA cellular repair and prevent cells from mutating; it also can help prevent the loss of white blood cells and immune cell damage caused by many chemotherapy drugs (a common side effect called leukopenia).
The results of some studies validated its long history of indigenous use for arthritis and rheuma- tism, as well as for other types of inflammatory stomach and bowel disorders. Research in Argentina reports that cat's claw is an effective antioxidant; other researchers in 2000 concluded that it is an antioxidant as well as a remarkably potent inhibitor of tumor necro- sis factor (TNF) alpha production. Rémi Denecheau In addition to the immunostimulant alkaloids, cat's claw contains the alkaloids rhynchophylline, hirsutine, and mitraphylline, which have demonstrated hypotensive and vasodilating properties. Some of the newer research indicates that cat's claw might be helpful to people with Alzheim- er's disease; this could be attributable to the antioxidant effects already confirmed or, possibly, to the dilation of peripheral blood vessels in the brain by alkaloids such as rhynchophylline.
Main plant chemicals: ajmalicine, akuammigine, campesterol, catechin, carboxyl alkyl esters, chlorogenic acid, cinchonain, corynantheine, corynoxeine, daucosterol, epicatechin, harman, hirsuteine, hirsutine, iso-pteropodine, loganic acid, lyaloside, mitraphylline, oleanolic acid, pal- mitoleic acid, procyanidins, pteropodine, quinovic acid glycosides, rhynchophylline, rutin, sitos- terols, speciophylline, stigmasterol, strictosidines, uncarine A thru F, and vaccenic acid.
Therapeutic dosages of cat's claw are reported to be as high as 20 g daily and average 2-3
grams two or three times daily. Generally, as a natural aid for arthritis and bowel and digestive problems 3-5 g daily is recommended. The dosage for a standard decoction for general health and maintenance is 4 g of vine bark boiled in a liter of water; 1/2-1 cup once daily and up to 1 cup three times daily in times of special needs. Adding lemon juice or vinegar to the decoction when boiling will help extract more alkaloids and fewer tannins from the bark. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar per cup of water. Contra indications:
• Cat's claw has been clinically documented with immunostimulant effects and is contraindi-
cated before or following any organ or bone marrow transplant or skin graft. • Cat's claw has been documented with antifertility properties and is contraindicated in per- sons seeking to get pregnant. However, this effect has not been proven to be sufficient for the product to be used as a contraceptive, and it should not be relied on for such. • Cat's claw has chemicals that can reduce platelet aggregation and thin the blood. Check with your doctor first if you are taking coumadin or other blood-thinning drugs and discon- tinue use one week to ten days prior to any major surgical procedure. • Cat's claw vine bark requires sufficient stomach acid to help break down the tannins and al- kaloids during digestion and to aid in absorp- tion. Avoid taking bark capsules or tablets at the same time as antacids. • Large dosages of cat's claw (3-4 gram dos- ages at a time) have been reported to cause some abdominal pain or gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea (due to the tan- nin content of the vine bark) in some people. The diarrhea or loose stools tend to be mild and go away with continued use. Discontin- ue use or reduce dosage if diarrhea persists longer than three or four days. Rémi Denecheau Drug Interactions:
• Due to its immunostimulant effects, cat's claw should not be used with medications intend-
ed to suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporin or other medications prescribed following an organ transplant. (This theory has not been proven scientifically.) • Based upon in vivo rat studies, cat's claw may protect against gastrointestinal damage as- sociated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. • Cat's claw may potentiate coumadin and blood-thinning drugs. Rémi Denecheau
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