According to traditional herbal medicine, pau d’arco benefits the body in many different ways, but do these benefits extend to urinary tract infections?
Jump To Section:
- Why do people claim pau d’arco is a UTI home remedy? >>>>
- What the science says about potential pau d’arco benefits >>>>
- Is pau d’arco safe? >>>>
- How much pau d’arco for UTI should you take? >>>>
- What you need to know about pau d’arco for UTIs >>>>
Pau d’arco has generated much excitement online for being an alternative therapy for many conditions, not least of which is the treatment of UTI. This is why we’ve covered it in our list of the top 10 most searched UTI home remedies.
From some of the hype it may be tempting to believe a “cure all” has been discovered, that is free from the hazards and side-effects associated with western, orthodox medicine.
But it’s important to remember that among the few studies that have been conducted into potential pau d’arco benefits, hazardous possible side-effects have been discovered. Some of these may be relevant to sufferers of a chronically inflamed bladder.
Pau d’arco’s merits as anti-infective agent are also questionable as there have been mixed results. The scientific study of pau d’arco is far from complete.
|“I’ve tried so many home remedies for UTIs. I’ve tried cornsilk tea, cranberry, pau d’arco, you name it. At first I think they may be helping, but my UTIs always come back. I suppose that means they really aren’t working, when you think about it.”|
Why Do People Claim Pau d’Arco Is A UTI Home Remedy?
Pau d’arco is a tree that goes by the botanical names Tabebuia avellanedae and Tabebuia impetiginosa. Its bark is stewed in water to create a tea called Lapacho. When searching for information on Pau d’arco benefits you may have to use all of these names to find everything available.
We’re going to stick with pau d’arco for the purpose of this article, but know that in using this name, we have encompassed the information we found linked to all of its names.
Pau d’arco has a long established use in the herbal medicine practiced by many South American indigenous peoples. It’s likely this is where the contemporary claims of pau d’arco benefits originated.
Various health benefits of taking lapacho have been claimed in the Western media since its “discovery” by a Brazilian news magazine in the mid-1960s.
These include treatment for terminal leukemia and other cancers, diabetes, ulcers and rheumatism, amongst many other conditions.
The antimicrobial activity of chemicals found in the tea seem to be the main reason that recommendations for pau d’arco as a UTI home remedy have increased in the mainstream and online media.
Pau d’Arco Benefits And The Media Take On Them
There are often enthusiastic claims made for pau d’arco benefits that have wide appeal. They include anti-aging effects, and the immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties of the tea. This is on top of the anti-cancer claim.
Amongst the remaining claims is the idea that pau d’arco is a “natural antibiotic”. This has an obvious appeal for those suffering with chronic UTI.
On the surface, pau d’arco appears to offer a simple, non-clinical approach to attacking the infection at the heart of a chronic UTI.
People also tend to favor herbs such as pau d’arco, because they are available without prescription, making them a potential home remedy for UTI that appear, somehow, to avoid the risk of antibiotic resistance.
Pau d’Arco Benefits From A Medical Perspective
There are two general reasons to be optimistic about potential pau d’arco benefits. First, we should be looking to what “nature” has to offer us.
After all, this was our approach when we extracted the first natural antibiotic, penicillin, from the fungus, Penicillium. We should, then, be looking to what remaining biodiversity we have for other treatments.
The second cause for optimism around possible pau d’arco benefits is that there is evidence for the claims made. And these claims come from both traditional South American medicine and from Western medical science.
Where Western medicine is concerned, we should point out that any research into potential pau d’arco benefits is chiefly based on findings from in vitro (outside the human body) experiments, animal studies, and small clinical trials in humans.
The two claims relevant to chronic UTI are that pau d’arco generally promotes healing of damaged tissues and that it has antimicrobial activity.
What The Science Says About Potential Pau d’Arco Benefits
When it comes to bioactive components, two have been isolated from pau d’arco: lapachol and beta-lapachone.
An in vitro study of human cell line model of inflammation and a mouse model of skin wound healing, suggests that beta-lapachone can increase cell proliferation and may have potential for therapeutic use in wound healing.
Another paper examined the effect of pau d’arco on health decline measures associated with aging in mice, and found that beta-lapachone may aid preventing age-related decline of muscle and brain functions.
Is Pau d’Arco Safe?
Pau d’arco appears to be fairly safe in the general population, though an interference with the biological cycle of Vitamin K in the body has been noted.
Pau d’arco is considered unsafe in pregnancy because of risk of miscarriage and birth defects.
It has been used in South American folk medicine in mixtures to induce abortions, but it is unclear which chemical(s) in the mixture cause any effect. (Bone & Mills (2013) Principals and Practice of Phytotherapy, Modern Herbal Medicine, Second Edition. Churchill Livingstone London p779.)
