The People's Perspective on Medicine

Pau d’Arco

Pau d’arco, known as lapacho colorado in Argentina and Paraguay and as ipe roxo in Brazil, is a good example of the lure of the exotic. This South American native has been used medicinally by several indigenous groups.

There are several species of Tabebuia, and most appear to be broad-leaved evergreen trees with very hard wood that resists decay. It may be difficult to determine precisely which species is being sold as pau d’arco tea.

Pau d’arco has a reputation for having been used by the Incas, although it is not native to the high Andes.

It is said to be useful against cancer, diabetes, rheumatism, and ulcers, as well as several other ailments.

Readers of “The People’s Pharmacy®” have reported success in using it topically as a soak to cure fungus-ridden toenails. Extracts have been used topically to treat Candida yeast infections.

Overall, however, the research on pau d’arco does not offer strong support for most of the medicinal claims made for it.

The part of the tree used is the inner bark, and the preparation made from it is sometimes termed taheebo.

Pau d’arco Active Ingredients

Pau d’arco, or taheebo, contains a number of quinone compounds, including the naphthoquinone lapachol and the anthraquinone tabebuin. These and related compounds are assumed to be the active ingredients.

Uses of Pau d’arco

Lapachol has antibacterial activity, and a related compound fights off fungus and yeast. Lapachol has demonstrated activity against malaria, a property that would certainly be useful for people in the areas where Tabebuia species grow wild.

Test tube and animal research in the 1950s and 1960s indicated that taheebo extract and lapachol could slow the growth of certain tumors. The National Cancer Institute subsequently tested lapachol for anticancer activity in humans, with disappointing results.

Some practitioners report anecdotes of marvelous cancer cures, but the Brazilian Cancer Society disavows its use.

In human trials, it was difficult to attain therapeutically active levels of lapachol with oral administration, and when levels did get high enough, most people suffered serious adverse effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Taheebo extract has anti-inflammatory activity, at least in rats. Researchers have also found that it helps animals resist ulcers. In laboratory studies on human blood cells, lapachol had immunosuppressant effects at higher doses and immunostimulant activity at low doses.

Dose

Standard dose has not been determined.

Special Precautions of Pau d’arco

Pregnant women should not take taheebo internally because there is no evidence of its safety, although it can provoke adverse reactions.

Pau d’arco should be discontinued before surgery because of the danger of excessive bleeding.

Adverse Effects of Pau d’arco

Studies of pau d’arco in humans have noted reactions such as severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, anemia, and bleeding. Administering vitamin K stopped the bleeding.

Possible Interactions with Pau d’arco

The fact that taheebo causes vitamin K-reversible bleeding strongly suggests that it would interact with anticoagulants such as Coumadin to increase the danger of hemorrhage.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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