Purple Lapacho Anti-Cancer

Also known as Bignonia heptaphylla, Ipe, Ipe Roxo, Ipes, Lapacho, Lapacho Colorado, Lapacho Morado, Red Lapacho, Tabebuia avellanedae, Tabebuia heptaphylla, Tabebuia ipe, Tabebuia palmeri, Tabebuia impetiginosa, Taheebo, Taheebo Tea, Tecoma ipe, Trumpet Bush, Pau D’Arco

Lapacho has been extensively investigated for potential anti-cancer activity. Some constituents or groups of constituents of lapacho have indeed been found to suppress tumor formation and reduce tumor viability, both in experimental animal trials and in clinical settings involving human patients. In addition, anecdotal data abounds to such an extent that to overlook its importance is to turn one’s back on a potentially invaluable source of aid and health. Leukemia has proven particularly susceptible to the application of lapacho and several of its constituents. Some researchers feel that lapacho is one of the most important anti-tumor agents in the entire world.

Part of the effectiveness of lapacho may stem from its observed ability to stimulate the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. Increased red blood cell production would improve the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This could have important implications for the health of tissues throughout the body. Also needed for oxygen transport by red cells is iron. This might explain the augmentation in lapacho’s therapeutic properties when it is combined with iron-rich yerba maté, another South American plant; in fact, it is native practice to almost always combine these two plant species.

National Cancer Institute research on the anti-cancer action of lapacho has been disappointing. Unfortunately, the NCI restricted its investigations to lapacho, and once it found that this substance had side effects that offset its potential therapeutic benefits, it abandoned the project. From the perspective of a tonic, one can readily perceive the fallacy of that approach and would suspect that the problems in the research stemmed directly from employing isolated herbal constituents. As one might also suspect, research that utilized whole lapacho has produced clinical anticancer effects without side effects.

Animal research in the United States made a gigantic stride forward when it was discovered that lapacho inhibited solid tumors (Walker carcinosarcoma 256 and Ehrlich solid carcinoma) and Ehrlich ascites cell tumors. Such research then took a gigantic stride backwards when clinical toxicity of lapacho prematurely ended those investigations.

One interesting line of research has shown that lapacho is more effective when ingested orally than when injected into the gut or into the muscles. These results contradict a substantial amount of research on orthodox drugs that indicates the superiority of injectable routes. Using the wood of the plant, several researchers have studied the effects of lapachol, alpha- and beta-lapachone and xyloidone on experimental cancer (Yoshida’s sarcoma and Walker 256 carcinosarcoma). As high as 84 percent inhibition was observed on Yoshida’s sarcoma, and no toxicity was found.

In one clinical study, South American researchers administered lapacho to patients with various forms of cancer, including adeno-carcinoma of the liver, breast and prostate and squamous-cell carcinoma of the palate and uterine cervix. Taken orally, the substance resulted in temporary reduction of all conditions and in significant reduction in pain. Duration of treatment was anywhere from 30 to 720 days, with an average of about two months. For example, one patient with liver cancer experienced a significant reduction in jaundices accompanied by other signs of improvement after eight days of therapy. These results were in close accord with results obtained by the same researchers in animal studies. One wonders what the administration of whole purple lapacho phloem might have accomplished in this setting; other lines of evidence suggest that even better results might have been obtained.

Lapacho Strengthens Immune System

The October 8, 1985 issue of Globe stated that “Lapacho, a proven antibiotic, is often used in America to treat yeast infections, but is touted in South America as a cure for cancer and other diseases. The experts say it can also arm the body against viral infestations like AIDS…”. “taking certain herbs is the perfect health measure to protect yourself against AIDS,” says Dr Paul Lee, former director of the Platonic Academy of Herbal studies in Santa Cruz, California.” AIDS researchers are keenly interested in natural substances like herbs that enhance the immune response”, says Dr. Tom Baldwin, Associate Professor of immunology at the University of Texas Health Science Center. “We have already identified plants that have effect, and there is good reason to investigate further”, he told Globe. The article also indicates that a combination of Lapacho and YerbaMate is especially effective.

The Spotlight, June 8, 1981, lists 35 diseases which Red and/or Purple Lapacho has purportedly cured, or relieved. Malignant germs that cause all these diseases cannot withstand the antibiotics this mighty tree secretes.

