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Pau d'arco (Tabebuia avellanedae) is native to South America, where it has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including pain, arthritis, inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis), fever, dysentery, boils and ulcers, and various cancers. As early as 1873, there were reported medicinal uses of pau d'arco.
Scientists have identified two active chemicals in pau d'arco. These chemicals are called naphthoquinones: lapachol and beta-lapachone. In lab tests, these chemicals killed some bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and may be effective against diseases such as osteoarthritis. But no one knows whether they will have the same effects in humans, and the dose required would have severe, toxic side effects.
Pau d'arco is sometimes used for the following conditions, although there is no evidence it works:
Test tube and animal studies have looked at whether pau d'arco has any effect on cancer. These tests have shown mixed results. Even in studies where pau d'arco did reduce the number of cancer cells, the amounts used would be toxic to humans.
The same is true of some of the doses that might be needed to kill bacteria or viruses. For this reason, you should take pau d'arco only under your health care provider's supervision.
The pau d'arco tree grows in the warm parts of Central and South America. It is a broad leaf evergreen that grows to a height of 125 feet and has pink-to-violet colored flowers. The tree's extremely hard wood makes it resistant to disease and decay. The inner bark of the tree is used medicinally. In recent years there has been an increasing demand for pau d'arco, causing the trees to become endangered.
What's It Made Of?
Most of the chemical research on pau d'arco has been done on the wood and not the inner bark. Pau d'arco contains chemical compounds called naphthoquinones, specifically lapachol and beta-lapachone. They seem to have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. They also contain significant amounts of the antioxidant quercetin.
Pau d'arco is sold as tablets, dried bark tea, and tincture (which contains alcohol). The chemicals that give pau d'arco its medicinal effects don't dissolve well in water, so a tea is not recommended.
Most pau d'arco products are not standardized, so it is hard to determine whether or not they contain a safe amount of these active substances. It is important to read the label carefully to make sure that the product actually contains Tabebuia avellanedae as an ingredient.
How to Take It
Do not give pau d'arco to infants or children.
It is important to discuss the dose with your health care provider, since large amounts of pau d'arco can be toxic. The risk of side effects seems to be greater when the dose of lapachol is more than 1.5 g per day. However, it can be hard to determine how much lapachol the powdered bark contains.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects, and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Talk to your health care provider to determine the proper dose of pau d'arco because too much can be dangerous.
At recommended doses, side effects are uncommon but may include anemia, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness.
High doses can cause uncontrolled bleeding and vomiting.
Pregnant and nursing women should not take pau d'arco.
Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners) -- Pau d'arco may affect the blood's ability to clot, and could interfere with blood-thinning drugs, including:
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Review Date: 7/6/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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