Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash
Pau d'arco (pronounced pow-de-ah-co) is a large canopy tree native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. Its inner bark has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes by indigenous populations as it is naturally anticandidal, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer. Today it is used regularly for cancer treatments in Argentina, Brazil and South American countries.
As with many alternative and complementary cancer treatments, pau d'arco is controversial. While initial scientific research indicates pau d'arco may prevent cancer cells from increasing and slow tumor expansion by stopping tumors from growing blood vessels, no study has researched the effects of the entire herb on humans. The National Cancer Institute claims the high doses of pau d'arco necessary to combat cancer include side effects that are too dangerous. Yet, the study they reference isolated and focused on one single patentable compound, lapachol, rather than the 20+ active chemicals in the whole plant extract, some of which are believed to neutralize lapachol's negative side effects. It's important to read about the pros and cons of this herb and make your own decision about adding it to your wellness protocol.
If you decide to try pau d'arco, only purchase it from reputable vendors with clear ingredients labels. Only the inner lining of bark from the Tabebuia Impetiginosa or Tabebuia Avellandae species should be used, and it should be aged after harvesting to maximize effectiveness. (Be wary of suppliers who use both the inner and outer bark, which diminishes the quality and potency of the herb.) When preparing the bark for consumption, it must be boiled for at least 8-10 minutes rather than steeped as a simple tea.
As with any dietary supplement, it is important to fully research and form your own opinion on whether pau d'arco is right for you in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional. Below are some resource links to help you get started.
The Healing Power of Rainforest Plants
Provides a critical analysis of pau d'arco scientific research and studies, specifically as a cancer treatment. Also highlights reliability concerns around purchasing commercially-available pau d'arco.
By Christine Ruggeri, CHHC
A good overview of pau d'arco, its nutrition, health benefits, uses and potential side effects.
By Dr. Mercola
This article focuses specifically on the following health benefits of pau d'arco: boosting energy production in our mitochondria, strengthening immunity, antiviral effects and potential positive impact on overall health and longevity.
Provides an overview of pau d'arco, including effectiveness, safety concerns and interactions with foods, medications and other herbs & supplements.
By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD
Addresses existing research on pau d'arco and its potential to help: treat infections, inhibit inflammation and reduce weight. Also discusses safety, forms and dosage.
Integrative, Functional & Alternative Medicine
Provided by a group of integrative, functional and alternative health practitioners. Discusses helath benefits, forms, dosage information, guidelines for use, cautions and side effects.
Also mentions a human study conducted by the NCI during the 1970s where researchers isolated lapachol, one of pau d'arco's key ingredients, for use on cancer patients. Researchers discovered that while large doses of lapachol could destroy cancer cells, the side effects produced in the patients (blood-clotting abnormalities, anemia, nausea) were too severe and further studies were abandoned. However, what this site does not discuss is that the side effects of isolated lapachol are much more intense than the side effects of the pau d'arco herb as a whole, which contains other helpful & neutralizing compounds. (See Raintree write-up above.)
By Walter Luebeck
This book provides some background on pau d'arco's history, its many uses and healing benefits. It includes preparation techniques as well as the best recipes for using the tea effectively.
By Kenneth Jones
A short book with a lot of powerful, well-balanced information on pao d'arco. It includes details on the different varieties of pau d’arco and their applications in South American folk medicine, as well as providing clear instructions on how to prepare and dose the herb as both a tea and an extract. This book also reviews the wide-ranging scientific literature concerning pau d’arco and summarizes the results of the most up-to-date research on its medicinal benefits.
By Rita Elkins
While this book is extremely expensive on Amazon right now, we are including the link so you are aware of it. If you are able to find it for a reasonable price elsewhere, please let us know so that we can direct others to the same vendor.
Get the Facts on Pau D'Arco
A website fully dedicated to pau d'arco. It covers many topics in detail, including: overall health benefits, how pau d'arco can help the body heal from specific conditions, forms in which it can be bought/ingested, precautions and advice for purchasing.