Pau d’arco (Handroanthus impetiginosus), also known as the “pink trumpet tree,” is a species of Tabebuia tree that grows in Central and South America. It’s incredibly dense and rot-resistant wood is used by native peoples to make hunting bows. The inner bark of the tree has been used medicinally for centuries, and modern science has also discovered some incredible healing properties of this tree’s inner bark.
Also known as taheebo or lapacho, pau d’arco has long been used to treat a range of ailments. As a supplement, it’s marketed to reduce inflammation and promote weight loss. Native tribes have traditionally used the inner bark of this tree as a treatment for stomach, skin, and inflammatory conditions. Several compounds called naphthoquinones — mainly lapachol and beta-lapachone — have been isolated from this inner bark and are thought to be responsible for its purported benefits.
Research suggests that pau d’arco extract has antibacterial and antifungal properties. While the exact mechanism remains unknown, pau d’arco is thought to inhibit the processes bacteria and fungi need to produce oxygen and energy. Several test-tube studies show that the bark extract provides protection against numerous disease-causing organisms and may also inhibit the growth of infectious bacteria in the digestive system. For example, beta-lapachone has been found to inhibit and treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection which is notoriously difficult to control. In another study, pau d’arco extract inhibited the growth of Helicobacter (H.) pylori, a bacteria that grows in your digestive tract and has a tendency to attack your stomach lining, causing ulcers. That said, it was less effective than other common antibiotics.
Pau d’arco extract has also been shown to inhibit inflammation — the body’s natural response to injury. While low levels of inflammation are beneficial, chronic inflammation is thought to lead to diseases, such as cancer, obesity, and heart disease. Several animal and test-tube studies demonstrate that pau d’arco extract inhibits the release of specific chemicals that trigger an inflammatory response in the body. For example, in one study, pau d’arco extract blocked inflammation in mice by 30–50%, compared to a placebo. Because of this, pau d’arco may help treat inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, which causes swelling, pain, and stiffness in your joints. Similarly, another study in mice found that the bark extract blocked the production of compounds prevalent in many chronic inflammatory diseases.
Pau d’arco may also help with weight loss. Studies in mice have demonstrated that pau d’arco extract inhibits pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that helps your body digest and absorb dietary fat. Blocking it reduces fat digestion — resulting in fewer absorbable calories. In one 16-week study, mice fed pau d’arco extract lost significantly more weight than those on a placebo — despite no changes in food intake. Similarly, in a trial involving mice fed a high-fat diet, the extract protected against increases in body weight.
While native people have used this plant medicine for thousands of years, there is still much research to be done on this medicinal herb. However, current studies have revealed it to be a great supplement for supporting weight loss, fighting infections in the body, and reducing inflammation.
Due to the powerful healing properties of this plant, our Zuma Nutrition team use wild harvested Pau d’arco as a key ingredient in our Liver Detox Tonic formula.