Pau D’Arco (Tabebuia avellanedae/Tabebuia impetiginosa) also known as Red Lapacho, is a canopy tree native to the Amazon rainforest and other areas in South America (Castellanos). It is a broadleaf evergreen tree that grows up to 125 ft in height with it’s wood being extremely hard which makes it resistant to decay. The inner bark is what is actually used for medicinal purposes (“Complementary and Alternative Medicine”).
Pau D’Arco has been known to be a “miraculous” cure for cancer and tumors. Traditionally it has been used locally to treat bacterial and fungal conditions, fever, syphilis, malaria, trypanosomiasis, bladder, and stomach disorders through ingestion of the inner bark of the tree (Castellanos).
The two main bioactive ingredients of Tabebuia impetiginosa include lepachol and β-lapachone. In vitro and in vivo studies show the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and anticancer properties. Despite this, human studies conducted are limited and safety for treating cancer using Pau D’Arco remains unclear (“Pau D'arco.”).
Benefits and Uses
As mentioned before, Pau D’Arco has multiple uses traditionally, that has given this botanical drug its name as a ‘wonder drug’ in Brazil and Argentina (Castellanos).
The prominent uses include:
- Cancer Treatment
- β-lapachone is considered as the main antitumor compound and causes apoptosis, or cell death, of tumor cells (Lee, J.I.).
- Despite the mechanism being unclear, T. avellanedae bark was found to be actively fighting against fungal strains by inhibiting their growth (Portillo).
- Inflammation (natural response to infection)
- In a study that observed Taheebo, which is the purple inner bark of Tabebuia avellanedae tree, it was found that taheebo led to anti-inflammatory effects as it inhibited inflammation by 30-50% compared with the control (Lee, Mu Hong).
There are no severe side effects from Pau D’Arco but some minor effects include (“Pau D'arco.”):
- Urine discoloration
While human studies are limited, in animal studies, anemia and reproductive abnormalities were also reported.
Additionally, it has been noted that Pau D’Arco could interfere with blood thinning (antiplatelet) drugs such as aspirin, clopidogrel, and warfarin (“Complementary and Alternative Medicine”). This is because of it’s slow blood clotting properties which basically means that bleeding will take a while to stop. And with blood thinning drugs, this effect could be worsened, which is not ideal if one is going under any sort of surgical procedure (Wong).
Due to limited research, it is also important to keep in mind that it should not be given to children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers (Wong).
Pau D’Arco is available in many forms, including
- Dried bark tea
- Bark powder
- Alcohol based extract (dissolving bark in alcohol)
With limited guidelines, most supplements are sold in 500 - 550 mg dosages. With the bark itself, it's hard to estimate dosage but to be safe, take no more than one teaspoon of dried pau d’arco powder with one cup of hot water and strain the tea before drinking (Wong).
It is important to keep in mind that dosage is dependent on individual needs and body, so make sure that you follow the suggested dosage given in the supplement bottle and for liquid forms, due to more active compounds in them, make sure to test smaller doses first.
In general, Pau D’Arco is a botanical supplement from the inner bark of a tree originating in the Amazon and areas of South America.
It is known for its positive effects for infections, as an anti-inflammatory and a cancer treatment supplement.
Even though effectiveness on humans remains unknown, the limited studies so far do show promise. Regardless, doses should be watched for and keep in mind not to take it while taking blood thinning drugs.
Castellanos, J. Rubén Gómez, et al. “Red Lapacho (Tabebuia Impetiginosa)—A Global Ethnopharmacological Commodity?” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 121, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1–13., doi:10.1016/j.jep.2008.10.004.
“Complementary and Alternative Medicine - Penn State Hershey Medical Center - Penn State Hershey Medical Center.” Penn State Hershey Health Information Library, pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productid=107.
Lee, J.I., et al. “β-LAPACHONE INDUCES GROWTH INHIBITION AND APOPTOSIS IN BLADDER CANCER CELLS BY MODULATION OF BCL-2 FAMILY AND ACTIVATION OF CASPASES.” Experimental Oncology, vol. 28, no. 1, 2006, pp. 30–35.
Lee, Mu Hong, et al. “Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects in Animal Models of an Ethanolic Extract of Taheebo, the Inner Bark of Tabebuia Avellanedae.” Molecular Medicine Reports, vol. 6, no. 4, 2012, pp. 791–796., doi:10.3892/mmr.2012.989.
“Pau D'arco.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2020, www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/pau-d-arco.
Portillo, Aida, et al. “Antifungal Activity of Paraguayan Plants Used in Traditional Medicine.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 76, no. 1, 2001, pp. 93–98., doi:10.1016/s0378-8741(01)00214-8.
Wong, Cathy. The Health Benefits of Pau D'Arco. www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-pau-darco-89494.