see Pau d'Arco



Lapacho (Tabebuia avellanedae) is also known by the Portuguese name of Pau d'Arco and the tribal names taheebo and ipe roxo. Native people have also called it "the divine tree." Used in Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia for thousands of years, lapacho has much in common with echinacea and ginseng. However, it appears to surpass both of them as a potential cancer treatment.

Lapacho has been used for many years as a standard treatment for some kinds of cancer and all types of infections by physicians throughout Brazil. However, because the government had ordered a blackout on reports of "miraculous" herbal cures, it was not until 1981 when a physician broke the ban and a clinical review was published, stimulating worldwide interest in the plant. Dr. Mowrey notes that besides being an effective cancer treatment, use of lapacho eliminates many of the undesirable side effects of orthodox treatment, including pain, hair loss, and immune dysfunction.

The National Cancer Institute did begin research on the herb. However, the whole plant was used only in initial studies. In succeeding studies, lapachol, the so-called "active" ingredient was used. By itself lapachol had side effects and the project was abandoned. Of course this was the flaw of the research. As Dr. Murray remarks, "Because the initial studies came from a whole plant, the detailed studies should have been undertaken on the whole plant....Was it too complex to consider the chemical reactions of more than 20 components...? Or did the standard economic/political incentive for patenting an analog impede the investigation of a plant species?"

Besides its anticancer effects, lapacho is active against viruses, fungi, parasites, and some bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Brucella. It also displays anti-inflammatory activity. A number of viruses are inhibited by various components of this rain forest herb. Those affected include herpes I and II, influenza viruses, and poliovirus. Experiments show that components of lapacho are able to obstruct key viral enzymes, including not only those that directly affect the synthesis of DNA and RNA but also the enzyme crucial to the RNA/DNA relationship. When these processes are inhibited, the virus cannot use the cell to replicate itself. Both Drs. Mowrey and Murray comment on the importance of this inhibiting action for possible use against AIDS and Epstein Barr.

Lapacho is best known and most widely used in the U.S. for its antimicrobial activity against intestinal and vaginal Candida albicans infections. However, there are several dozen fungi that are affected by it. Interestingly, when taken orally, lapacho is secreted onto the surface of the skin where it acts as a topical barrier against infection. It has also been used topically on fungal infections of the toe and fingernails. (Soak toes and fingers in lapacho tea a couple of times a day for several weeks.)

Lapacho's predisposition to secrete onto the skin's surface also creates an effective barrier against parasitic infection. It also performs its magic in the intestinal tract. Studies show that several tropical parasites, the cause of much torment, are curtailed by lapacho. Lapacho also has demonstrable anti-inflammatory activity with low toxicity. Dr. Murray reports that tampons soaked in lapacho extract were a successful treatment for several kinds of vaginal inflammation.

There have been no signs of toxicity when the whole bark is used. Lapacho does have a slight laxative effect and may loosen the stool somewhat. The FDA approved the use of lapacho in 1981. The usual dose is tea of the boiled bark taken 2-8 times daily. When used for vaginitis, tampons can stay in place for 24 hours. As with ginseng, there are "lapacho" products of dubious quality on the market. Once again, ask for a product that gets a lot of return sales.


Following are the references drawn upon most heavily for this issue:

Healing AIDS Naturally. Badgley, Laurence, M.D. San Bruno, CA: Human Energy Press, 1986. ($14.95.)

Herbal Tonic Therapies. Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1993. ($14.95)

The Healing Power of Herbs. Murray, Michael T., N.D. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1992. ($12.95)

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