Lapacho Powerful Natural Antibiotic

Researchers isolated a substance in Lapacho tea that apparently contains a chemical chain, anti-tumor agent. Dr. Paulo Martin, a medical researcher for the Brazilian government stated, “We isolated a compound we called quechua from Lapacho and found it to be a powerful antibiotic, with virus-killing properties.” Dr. Norman Farnsworth of the University of Illinois, both herbal medicine experts, agree with Dr. Martin and are quoted as saying: “Lapacho undoubtedly contains a substance found to be highly effective against cancer.” Some feel that one of the most significant contributions of Lapacho tea is the elimination of pain. Apparently this takes about 3 days of drinking a quart of Red or purple Lapacho tea each day, properly prepared, and 2-3 cups per day thereafter.

Tests indicate that the toxicity of Lapacho tea is about 1/10 that of caffeine. The only reported side effect seems to be nausea experienced by a few people when the tea is first used. This is said to be a purging effect, and that once the poisons are purged from the body the nausea goes away. Many cancer patients who have used Lapacho were also receiving medical treatment, and it appears that Lapacho can be used successfully in conjunction with ongoing medical therapy. Some report that the tea appeared to increase effectiveness of chemotherapy with a parallel decrease in deleterious side effects when Lapacho tea is used.

Laxative Effect

Regular use of lapacho will maintain regularity of bowel movements. This property is undoubtedly due to the presence of the naphthaquinones and anthraquinones. Users of lapacho universally report a pleasant and moderate loosening of the bowels that leads to greater regularity without any unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea.

Antioxidant Effect

In vitro trials show definite inhibition of free radicals and inflammatory leukotrienes by lapapcho constituents. This property might underlie the effectivenesss of lapacho against skin cancer and definitely helps to explain observed anti-aging effects. Modern science has recently uncovered the importance of free radicals in the generation of many debilitating diseases from cancer to arthritis. These molecules are even heavily implicated in the normal aging process. Reversing their action has become big business in world health circles. Antioxidants, or free-radical scavengers, have emerged as premier candidates for the role of healers and disease preventers. Among the antioxidants few have greater potency than lapachol.

Analgesic Effect

The administration of lapacho is consistently credited in reports issuing from South American clinics as a primary modality for lessening the pain associated with several kinds of cancer, especially cancer of the prostate, liver or breast. Arthritic pain has also been relieved with lapacho ingestion.

Antimicrobial / Antiparasitic Effects

Includes inhibition and destruction of gram positive and acid-fast bacteria (B. subtilis M. pyogenes aureus, etc.), yeasts, fungi, viruses and several kinds of parasites. Two troublesome families of viruses inhibited by lapachol are noteworthy, herpes viruses and HIV’s. Together these viruses account for much of the misery of mankind. The antimalarial activity of lapacho spawned a great deal of research interest in the early decades of this century. A 1948 article reviewed the progress and indicated that the N-factors, especially lapachol, were among the most promising antimalarial substances known at that time. Lapacho’s immuno-stimulating action is due in part to its potent antimicrobial effects.

One of the strongest actions of lapacho is against viruses. The range of viruses inactivated by lapacho extends from those that cause the common cold to those that are responsible for AIDS. It has been shown to actively inhibit, kill or stunt the growth of several dangerous viruses including herpes virus hominis types I and II, polio virus, vesicular stomatitis virus, avian myeloblastosis virus, murine leukemia virus, Friend virus and Rous sarcoma virus. Several other viruses are also inhibited by lapacho’s N- and A-factors.

One N-factor, beta-lapachone, inhibits enzymes in virus cells that directly affect the synthesis of DNA and RNA. It is also a potent inhibitor of the enzyme reverse transcriptase, involved in RNA/DNA relationships. Once these processes are inhibited, the virus is unable to take over the reproductive processes of the cell and cannot, therefore, replicate itself and infect other cells. Such inhibition is a characteristic of most substances that are being tested for activity against AIDS and Epstein-Barr. The enzyme in question is a key to the action of retroviruses. These viruses, also known as ribodeoxyviruses or oncornaviruses, have been implicated in the development of several kinds of experimental cancers. Beta-lapachone is obtained simply by treating lapachol with sulfuric acid, and tests show that it has a unique method of action vis-a-vis the reverse transcriptase inhibition.

Note: Sulfurous compounds in some plants, especially yerba mate, when combined with lapacho, might provide a catalytic base for the transformation of lapachol to beta-lapachone and hence increase the effectiveness of lapacho. In this light, it is interesting to note that native folklore teaches that yerba mate is a catalyst for lapacho; yerba mate becomes the foundation for lapacho therapy.

