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Pau D'Arco - Folk Remedy: Scientifically Valid?
Pau d'arco (pronounced "pow darko"), or taheebo, is derived from the inner bark of the Tabebuia or purple lapacho tree, a large evergreen native to Brazil and the South American tropics.

The herb once called the "giver of life" has a long history of use that dates back to the medicine men of the Inca Empire of South America. There is actually some evidence suggesting that the use of this tree for medicinal purposes pre-dates the Inca Indians. Evidence also suggests that tribes based miles apart from one another used the inner bark for many of the same purposes - wood for hunting bows and in preparations to treat many of the same common tribal afflictions. Despite the uncertainty of the exact origins of its medicinal usage, the tree remains an important staple in South American medicine.

The inner bark of this tree has been used as an astringent (tissue constrictor), analgesic (pain reliever), anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, laxative, and diuretic. The list of health indications for which pau d'arco has purported to be beneficial reads like an index of a family medical encyclopedia. In South America, Europe, and North America, the herb has been used to relieve fevers, arthritic pain and gastrointestinal complaints.

If we analyze the research conducted on pau d'arco in its totality, we can get a clearer picture of how this herb can be best applied within the area of alternative medicine. We may also find that the studies lend support to the more common traditional uses of the herb. In this way, pau d'arco will reveal its distinct character with a more focused healing application and we can confidently find a place for it in the context of a modern-day health regime. Simply put, history says it can do almost everything; let's see what science says!

Under the Microscope

Pau d'arco contains the following biochemical constituents: alkaloids, lapachol, catequines, esteroids, simple fenols, flavonols, flavones, flavonones, cianogenic heterosides, resins, saponins, triterpenes and xantones. It is, however, lapachol, the yellowish dust in the wood of the tree that has been the focus of most of the pau d'arco research. Lapachol is typically present in 2% to 7% of true pau d'arco.

The Studies

- Although not placebo-controlled, a 1980 study revealed how pure isolated lapachol had an analgesic effect on nine patients with immunity deficiencies.

- A 1994 in vitro study based out of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria confirmed that pau d'arco, among other plants examined, possessed antimicrobial properties.1

- Hot aqueous extracts of pau d'arco have been shown to be antibacterial when introduced to bacterial strains such as staphylococcus aureus, helicobacter pylori (ulcer-causing bacteria), and brucella.

- Water-based extracts of the herb have fought viruses such as influenza and a variety of fungal and yeast strains within the confines of laboratory research.

- In 1997, a study out of the University of Western Ontario, Canada showed how lapachol, the key chemical component in pau d'arco, demonstrated immunity boosting properties in vitro. This lends support to the traditional use of the herb for immunity deficiencies.2

- Studies from the late 60s and 70s conducted on animals revealed the ability of lapachol to improve immunity. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) experimented with high doses of lapachol in the 70s to improve immunity; due to unpleasant side effects, lapachol treatment and investigation was abandoned. However, critics insist that the whole herb rather than the extracted lapachol would have inherent buffers for safety and thus therapeutic dose of lapachol could be administered with minimal toxicity.

Research Summary

Either pure pau d'arco in aqueous form or isolated preparations of lapachol have laboratory-confirmed actions that are antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiparasitic and antifungal.

One can easily make the leap in logic to how pau d'arco might be beneficial in the pursuit of better health. This is not a guarantee that commercial supplements have equal efficacy to the substances used in the laboratory.

Nevertheless, there is a firm biochemical foundation for the use of pau d'arco in bacteria-related, fungus-related, or parasitic or viral health complaints. Given these findings, pau d'arco must definitely be taken seriously and it undoubtedly warrants more research.

Did the National Cancer Institute give up too soon? Will the virtues of pau d'arco be fully understood for the betterment of health worldwide? Obviously, one herbal supplement is not a magic solution, but we must take advantage of the natural gifts that grace the fields and forests of our planet!

Safety First

Pau d'arco does not seem to affect healthy human cells adversely despite its traditional use in improving immunity and attack certain types of fungus, microbes, parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Nausea, mild gastrointestinal discomfort, and blood thinning effects have only arisen with high doses of lapachol.

Chemicals within pau d'arco seem to have a net counteracting action in terms of the herb's overall effect on vitamin K - some deplete the vitamin while some have a pro-vitamin K action.

Symptoms common to detoxification may be experienced, but this is common to many alterative tonics and the symptoms disappear after the cells have been cleared. The herb was approved for use and for safety by the FDA in 1981.

The Products

ZooScape.com offers a variety of quality pau d'arco supplements in loose or bagged (filtered) teas, capsules, powders, glycerin-based extracts, blends, and even topical creams and salves.

Here's to your health!

References:

1. Binutu OA, Lajubutu BA, Department of Pharmacognosy, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Afr J Med Med Sci, 23: 3, 1994 Sep, 269-73

2. Dinnen RD, Ebisuzaki K, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. Anticancer Res 1997 Mar-Apr;17(2A):1027-33

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