What Is Catuaba?

Catuaba capsules, powder, and tincture

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak 

Catuaba is an herbal remedy derived from the bark of various plants and trees found mostly in Central and South America. These plants include Erythroxylum, Anemopaegma, and Micropholis, among others. However, Trichilia catigua (T. catigua) appears to be the most popular choice for catuaba supplements.

Catuaba is used in supplement form and is believed to have beneficial anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, neuroprotective, and antioxidant properties. These potential benefits are most likely due to substances in catuaba that include flavonoids, tannins, alkaloids, and saponins.

Unfortunately, research on catuaba is limited, with few human trials. Many catuaba health claims are unfounded.

This article will discuss the potential uses of catuaba, including any scientific evidence available. It will also look at dosage, side effects, interactions, and storage information for catuaba supplements.

Dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as U.S. Pharmacoipeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Polyphenols, tannins, alkaloids, saponins
  • Alternate name(s): Catigua, catigua vermelho, catuama, pauervilha, catuaba-do-norte
  • Legal status: Legal and available over the counter (OTC) in the United States
  • Suggested dose: No suggested dose due to poor scientific evidence
  • Safety considerations: Safety is unknown; side effects are possible

Uses of Catuaba

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

In folk medicine, catuaba is commonly used to treat fatigue, stress, and memory loss. Some research has found catuaba to have antimicrobial, antiviral, antidepressant, antidiabetic, and antioxidant properties.

Catuaba is believed by some to treat or prevent a wide range of unrelated medical conditions. To date, however, research investigating the effectiveness of catuaba in treating any health condition is very limited.

Most studies on catuaba have been performed in a lab (in vitro) or on animal models. Research must be completed on humans to confirm many of the health claims for catuaba.

Research is most robust for the following conditions:

  • Brain health
  • Antimicrobial effects
  • Fatigue

Brain Health

According to preliminary research, catuaba may improve the health of your brain.

Experimental studies have shown that catuaba protects animal brains from oxidative stress (excess free radicals). This led researchers of one study to pretreat the brains of rats with catuaba before being subjected to neurotoxic substances. The researchers learned that antioxidants found in catuaba were able to protect brain cells from damage.

There is also some evidence that catuaba may improve symptoms of memory loss. However, research on catuaba's effects on memory is dated and new research is scarce.

In one study from 2011, mice were given an extract of catuaba before receiving behavioral tests. The tests showed that catuaba improved memory in the mice. Researchers believed these effects were due to antioxidants found in catuaba.

Despite the promising findings, the study provides what might be best considered a sketch for future research. Furthermore, as with all animal studies, results cannot automatically be assumed to apply to humans.

Antimicrobial Effects

Various studies have suggested that catuaba exerts potent antimicrobial properties.

Catuaba has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth from such strains as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Escherichia coli (E. coli), among others. Researchers believe that substances in catuaba are bactericidal, meaning they can kill bacteria.

Other lab research has found catuaba may be able to prevent viral infections, including polio and herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) by killing off the viruses. However, it should be pointed out that research on the potential antimicrobial effects of catuaba has only been performed in vitro or animal models.

As promising as the findings are, it has yet to be established how effective or safe catuaba may be in treating active infections.

At present, it should not be considered a viable candidate for treating any infection. Further research is needed.


In traditional medicine, catuaba is sometimes used to treat fatigue. Yet, there is no strong evidence to support this practice.

One animal study looked at the effect of catuaba on fatigue in mice forced to exercise on a treadmill. The administration of catuaba was found to have no effect on how long it took the mice to become fatigued. However, mice given the highest dose of catuaba had increased activity levels, suggesting that catuaba may somewhat reduce recovery time after exercise.

Few other studies have examined the relationship between catuaba and fatigue, and none have been performed in humans. More research is needed before catuaba can be recommended for fatigue.

What Are the Side Effects of Catuaba?

Not enough data are available on the safety of catuaba.

As a result, it is not fully understand what the possible side effects of using catuaba are. Regardless, side effects may be possible.

Common Side Effects

Side effects of catuaba are not well-documented in any studies or reviews.

According to one review, only a few studies have examined catuaba's potential side effects. The review discusses one study in which topical (applied to the skin) catuaba showed no side effects in rabbits after 14 days of treatment.

Yet, in another study, giving 1,000 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of catuaba to mice caused death just hours after administration.

Severe Side Effects

No severe side effects have been reported for catuaba. However, that does not mean severe side effects are not possible when using catuaba.

More research is needed on the safety of catuaba. To lower your risk of potential side effects, only use catuaba as directed and never take more than recommended.

Catuaba powder
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak 


It's important to take precautions when using any supplement. When it comes to catuaba, some people may need to take more precautions than others.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that catuaba caused impaired implantation, an important step of early pregnancy, in female rats.

Although this has not been corroborated in human studies, people who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant should avoid using catuaba out of an abundance of caution.

Other sensitive groups, including children and people who are breastfeeding, should also avoid catuaba. This is because safety studies have not been performed on these populations.

Anyone with a medical condition or taking prescription medications should talk with a healthcare provider before using catuaba. Supplements like catuaba may interact with various medications.

Due to the potential risk of impaired fertility, catuaba should not be used in people who are pregnant or intend to get pregnant.

Furthermore, the safety of catuaba in children and nursing people has not been established.

