Pau d’arco

What Is It?

To treat a host of ills ranging from fungal infections to the common cold, traditional healers in South and Central America have long brewed a tea made from the inner bark of a native evergreen tree of the Tabebuia species.

Today, this healing brew, variously referred to as pau d’arco or Taheebo, is readily available in North American health-food stores and sold as a “cure” for cancer and numerous other ills (including diabetes, warts, and vaginal yeast infections). Whether pau d’arco actually works for any of these conditions is unclear and the subject of ongoing confusion and controversy.

During the 1970s the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) actually tested pau d’arco in human studies after finding that it shrank cancerous malignancies in animals. Researchers discovered that while large doses of one of the herb’s key ingredients (lapachol) could destroy cancer cells, the side effects produced in the patients (blood-clotting abnormalities, anemia, nausea) were too severe. Further studies were abandoned.

Today, the majority of practicing herbalists cite both a lack of proven effectiveness and the toxicity that’s associated with high doses as reasons for recommending against taking pau d’arco to treat cancer, although some consider it useful to take as an immune booster while fighting the disease.

Health Benefits

While many health claims for pau d’arco have not been substantiated–including the far-reaching assertion that it can “cure” various forms of cancer–there are some positive findings.

Researchers have detected in the inner bark of the Tabebuia trees a handful of powerful infection-fighting compounds called naphthoquinones. One of these substances (lapachol) seems to be particularly potent. Naphthoquinones appear to help kill certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and fungi, partially justifying the name given to this herbal remedy (“tajy,” meaning to have strength and vigor) by the Guarani and Tupi tribes in South America.

In addition, laboratory studies have demonstrated that pau d’arco has anti-fungal properities on par with a common anti-fungal prescription drug (ketoconazole). This action likely explains its effectiveness for vaginal infections (caused by the yeast Candida), as well as for fighting the fungi responsible for athlete’s foot, jock itch, and other common fungal skin infections. (Commercially available products are available for this purpose.)

Some herbalists also recommend pau d’arco to strengthen immunity in the presence of such ailments as cancer, HIV or AIDS, chronic bronchitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Specifically, pau d’arco may help to:

Treat vaginal yeast infections. Anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal actions in pau d’arco appear to be effective in restoring the vagina to a normal state. Herbalists recommend a pau d’arco tea douche for this purpose.

Eliminate warts. Pau d’arco applied directly to warts allows the antiviral compounds in the bark to get to work. Once diluted, pau d’arco is even safe to use on genital warts. However, be sure to see a doctor if you develop a genital wart; such warts are not only transmitted sexually (and partners should be protected), but can cause serious complications in a woman’s reproductive organs.
Note: Pau d’arco has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Pau d’Arco.

Forms

tincture
tablet
softgel
powder
ointment
liquid
dried herb/tea
capsule

Dosage Information

While many health claims for pau d’arco have not been substantiated–including the far-reaching assertion that it can “cure” various forms of cancer–there are some positive findings.

Researchers have detected in the inner bark of the Tabebuia trees a handful of powerful infection-fighting compounds called naphthoquinones. One of these substances (lapachol) seems to be particularly potent. Naphthoquinones appear to help kill certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and fungi, partially justifying the name given to this herbal remedy (“tajy,” meaning to have strength and vigor) by the Guarani and Tupi tribes in South America.

In addition, laboratory studies have demonstrated that pau d’arco has anti-fungal properities on par with a common anti-fungal prescription drug (ketoconazole). This action likely explains its effectiveness for vaginal infections (caused by the yeast Candida), as well as for fighting the fungi responsible for athlete’s foot, jock itch, and other common fungal skin infections. (Commercially available products are available for this purpose.)

Some herbalists also recommend pau d’arco to strengthen immunity in the presence of such ailments as cancer, HIV or AIDS, chronic bronchitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Specifically, pau d’arco may help to:

Treat vaginal yeast infections. Anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal actions in pau d’arco appear to be effective in restoring the vagina to a normal state. Herbalists recommend a pau d’arco tea douche for this purpose.

Eliminate warts. Pau d’arco applied directly to warts allows the antiviral compounds in the bark to get to work. Once diluted, pau d’arco is even safe to use on genital warts. However, be sure to see a doctor if you develop a genital wart; such warts are not only transmitted sexually (and partners should be protected), but can cause serious complications in a woman’s reproductive organs.
Note: Pau d’arco has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Pau d’Arco.

Guidelines for Use

The best formulation for internal complaints are products standardized to contain 2% to 7% lapachol; these can be difficult to locate, however. An effective alternative is a product containing 3% naphthoquinones. Some herbal specialists prefer this formulation because it’s made from whole pieces of the bark rather than an isolated compound (lapachol), meaning it may therefore provide still unidentified healing benefits.

If a skin irritation develops while you are using pau d’arco tincture or liquid extract to treat a wart or fungal infection, dilute the tincture with a small quantity of water or vegetable oil. If irritation continues despite diluting the tincture or liquid extract, stop using it. Also, protect the skin surrounding the wart with a bit of petroleum jelly. Dilution is always necessary if treating a genital wart.

General Interaction

Taken internally, pau d’arco can intensify the blood-thinning effect of anticoagulant medications, causing excessive bleeding and other problems. Consult your doctor for guidance before taking these types of medications together.

Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

Possible Side Effects

If a pau d’arco supplement or tea upsets your stomach, take it with food. Stop taking it altogether if stomach upset continues.

Cautions

Avoid high doses of pau d’arco, which can cause nausea, vomiting, excessive bleeding, and other complications. Seek medical attention immediately if such reactions develop.

Limit your intake of pau d’arco to a week or so; this potent herb may pose notable health risks when taken internally for longer periods.

Because the risks are unknown, avoid pau d’arco if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Ailments-Dosage

Cancer 1 tsp. liquid extract diluted in water 3 times a day

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