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Health Benefits of Pau d'arco

Chandramita Bora
Pau d'arco is believed to have numerous benefits for health, right from fighting viral infections to strengthening the immune system. Learn some more benefits of this traditional medicine in this story.
Did You Know?
Pau d'arco is also known as 'taheebo' and 'lapacho'. The botanical name of pau d'arco is Handroanthus impetiginosus.
Pau d'arco is a hardwood evergreen tree native to the rainforests of Central and South America. The name pau d'arco is of Portuguese origin, and it means, 'bow stick', as the tree was used by the native Brazilians to make bows.
The tree has a long history of being used as a traditional medicine for a host of health problems. It is believed that the tea prepared from the inner bark of the tree was used by the ancient Incans and the natives of South America as a tonic to boost health.
Though pau d'arco has been a part of traditional medicine for a long time, it became popular throughout the world, when a Brazilian physician claimed in the mid-1960s that it can cure numerous health problems including cancer, and increase the number of red blood cells in the body. As a result, several studies were carried out to find out the active chemicals present in the bark of pau d'arco and their effectiveness in treating health problems, especially cancer.
Pau d'arco Health Benefits

Pau d'arco is used in traditional medicine to treat a wide range of health problems including fungal infections, pain, fever, dysentery, and skin disorders. It can also be found in a large number of herbal supplements, which promote it as immensely beneficial for health. A few of the most important health benefits of this herbal medicine are discussed below.

Possesses Cancer-fighting Properties

The anti-cancer effect of pau d'arco can be mainly attributed to the presence of two active chemicals - lapachol and beta-lapachone. In laboratory studies, lapachol has been found to be effective for fighting metastasis.
However, this chemical can prevent blood clotting if taken in a large amount. To be effective against cancer, lapachol has to be taken in high doses, and this can prevent blood clotting to such an extent that the risk of severe internal bleeding can increase considerably. This is the reason why research on lapachol has been stopped.
The other chemical, beta-lapachone, has also been studied for its effect on cancer cells. It has been observed in laboratory studies that beta-lapachone can impair the ability of a cancer cell to repair its DNA. But so far studies have not been conducted to find out the effects of beta-lapachone in humans.

Possesses Anti-inflammatory Properties

Both lapachol and beta-lapachone have been found to possess anti-inflammatory properties. A study conducted in mice have found that pau d'arco may help suppress the production of prostaglandins, a substance that is responsible for producing inflammatory response in the body. This study was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2008.
So, it is believed that pau d'arco may help alleviate pain and inflammation, and provide relief from inflammatory conditions like arthritis. The chemical lapachol is also known to possess analgesic effect, for which many clinics in South America administer it to cancer patients to lessen their pain.

Fights Fungal Infection

Pau d'arco has been found to be effective in fighting fungal infections including candidiasis. In 2001, a report was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, where the antifungal properties of pau d'arco have been mentioned. The chemical lapachol found in the bark of pau d'arco is often used to treat yeast infections.

Promotes Regular Bowel Movement

Pau d'arco is also known to have laxative properties, for which it can help ensure regular bowel movements. So, lapacho or pau d'arco can help prevent constipation and promote colon health.

Stimulates the Immune System

The immune-stimulating effect of pau d'arco can also be attributed to the chemical lapachol. This chemical can activate the immune cells, especially the lymphocytes and granulocytes, and enhance their ability to fight pathogens.

Protects Against Free Radicals

Due to its antioxidant properties, pau d'arco can protect the cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are thought to be associated with a number of diseases including cancer. By inhibiting the effects of free radicals, pau d'arco can also help slow down the aging process. It contains the powerful antioxidant selenium, which can eliminate free radicals from the body.

Other Health Benefits

Pau d'arco is considered a herbal remedy for a number of health conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis, infections of the bladder and prostate, gastritis, liver ailments, joint pain, hernia, ringworm, viral respiratory infections, flu, and infectious diarrhea. However, it should be noted that the effectiveness of pau d'arco for treating these illnesses has not been clinically evaluated.

Possible Side Effects and Interactions

» When taken in high doses, pau d'arco can cause several side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. Therefore, this herbal medicine should be taken with caution.
» Pau d'arco contains a chemical known as hydroquinone, which can cause liver and kidney damage if taken in high doses. Pau d'arco should not be given to infants and children.
» It is better to avoid pau d'arco during pregnancy. Women who are breastfeeding should also avoid it, as the safety of this herbal medicine during breastfeeding has not been clinically evaluated.
» People having bleeding disorders should not take pau d'arco without consulting their health care provider, as it can delay blood clotting.
» As pau d'arco can delay blood clotting, it may increase the risk of bleeding during a surgery. Therefore, it is better to avoid this herbal medicine a few weeks before and after a surgery.
» Pau d' arco can interact with anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs. As pau d'arco can slow down blood clotting, it can increase the risk of bleeding and bruising if taken along with these medication.
Considering the benefits and side effects of pau d'arco, it can be concluded that this herbal medicine may prove beneficial for certain illnesses. But, it is always safe to consult a health care practitioner before taking herbal medicines or supplements in order to avoid undesirable effects.
Moreover, the pau d'arco tree has been listed as endangered by Brazil in 2012. So, what is sold as pau d'arco tea and supplement may contain the bark of some other types of trees, more commonly the bark of a related species known as Tecoma curialis. Therefore, be sure to buy pau d'arco supplement only from a reputed brand to avoid contaminated products.