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Pau D'Arco

What Should You Know About It?

By

Updated June 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Pau D'Arco
CostaPPPR/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Pau d'arco (Tabebuia impetiginosa and Tabebuia avellanedae) is a type of tree native to the rainforests of Central and South America. In herbal medicine, extracts of the bark of the pau d'arco tree have long been used to treat a range of health problems. Now widely available in dietary supplement form, pau d'arco extract is said to offer a number of health benefits.

Pau d'arco contains many compounds thought to influence health, including quercetin (a type of antioxidant) and anthraquinones (a substance with laxative effects).

Benefits of Pau D'Arco

To date, research on the health effects of pau d'arco is fairly limited. However, there's some evidence that pau d'arco may offer certain benefits. Here's a look at several key study findings:

1) Cancer

In a report published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, scientists reviewed the available research on pau d'arco and found that the herb may offer anti-cancer benefits. For example, laboratory studies indicate that beta-lapachone (a compound found in pau d'arco) may help induce apoptosis: a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells. Until the anti-cancer effects of pau d'arco are explored in larger studies, however, pau d'arco cannot be recommended in treatment or prevention of cancer.

2) Inflammation

Pau d'arco may also help fight inflammation, according to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2008. In tests on mice, the study's authors determined that pau d'arco may suppress the production of pro-inflammatory substances known as prostaglandins. Although the study's authors conclude that pau d'arco extract could potentially aid in the treatment of inflammation-related conditions like arthritis and atherosclerosis, it's important to note that there is currently a lack of clinical trials testing the use of pau d'arco for these conditions.

3) Fungal Infections

For a 2001 report published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers analyzed the antifungal activity of 14 types of Paraguayan plants commonly used in traditional medicine. Their findings revealed that — along with Paraguayan starbur, palo blanco, and corrida yerba de guava — pau d'arco had the highest activity against fungi and yeasts.

Uses for Pau D'Arco

Pau d'arco extract is typically touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

In addition, some proponents claim that pau d'arco can prevent and treat certain types of cancer, improve digestive health, boost the immune system, and promote detox.

Safety

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing pau d'arco. However, there's some concern that certain compounds found in pau d'arco may have toxic effects when taken at high doses. These compounds include hydroquinone, which may cause liver and kidney damage.

In addition, pau d'arco may trigger side effects like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Since pau d'arco may also cause blood clotting, it should be avoided by people with clotting disorders and/or anyone using blood-thinning medications.

Where To Find Pau D'Arco

Widely available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing pau d'arco extract can be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Byeon SE, Chung JY, Lee YG, Kim BH, Kim KH, Cho JY. "In vitro and in vivo anti-inflammatory effects of taheebo, a water extract from the inner bark of Tabebuia avellanedae." J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Sep 2;119(1):145-52.

Gómez Castellanos JR, Prieto JM, Heinrich M. "Red Lapacho (Tabebuia impetiginosa)--a global ethnopharmacological commodity?" J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jan 12;121(1):1-13.

Portillo A, Vila R, Freixa B, Adzet T, Cañigueral S. "Antifungal activity of Paraguayan plants used in traditional medicine." J Ethnopharmacol. 2001 Jun;76(1):93-8.

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