The quality of clinical trials with Harpagophytum procumbens

Phytomedicine. 2003;10(6-7):613-23. doi: 10.1078/094471103322331647.


Objective: To examine systematically the quality of the clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of Harpagophytum products.

Methods: Literature searches and enquiries to experts identified 20 studies of treatment with various Harpagophytum products (powder, aqueous and ethanolic extracts) for exacerbations of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Eight were open uncontrolled observational studies, one comparing progress under treatment for pain in back, knee and hip pain. Two were open comparisons with conventional treatment, only one of which was randomised. Ten were double-blinded, randomised controlled comparisons, 8 with placebo and 2 with NSAID comparator treatments. Indices of the internal and external validities were examined by reference to a checklist to see how well the studies answered the questions: do Harpagophytum products work and do they work as well as more conventional comparator treatments?

Results: The uncontrolled trials, though providing useful preliminary estimates of the possible effect of treating various conditions, could not separate the effects of the Harpagophytum product from whatever placebo effect might have been exerted in the circumstances of the study. The 2 open comparisons were open to performance, detection and/or selection bias. Of the 8 randomised double blinded controlled comparisons with placebo, 6 were marred by lack of transparency, one could not provide definitive evidence from its pre-selected principal outcome measure, and one provided good quality evidence of a dose dependent superiority of effect over placebo, though this was with a product that is not generally available for clinical practice. One of the randomised controlled comparisons with comparator (Doloteffin versus rofecoxib) was intended only as a pilot and studied too few patients for definitive conclusions whereas the other did provide good evidence that the powder, Harpadol is not importantly less effective than the weak NSAID diacerhein.

Conclusions: Evidence of effectiveness of Harpagophytum products is not transferrable from product to product. The results of some studies suggest some effectiveness for some products, but for none of the clinically available products is the quality of evidence totally satisfactory. It is better so far with products that contain at least 50 mg of harpagoside in the daily dosage than with products (which happen to be of ethanolic extraction) that contain less.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Harpagophytum*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Quality Control
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards*


  • Plant Extracts