What is Pau d’arco?
Pau d’arco or Tabebuia avellanedae is a large deciduous tree which is native to Brazil and other warm areas of South America. Its name comes from the Portuguese language and means ‘bow stick’ because its strong, hard wood was used by native Indo tribes to make hunting bows. Tabebuia impetiginosa or Pau d’arco roxo also has the same properties.
The inner bark and the wood of the tree are used these days to make medicine but it has been used a lot longer in South America to treat a host of complaints including inflammatory conditions, arthritis, pain, dysentery, fever and even certain types of cancer.
Recently, demand for Pau d’arco has risen and the tree is now listed as an endangered species. Chemical research into the constituents of Pau d’arco has discovered that the wood possesses certain chemical compounds that confer its health benefits. Two compounds in particular; beta-lapachone and lapachol have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties as well as significant antioxidant value.
Laboratory tests demonstrated that these chemicals destroyed certain viruses, parasites and fungal strains but their effect on humans is less clear. Another problem when assessing the benefits of Pau d’arco is that the scientific research to date has mainly focused on the isolated chemical lapachol rather than the entire herb. Nevertheless, Pau d’arco is a popular herbal remedy and this article will take a closer look at its purported uses and benefits.
Candida albicans is a naturally occurring fungus that does not normally cause any problems, however when it grows in excessive amounts it causes a yeast infection known as candidiasis which can affect the skin, the mouth and the vagina. Lapachol which is one of the main chemical compounds found in Pau d’arco has known anti-fungal properties and is toxic to a variety of yeast infections. (1)
Drinking Pau d’arco tea is recommended by many health experts in the treatment of candida while it can also be used as a douche to help clear vaginal yeast infections. Herbalists also recommend Pau d’arco to treat a variety of other fungal infections like athlete’s foot, ringworm and nail fungus.
One of the many traditional uses of Pau d’arco was as a treatment for parasitic infections and several modern studies have confirmed that the lapachol found in Pau d’arco can destroy a variety of parasites. (2)
Despite the fact that the herb itself has not been researched, its active compounds give many experts reason to believe that Pau d’arco has the potential to treat parasitic sicknesses including malaria, bilharzia and sleeping sickness. Of course, these sicknesses are potentially very serious and you should not rely on a herbal remedy alone. Pau d’arco should only be taken in conjunction with prescribed medication after consultation with your doctor.
Pau d’arco might be an effective treatment for bacterial illnesses because of the antimicrobial presence of lapachol. Various studies have demonstrated that lapachol is potentially toxic to a range of bacterium including staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori. (3)
One study published in 2005 demonstrated that the inner bark of Pau d’arco effectively hindered the development of dangerous bacterial strains while causing no harm to the body’s beneficial microflora. (4) Pau d’arco is considered by many to be a useful natural remedy for stomach ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and bacterial skin flare ups.
Anti-inflammatory and Immune System Disorders
When used alongside regular exercise and a healthy diet plan, Pau d’arco supplements or tea are recommended for conditions related to inflammation as well as disorders related to a weakened immune system such as arthritis, MS and fibromyalgia.
A study published in 2013 isolated the beta lapachone from the bark of Pau d’arco and examined its effect on inflammatory conditions as well as autoimmune disorders and found that it was able to suppress inflammation of both the brain and the spinal cord.
According to researchers, the results suggested that beta lapachone had the potential to treat inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis. (5) Another study suggested that it might be developed as a remedy for a variety of inflammatory illnesses including arthritis. (6)
Research is at a very early stage but the studies that have taken place have focused heavily on the two most significant active constituents of Pau d’arco namely lapachol and beta lapachone. Both have been examined to establish their anticancer credentials and several recent studies have already showed promise with regard to several types of cancer including breast, prostate and bladder cancers.
Beta Lapachone has demonstrated the ability to selectively destroy cancerous cells while lapachol potentially reduces the size of tumors and ease the pain associated with tumor growth. (7) Another study published in 2014 concluded that Pau d’arco taken alongside probiotic supplements could be effective especially against breast cancer.
Like many teas and herbal remedies, Pau d’arco has antioxidant compounds and can be used as part of a body detoxification plan. It can help cleanse the body’s tissues as well as purify the blood and the liver. Pau d’arco is also considered to be a gentle laxative and these processes together can help keep the skin healthy, fresh and free of damage.
The lapachol contained in the bark is also believed to be an antipsoriatic agent with the potential to treat psoriasis and other chronic skin complaints. (9) Pau d’arco can be applied topically to help treat skin conditions as well as taken orally.
As well as the conditions listed above, Pau d’arco might have a variety of other therapeutic applications including for influenza, fevers, diabetes and respiratory complaints while some people believe it helps as part of a weight loss plan. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims but traditional use and anecdotal evidence is strong.
However, Pau d’arco is rich in the antioxidant quercetin. Antioxidants are helpful for general health and disease prevention. Quercetin in particular has many health benefits including proven abilities to relax airway muscles (10). So the traditional claims of respiratory benefit may have merit but no direct evidence yet.
How to use it
Pau d’arco is readily available in a number of different forms including dried bark and powders used to make tea, tinctures and capsules. It can also be used topically in salves or ointments or in a douche for vaginal infections.
Quality is important and Pau d’arco harvested in the wild is considered by experts to be far more effective because the best lapachol originates from older trees. Because of its potential potency, it is recommended that Pau d’arco be taken for relatively short periods of time and that you build up a tolerance by taking smaller doses at first and gradually increasing the amount you take.
It should also be taken at intervals spread over the course of the day rather than all at once. Recommended doses are as follows:
- Tincture: 25 to 50 drops between once and 4 times a day
- Capsules: 2 to 3 capsules between once and 4 times a day
- Tea: a cup of tea between once and 4 times a day
- Pau d’arco might cause certain side effects especially when taken in large doses. These side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these reactions, you should stop taking Pau d’arco immediately.
- If you are pregnant or nursing an infant, you should not take Pau d’arco.
- Pau d’arco is not recommended for children owing to the lack of studies regarding its safety.
- Pau d’arco potentially causes an increased risk of bleeding and slows down the speed of blood clotting. Because of this you should not take Pau d’arco in the weeks leading up to surgery. Those with bleeding disorders such as hemophilia should also avoid the herb.
- Pau d’arco might interact with anticoagulant medications such as warfarin and aspirin and should be avoided if you are taking these or similar medications. Watch out for fakes or similar products trying to cash in on “Pau d’arco” name
- Stick with quality brands with trusted or tested sources. Many products may claim to be pau d’arco but instead be a closely related species. Pau’d arco is Tabebuia species (Tabebuia avellanedae and Tabebuia impetiginosa ). Sometimes Tecoma curialis will be labeled as Taheebo/ lampacho or Pau d’arco. Look for the specific species name Tabebuia avellanedae/Tabebuia impetiginosa in any product. All the versions we recommend have labeled and real Tabebuia impetiginosa (Pau d’ Arco Roxo) in them