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Pau D’Arco: Anticancer Herb from the Amazon

Bedside Manners / anti-cancer  / Pau D’Arco: Anticancer Herb from the Amazon

Pau D’Arco: Anticancer Herb from the Amazon

How many cancer drugs can one find in nature? Well according to recent reports, approximately 60% of cancer drugs get their start from a plant, with 84 anticancer drugs isolated from Brazil’s Amazon forest [1].  The Lapacho tree, also known as the herb pau d’arco, is one of them, having been hidden to those outside of the Amazon for centuries, perhaps millennia, with historical uses in indigenous medicine for the following:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Cancer, several types including breast, lung and leukemias
  • Fever
  • Fungal infections
  • Inflammation
  • Malaria
  • Stomach ailments
  • Viral infections

In recent years the ingredient that gives this tree its healing properties was discovered and coined beta- (β) lapachone, a natural quinone compound. If you’re a malaria survivor, or familiar with the disease, then you’ve heard of quinone drugs, as they’re used to fight this infection.

Pau D’Arco’s Anticancer Effects

In lab experiments, colon cancer cells exposed to beta-lapachone were inhibited by it in the following ways:

1) Cancer Cell Death: Also known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death, beta-lapachone causes cancer cells to die when they’re exposed to it

2) Cancer Cells Stop Growing: also known as cell cycle arrest, this active ingredient from pau d’arco inhibits the one thing cancer cells are known for, continuous, non-stop cell growth, which ultimately results in large tumors

3) Cancer Does Not Metastasize: in animal studies conducted in mice, who were injected with lung cancer cells then exposed to beta-lapachone, the cancer did not spread to new locations [2]

Studies published in medical journals on the effectiveness of pau d’arco, and its active ingredient beta-laphachone, against cancer have only been shown in laboratory experiments. These petri dish experiments expose various types of cancer cells to beta-lapachone. In addition, there have been a limited number of animal studies, mainly in mice, that have been used to show its effectiveness.  So which cancerous cells is it active against? Here’s a list:

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Leukemia
  • Lung
  • Melanoma
  • Prostate

While scientists continue to unravel the anticancer mysteries of pau d’arco’s beta-lapachone, a few glimmers of insight have emerged. Its main activity, which is apoptosis, is caused by inhibiting two important enzymes involved in the production of new DNA (called DNA replication): topoisomerase I and II [2]. DNA is the basis of all life as it contains the genetic material that makes proteins, the building blocks of your body (in science, a huge paradigm is DNA → RNA → Protein). If you block the production of new DNA, or even stop it from making RNA, then a cell will die.  By inhibiting the topoisomerase enzymes you will cause cell death, and that’s apoptosis in a nutshell.

Clinical Considerations

The information contained herewith is for educational purposes only. Pau D’arco has been said to exhibit side effects which include prolonged blood clotting time, nausea and vomiting.  There have been reports in the media, mainly in Brazil in the 1970’s, on this drug being used in hospitalized cancer patients with good effect [3], however these reports have not been duplicated and published (that this author knows of). There is a lack of information showing pau d’arco is effective clinically, therefore one should consult a licensed healthcare provider for further consultation.

There has been one study published in a medical journal that showed it was effective in reducing the radiation side effects in head and neck cancer patients, with good outcomes [4]. However, the study included only 40 patients and no similar reports could be found.

Herbal Supplementation

Adding herbs to your cancer prevention strategy is as simple as a tea, liquid tincture or herbal capsules. You can event find pau d’arco in herbal blends for “detoxification.”  As oral pau d’arco is not easily absorbed by our bodies, according to one report [3], it’s possible that a cup of tea won’t cause the side effects mentioned above, but consult your licensed healthcare provider before starting any herbal remedy.

A good source of this herb is Mountain Rose Herbs, Traditional Medicinals, and Alvita for loose herb and tea bags.


  1. Gomes de Melo J, et al. Medicinal plants used as antitumor agents in brazil: an ethnobotanical approach. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 011;2011:epub.
  2. Higa RA, et al. Study of antineoplastic activity of Tabebela avellanedae in carcinogenesis induced by azoxymethane in mice. Acta Cir. Bras. 2011:26;125-128.
  3. [no authors listed] Questionable methods od cancer management: ‘nutritional’ therapies. CA Cancer J Clin. 1993;43:309-319.
  4. Giocomelli I, et al. Oral lapacho-based medication: an easy, safe, and feasible support ot prevent and/or rescue oral mucositis during radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2015;67:1247-1253.

Here’s to your best health!

Dr. Dee Grace, PhD                                                                                                                                                                      Scientist Cancer Advocate  678-310-8101 info@drbedsidemanners.com

Conquer Cancer │Thrive│Prevent. Bedside Manners provides health advocacy and education so cancer patients get good bedside manners and healthcare. We focus on 3 things: 1) educating patients on science-backed natural ways to improve their quality of life; 2) empowering patients and survivors with a “survivorship game-plan”; and 3) ensuring patients receive quality healthcare that improves their chances of survival.

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