A movie star's claim of a cancer cure spreads Cat's Claw fever through the city

"It looks like it's not harmful and might have some real value. But it's a little early [to tell]," says Ken Goodrick, an ethnic medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

At the same time, there's no shortage of customers who insist outright that Cat's Claw is a miracle cure. Bernardo Martinez, a retired Houston restaurant owner, is one of them. Last year, he says, his wife was crippled with untreatable osteoporosis. Prompted by Garcia's sales pitch, Martinez sprung for a month's portion of Cat's Claw. After several weeks of taking the capsules twice a day as recommended, he says, both he and his wife began to see amazing results.

"Una de Gato has given her strength and liberty to walk. We've been taking it for one year and two months, without fail," Martinez says. He also believes that U–a de Gato cured him of cancer. Like Andres Garcia, Martinez was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Surgery removed his tumor, but it was Cat's Claw that earned him a clean bill of health three months later, Martinez maintains. Not only that, his eyesight has strengthened.

"I give thanks to Una de Gato," Martinez says.
Physicians and some public health officials, however, are less sure thanks are due. In Florida, the attorney general's office has begun an investigation into Cat's Claw advertising to see if it contains any deception. (The Texas attorney general has shown little interest in the topic; the Houston Health Department had never heard of Cat's Claw.) And Federal Trade Commission spokesman Bonnie Johnson, whose agency only discloses investigations ending in legal action, says that the FTC often prosecutes companies that make false claims for a drug. Those claims, Johnson says, can be conveyed in many ways; some of them include pictures, expert opinions and even anecdotes.

George Guerrero, an east-side physician who is the Martinezes' family doctor, isn't sure what to think about Cat's Claw. On one hand, he doesn't doubt its efficacy: "Something has to be said about people who have faith," Guerrero says. "I always say, if I have the trust and confidence of my patients, I've got 50 percent of the disease licked."

But Guerrero already has seen his patients, about 95 percent of whom are Hispanic, let faith in Cat's Claw get way out of hand. Infatuated with Cat's Claw, some stop taking their medications altogether, Guerrero says. The worst cases he's seen are diabetics who decide their ingestion of Cat's Claw precludes their need for insulin.

Rosa Ybarra, a Houston yerber’a owner who sells powdered Cat's Claw, has her own doubts about how well the stuff really functions.

"I haven't heard one testimonial about this little herb [from customers], and that's the truth," Ybarra says from her tiny northwest Houston store stocked with dried herbs and Chinese memory tonics.

"I don't want to lie. In my opinion, Cat's Claw is not better than a lot of other herbs. For cancer? Drink anamu tea," Ybarra says firmly. "I have tried it; I've seen it work personally. For that, I've heard testimonials."

So why the Cat's Claw sensation? After all, no one is threatening a run on anamu tea. The answer, it turns out, lies not in the bug-clouded Peruvian jungles, but in the ill-lit Miami studio where Nutrivida concocts its ads. As low-rent as the Cat's Claw infomercial may look, the secret for selling wonder pills is not necessarily quality but quantity, quantity, quantity.

"It just goes to show you, frequency and consistency, that's the way to sell," says a Channel 48 advertising representative who asked not to be named. "Not only do they have that infomercial, they have lots of 60-second spots during the day, almost every commercial break, it seems. I sure wish I'd been the one who sold those ads."

A little star quality never hurts, either. And in Mexico, Andres Garcia is not just a movie icon, he's a role model. Not only do most in Houston's Latino community know of the 57-year-old Garcia, they've heard much about his, ah, vigorous personal life. They know about his reputed 16 children from three marriages, his nubile new trophy wife and how Garcia purportedly fended off a duo of carjackers during a recent shootout in downtown Mexico City.

"Of course he's great at selling a prostate medication," says Esperanza Espino, a custodial worker. "He is the living embodiment of Mexican masculinity."

Yerber’a owner Ybarra thinks Espino's got it right.
"There may be better healing herbs out there," Ybarra says. "But none with the publicity of Una de Gato.

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