As an antimicrobial agent, pau d’arco has very patchy scientific evidence to support this. The evidence is particularly sparse in bacterial studies, and it was found to be ineffective against E. coli, even in in vitro studies.
Given that a significant proportion of UTIs are caused by E. coli, this is something that should give you pause if you’re considering pau d’arco as a UTI remedy.
Pau d’Arco Side Effects
Pau d’arco is not without side effects. It was found to cause nausea and vomiting in the early trials against leukaemia, when it also caused problems in the blood clotting mechanism for some participants.
Pau d’arco is also thought to cause free-radical generation, which is contrary to its anti-inflammatory reputation.
How Much Pau d’Arco For UTI Should You Take?
The precise method of action of pau d’arco is not known. The idea is that it is the complex interaction of a number of chemicals in the plant, with the human body, that brings about healing.
You can find various recommendations online, but there is little consensus on how much pau d’arco to take for UTI, and no scientific studies on its effect in the bladder to shed any light on this.
In their book, herbalists Kerry Bone and Simon Mills, recommend sipping a “decoction” of the bark of the pau d’arco tree throughout the day. To make the decoction, 10 grams of the bark is simmered in water for 15 minutes.
The liquid is then strained and allowed to cool; it is then ready to be sipped at will. This method is advised by the authors to help against infections generally, and the decoction is supposed to also act as an immune booster. The number of days the decoction should be taken is not specified.
And as we’ve mentioned a few times throughout this article, as yet, there’s no solid scientific evidence that pau d’arco has any impact on health.
What You Need To Know About Pau d’Arco For UTIs
In mice models (using living mice and mouse-tissue experiments) and in in vitro (outside the human body) experiments using human tissue cultures, Pau d’arco was found to promote wound healing.
The precise tissue and cell lines investigated were not specific to the bladder, however.
In fact, we don’t know if pau d’arco reaches the bladder at all. As yet, very little is known about the way our bodies metabolize pau d’arco. There is some evidence its compounds may make it as far as the blood, but even this is still to be confirmed.
All of this means we really don’t know whether pau d’arco ever makes it to the bladder or would be helpful in the same ways studies outside the body suggest.
As with any compound, if pau d’arco does reach the bladder, particularly one that is attempting to heal from chronic damage, or from the acute injury of a flare up, it may worsen symptoms.
As for pau d’arco’s antimicrobial property, there is little to no evidence it has any impact on organisms that are typically the cause of urinary tract infections.
In herbal medicine manuals, it’s recommended that pau d’arco should not be relied on as the sole antimicrobial agent in any case of infection – that applies to UTIs.
There is also a certain amount of controversy amongst herbal medicine professionals as to the wisdom of prescribing pau d’arco for simple or chronic UTI at all. This concern stems from potential side effects.
Why You Should Think Twice About Pau d’Arco For UTI
At the moment, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of pau d’arco as a UTI remedy. This is because of a lack of large-scale human trials.
We can’t be sure that any of the proposed pau d’arco benefits are real. This includes the claim that it is a valuable home remedy for UTI – we simply don’t know yet.
As mentioned above, there are also a number of potential side effects that may outweigh the theorized benefits.
Top 5 Reasons To Reconsider Pau d’Arco For UTI
- We don’t yet know if pau d’arco works against any of the pathogens that cause urinary tract infections.
- We don’t know if pau d’arco’s anti-inflammatory or wound-healing activity works in the bladder.
- The side effect of inhibiting blood clotting may be harmful in a bleeding bladder (e.g., if Hunner’s Lesions are present).
- We await numerous large scale human trials of pau d’arco for UTI (even a large systematic review is not yet possible). Until trials are conducted, we have little idea of how pau d’arco may be of benefit, or of other possible side effects it may cause.
- We don’t know that we have “nothing to lose” from taking pau d’arco. If we don’t have the large-scale studies, we don’t know how to assess whether the side effects are worth risking for the likely benefit we may receive.
The (Not So) Final Word On Pau d’Arco
The best way to establish the truth about the effectiveness of pau d’arco is a large-scale, randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blinded clinical trial of human subjects suffering from UTI.
It’s a complicated sentence, we know! Because of the depth of research involved, and the related expense, most natural remedies never make it this far.
We are currently a long way short of the standard of evidence we need to safely take so many herbal remedies, and unfortunately, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
Pau d’arco is just one of a long list of UTI home remedies you’ll see people recommending online.
To help you navigate your way through it all, we’ve put together a list of the ten most popular UTI remedies, along with the evidence to support or debunk each.