Dosage: How Much Catuaba Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

There are no guidelines for the appropriate dosage of catuaba. This is due to an overall lack of research on catuaba and its effects on humans.

Dosing information listed on the product label of supplements is according to the drug manufacturer only. Supplements may vary in their formulation, leading to differences in dosing among brands.

In the case of catuaba, a safe dosage has not yet been established.

As a rule of thumb, never exceed the dose listed on the product label. Talk with a healthcare provider about how to determine the right catuaba dose for you.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Catuaba?

Toxicology reports on catuaba are lacking. Based on current reports, though, catuaba is not considered toxic to humans. There are no reported cases of catuaba overdose.

However, there is some concern as a result of past animal research indicating that catuaba may be embryotoxic (toxic to an embryo).

In comparison, a 2016 review on catuaba discussed different toxicology studies on the herbal remedy. For the most part, however, the review found that catuaba did not cause toxic effects in animal studies.

Nonetheless, toxicology studies on catuaba have not been performed on humans. This means the overall safety of catuaba has yet to be determined. To prevent potential adverse events or toxicity, only use catuaba as directed, and never exceed a dose.


It is unknown whether catuaba interacts with medications, supplements, or food. Despite this, interactions may still exist.

No studies have been performed to determine whether catuaba negatively interacts with other substances. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it's extremely difficult to identify any and all potential interactions of herbs like catuaba.

Be sure to talk with a healthcare provider before starting catuaba, especially if you are taking other medications, herbs, or supplements.

It is important that you read and understand the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Review all supplement labels with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications. 

How to Store Catuaba

Store catuaba supplements in a cool, dry place and keep them out of direct sunlight and extreme temperatures.

Liquid extracts don't typically require refrigeration. But you should always follow any storage directions specified on the product label.

Keep catuaba supplements out of reach of small children and pets. To ensure quality, discard the catuaba once it passes its expiration date.

Similar Supplements

Other supplements and herbs may work similarly to catuaba. These include:

  • Glutathione: Glutathione (GSH) is an antioxidant produced by your body and found in certain foods. Some research suggests that, in supplement form, GSH may help reduce oxidative stress and damage in the brain by scavenging free radicals.
  • Panax ginseng: Popular in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), panax ginseng (also known as Asian ginseng) has been touted as an herbal remedy for memory loss. Cell and animal models have shown that Panax ginseng exerts neuroprotective effects, which may help preserve memory and treat conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
  • Eucalyptus: Essential oils from the eucalyptus plant may possess antimicrobial properties. In one study, eucalyptus essential oil showed antimicrobial effects against E. coli, S. aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa).
  • Rhodiola rosea: Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) is a perennial plant (a type of adaptogen) used in traditional medicine for various conditions, including fatigue. According to a recent review, R. rosea has shown perceived relief of fatigue in multiple human trials.

Other herbs and supplements may work similarly to catuaba. Talk with a healthcare provider about which may be best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is catuaba safe to take?

    Catuaba is thought to be safe to take in supplement form. However, proper safety studies have not been performed on catuaba. A few studies have found catuaba to have no toxic effects, but these were performed in animals instead of humans.

    To prevent any potential side effects or toxicity, only use catuaba as directed and never take more than you should.

  • How long does catuaba take to work?

    Due to a lack of human research, it is unknown how long catuaba supplements take to work. Long-term human trials on catuaba do not exist. Moreover, the lack of research means it is not known if catuaba can truly treat any medical condition,

  • What is catuaba used for?

    In alternative medicine, catuaba is used to treat conditions like fatigue, stress, memory loss, and impotence.

    However, many of these uses are not well-supported by scientific evidence. As a result, research is needed on the potential uses of catuaba.

Sources of Catuaba & What to Look For

Catuaba is an herbal remedy that is found in a variety of supplement forms.

Supplements and herbs should never replace or delay standard medical care for any health condition. Also, a well-balanced diet can typically provide all the nutrients your body needs for health.

Food Sources of Catuaba

Catuaba is not naturally found in any foods, nor is it commonly used as an ingredient in recipes.

Some people use dried catuaba bark to make hot tea. For the most part, catuaba is used as a dietary supplement only.

Catuaba Supplements

Catuaba supplements come in various forms, including capsules, powder, liquid extracts, and dried herbs.

Sometimes, supplement brands combine catuaba with other herbs or ingredients. Be sure to read the nutrition label and ingredient list so you know what you are getting.

You should also check the label to see if the supplement fits your diet. Many catuaba supplements are naturally vegan and gluten-free, and some are organic.

It should be noted that the supplements that end up on grocery store shelves or online are not necessarily the same ones that are tested in scientific studies.

It's also important to keep in mind that dietary supplements are largely unregulated in the United States. Nutrition labels on supplements are not required to be approved. This means that some supplement labels may contain incorrect information and/or false medical claims.

The best way to ensure quality is to choose a supplement that has been voluntarily reviewed and approved by a third-party testing agency. These include USP, NSF International, and ConsumerLab.


Catuaba is an herbal remedy made from the bark of various plants and trees native to South America and Central America. The most common plant used to make catuaba supplements is Trichilia catigua.

Few research studies have been performed on catuaba, which means scientific evidence supporting the health claims of catuaba is severely lacking.

More research is required before catuaba can be recommended as a safe and effective supplement. Talk with a healthcare provider if you have more questions about catuaba.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process