Lapacho components have been intensively studied in terms of their action against two rather nasty parasites, Schistosoma mansoni and Trypanosoma cruzi, both responisble for considerable disease and misery in tropical countries. Lapacho was effective against both. Taken by mouth, lapachol is eventually secreted onto the skin via the sebaceous glands where it acts as a topical barrier, inactivating micro-organisms soon after they contact the skin. Meanwhile, throughout the GI tract, it is performing the identical function on the mucous membranes, preventing the penetration of parasites. The mechanism of action is not well understood but is felt to involve the uncoupling of cellular respiration (see the following section on mechanisms of action), the stimulation of lipid peroxidation and superoxide production and the inhibition of DNA/RNA biosynthesis.

Antifungal Effect

Lapacho is often singled out as the premier treatment of Candida or yeast infections. Lapachol, N-factors and xyloidone appear to be the primary active principles. By the mid-70s the list of N-factors that inhibited Candida albicans and other fungi had grown to several dozen.

It would be misleading to categorically state that the N-factors in lapacho have proven antimicrobial and antifungal activity in and of themselves. Studies have shown that the manner in which they occur in the plant must be taken into consideration. We know, for example, that antifungal activity is lost when the N-factors are tightly bound to highly water-soluble or highly fat-soluble groups. It has not been clearly determined how the N-factors occur in lapacho.

N-factors, obtainable from various chemical supply companies, have become favorite testing agents in government and university labs due to the rise in yeast infections resulting from increased use of cyto-toxic drugs, corticosteroids, antibiotics and immunosuppressants.

An interesting application has been reported in which toe and fingernail fungal infections are relieved by soaking these appendages in lapacho tea off and on for a couple of weeks.

Anti-inflammatory Effect

The anti-inflammatory and healing action of lapacho extracts was demonstrated in a study in which purple lapacho extract was administered to patients with cervicitis and cervicovaginitis, conditions resulting variously from infections (Candida albicans, Trichomonas vaginalis, chemical irritations and mechanical irritiation. The lapacho extract was applied intravaginally via gauze tampons soaked in the extract and renewed every 24 hours. The treatment proved to be highly effective. One wonders what might happen were the tampon method combined with the ingestion of strong teas.

Lapacho Mechanisms of Action

Every cell of the body requires oxygen and glucose to obtain energy for life-sustaining functions. The oxygen and glucose are subjected to a fairly complex metabolic process in the tiny energy-producing structures in the cell called mitochondria. This process requires numerous enzymes and coenzymes. The oxygen and glucose are converted to carbon dioxide and water which are then returned to the blood. The CO2 is exhaled by the lungs (hence this metabolic process is often called respiration); excess water is eventually drawn off through perspiration or through the kidneys. During this conversion, several electrons are freed, which are immediately utilized by another pathway to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency of the cell. ATP is the molecule every cell is required to utilize, or spend, to obtain energy. The two paths, one for breakdown of glucose and one for synthesis of ATP, are tightly coupled together. Should they become uncoupled, the cell can no longer obtain energy and it dies, a process referred to as uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation; many of them resemble the N-factors in lapacho. In fact, it has been found that lapacho works like other benzoquionones; i.e., it uncouples the mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation occurring in cancerous cells but not in healthy ones. This selective killing (cytotoxicity) of tumor cells is what makes lapacho such a potentially valuable agent for the treatment of cancer.

One of the games science plays is attempting to discover at what point cellular respiration is broken up by chemical agents. The components of lapacho seem to interrupt the process at several points, usually by inhibiting an enzyme or coenzyme that is required for the next step in the chain to occur properly. For instance, lapacho inhibits the proper functioning of AT-Pase, the enzyme that catalyzes the final step in the formation of ATP.

Lapachol has also been shown to inhibit the amount of another substance required for cellular reproduction: uridine triphosphate. This molecule is the main source of substances (called pyrimidine nucleotides) that are required by cells in order to build DNA, RNA and most other important proteins of the body. Lapacho may actually block the synthesis of pyrimidines in cancer cells (by inhibiting the enzyme dihydroorotate dehydrogenase). The result would be certain cellular death.

There is also evidence that lapacho interacts directly with the nucleic acids of the DNA helix in cancerous cells. If such interaction, or bonding, takes place, DNA replication would be impossible. The result is also eventual death of the cell.

Finally, the lapacho constituent beta-lapachone has been shown to weaken malignant cells, even to the point of cellular death by stimulating a process known as lipid peroxidation, which produces toxic molecules.

