Pau d'arco ( Tabebuia impetiginosa or Tabebuia avellanedae ) is a herbal supplement made from the inner bark of several species of Tabebuya trees native to the rainforests of Central and South America. In herbal medicine, bark extracts have long been used to treat a wide range of diseases.
Currently widely available in dietary supplements, Pau d'arco extract contains a powerful antioxidant known as quercetin , which is believed to have health benefits. Po d'arco is also rich in naphthoquinones, plant compounds that have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects. …
Pau d'arco (Portuguese for "bow-tree") is so named because the indigenous people of Brazil used it to make bows and arrows. The tree is also known as tahibo and iperoxo. The inner bark can be used to make a tea called lapacho.
What is Pau D'Arco used for?
In folk medicine, pau d'arco is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including anemia, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, eczema, enlarged prostate, flu, intestinal worms, sexually transmitted infections, infections of the skin, urinary tract infections, and even cancer. Overall, evidence to support these claims is lacking .
That said, there is some evidence that pau d'arco can help treat certain conditions. Here are some of the main findings:
Pau d'arco may help fight inflammation , according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology . A study in laboratory mice with drug-induced edema (inflammation of the tissues) showed that an aqueous extract of Pow d'arco was able to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory compounds known as prostaglandins .
Prostaglandins are produced at sites of infection or tissue damage, causing inflammation, pain, and heat during the healing process. By counteracting this effect, pau d'Arco can reverse the swelling and pain associated with inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis , rheumatoid arthritis , and benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate).
To date, there have been several studies looking at the use of pau d'arco to treat any of these inflammatory conditions.
The Tabebuya tree has several unique properties. Among them, the bark is highly resistant to rot, mold, and other common tree pathogens. These antimicrobial properties were long thought to be beneficial to humans by preventing or treating common bacterial, viral, or fungal infections .
Laboratory studies have identified compounds in pau d'arco known as naphthoquinones, including lapachol and beta-lapachone, which appear to have potent antimicrobial effects.
Similar studies have shown that it can do the same for viruses associated with the common cold (adenovirus), influenza (influenza virus), and herpes ( herpes simplex virus 1 ).
An early study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that of the 14 Paraguayan plants commonly used in traditional medicine, pau d'arco has the highest activity against fungi and yeasts, including Candida albicans (a fungus that causes oral candidiasis and yeast vaginal infection).
While this may indicate that pau d'arco can prevent or treat infections, the doses used in many test tube studies would be toxic to humans. More studies will be needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of pau d'arco under real-world conditions.
As bold as this claim may sound, the compounds in pau d'arco are believed to inhibit tumor growth, at least in vitro .
In a review of research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, scientists concluded that beta-lapachone found in pau d'arco is capable of inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) in certain types of cancer cells.
As a background, all normal cells undergo apoptosis so that old cells can be replaced by new ones. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are immortal, multiplying incessantly and gradually displacing normal cells by malignant ones. By restoring apoptosis, it is theoretically possible to control or even reverse cancers .
While there is absolutely no evidence that pow d'arco extracts can prevent or treat cancer, the study does hint at possible ways to develop anti-cancer drugs in the future .
Possible side effects.
Due to a lack of research, little is known about the long-term safety of the pau d'arco. Commonly reported side effects include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The likelihood and severity of side effects tend to increase with increasing dose.
When taken in doses greater than 1.5 grams (1,500 milligrams), Pau d'arco can become toxic and cause kidney or liver damage. Consuming too much pau d'arco can lead to severe vomiting, abdominal pain, fainting, and bloody stools.
Pau d'arco can slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using Pau d'arco at least two weeks before having any surgery.
Because pau d'arco can slow blood clotting, it should not be used with blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) or antiplatelet medications such as Plavix (clopidogrel). The same applies to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil (ibuprofen), Alev (naproxen), and Voltaren (diclofenac), the combined use of which can lead to gastric bleeding and stomach ulcers.
Due to the lack of safety studies, pau d'arco should not be used by children, pregnant women or nursing mothers. It should also be used with caution in people with kidney or liver disease. To avoid unexpected side effects or interactions, always tell your doctor about any herbal supplements or traditional medications you are taking.
Dosage and preparation
Pau d'arco is available in capsules, tablets, dried bark tea, bark powder, and alcohol-based tinctures. There are no guidelines for its proper use. Most pau d'arco supplements are sold in 500 to 550 milligram forms and are considered safe in this range.
Less confidence in the safety of the pau d'arco bark as the dose cannot be controlled. Just in case, add no more than one level teaspoon of dry pau d'arco powder to a cup of hot water to make tea. Strain the tea before drinking it and discard any remaining bark.
Pau d'arco supplements, tinctures and powders can be easily found on the Internet, as well as in a growing number of supplement stores and health food stores. Unless you are an experienced herbalist, it is best to avoid dried bark chips.
What to look for
Dietary supplements are largely unregulated in the United States. Because of this, the quality of supplements can vary considerably. This is especially true for medicinal herbs, the active ingredient of which is imported from abroad. Without routine testing of these products, you will never know how safe they are and if they contain what they say they do.
To ensure the best quality and safety, choose well-known nutritional supplement brands that have been on the market for a long time. While many vitamin manufacturers voluntarily submit their products for testing by an independent certification body such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab, herbal manufacturers rarely do so.
Whichever pau d'arco product you buy, it is important to read the label carefully to make sure it contains Tabebuia avellanedae or Tabebuia impetiginosa as an ingredient.
Are the pau d'arco trees in danger?
The popularity of pau d'arco in traditional medicine has raised concerns about the resistance of this species. Like the treetops of the Amazon, it is one of many endangered species as deforestation continues to wreak havoc in Brazil's rainforests. A related species known as Tabebuia guayacan is already listed as an endangered species.
If you are an environmentalist, you may want to consider using other natural therapies that have less impact on the Amazon biosphere.
Frequently asked questions
Pau d'arco is an herbal supplement derived from the bark of the Tabebuya tree, which is grown in the rainforests of Central and South America. Pau d'arco extract is rich in antioxidant quercetin. It also contains compounds known as naphthoquinones, which have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
Pau d'arco can relieve pain and inflammation in arthritis and help reduce swelling in benign prostatic hyperplasia. It can help prevent bacterial, viral, or fungal infections and cure yeast infections. However, more research is needed before pau d'arco can be recommended for the prevention and treatment of any disease.
Common side effects of pau d'arco include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In large doses (1500 milligrams), pau d'arco can be toxic and cause kidney or liver damage. Pau d'arco can also slow blood clotting. It should not be taken before surgery or used with blood thinners or antiplatelet medications.