Lapacho Medical History Research

Lapacho holds great promise for the effective treatment of cancers such as leukemia, Candida and other troublesome infections, as well as debilitating diseases (including arthritis) and a host of other complaints.

The medicinal part of the tree is the bark, specifically the inner lining of the bark, called the phloem. The use of whole bark, containing the dead wood, naturally dilutes the activity of the material. Lapacho is also known by the Portuguese name of Pau d’arco and by tribal names such as taheebo and ipe roxo. Some texts distinguish between lapacho colorado (red lapacho=ipe roxo) which grows in cooler climates such as high in the Andes and high places in Paraguay. Recent evidence suggests that these two varieties of lapacho possess superior medicinal properties with a slight bow going to the purple as the best of all.

Most of the chemical analyses of lapacho have been performed on the heartwood of the tree rather than on the phloem, or inner lining of the bark, which is used medicinally. The nutrients and representative families of chemical substances used to sustain the life of the tree are found in greatest concentration in the cambium layer and phloem of the living bark.

Lapacho is just one of a number of plant substances known as napthaquinones (N-factors) that occur in lapacho. Anthraquinones, or A-factors, comprise another important class of compounds. The N-factors are not common except in herbal tonics. Seldom do both N- and A-factors occur in the same species. Several of the remarkable properties of lapacho may be due to a probable synergy between A- and N-factors.

Quercitin, xyloidone and other flavonoids are also present in lapacho; these undoubtedly contribute to the plant’s effectiveness in the treatment of tumors and infections.

The native Indians of Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and other south American countries have used lapacho for medicinal purposes for thousands of years; there are indications that its use may actually antedate the Incas. Before the advent of the Spanish, the Guarani and Tupi-Nambo tribes in particular used great quantities of lapacho tea. In the high Andes, the Calawaya, the Quechua, Aymara and other tribes used lapacho (taheebo to them) for many complaints.

Lapacho is applied externally and internally for the treatment of fevers, infections, colds, flu, syphilis, cancer, respiratory problems, skin ulcerations and boils, dysentery, gastrointestinal problems of all kinds, debilitating conditions such as arthritis and prostatitis, and circulation disturbances. Other conditions reportedly cured with lapacho include lupus, diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, osteomyelitis, Parkinson’s disease and psoriasis.

Lapacho is used to relieve pain, kill germs, increase the flow of urine, and even as an antidote to poisons. Its use in many ways parallels that of echinacea on this continent and ginseng in Asia, except that its actions appear to exceed them both in terms of its potential as a cancer treatment. The Guarani, Tupi and other tribes called the lapacho tree tajy, meaning “to have strength and vigor,” or simply “the divine tree.” Modern Guarani Indians prefer the purple lapacho but also use the red lapacho. And they use only the inner linings of the bark.
Research on lapacho has been going on for a long time. E. Paterno isolated the active constituent, lapacho, in 1884.

In 1896, S.C. Hooker established the chemical structure of lapachol, and L.F. Fieser synthesized the substance in 1927! So it would be a mistake to call lapacho a modern discovery.

As early as 1873 physicians were aware of the healing action of lapacho. Dr. Joaqin Almeida Pinto wrote during that year, “Pau D’Arco: Medicinal Properties: prescribed as a fever-reducer; the bark is used against ulcers; also used for venereal and rheumatic disorders and especially useful for skin disorders, especially eczema, herpes, and the mange.” Another physician, Dr. Walter Accorsi, reported that lapacho “eliminated the pains caused by the disease [cancer] and multiplies the body’s production of red corpuscles.”

However, the science of lapacho began properly with the work of Theodoro Meyer in Argentina, who tried for decades with little success to convince the medical world of the value of lapacho for infections and cancer. Data from his laboratory are astounding in terms of the success rate observed when applying the herb to dozens of different kinds of cancer. Much of Meyer’s work was primitive by modern research standards; most of it lacked adequate controls and statistical evaluation. But the sheer bulk of it is good evidence for the efficacy of lapacho. The Meyer era ended at his death in 1972, with the scientific world left still largely unconvinced of the usefulness of lapacho as a modern medicinal agent. Perhaps the most important thing Meyer accomplished, from a scientific point of view, was to bring lapacho to the attention of the rest of the world, to extract the plant from the jungles of the Amazon and announce, “here is a folk remedy with great promise for all mankind.”

Independent of Meyer, a physician in Brazil, about 1960, after hearing a tale of its miraculous curative powers, used lapacho to treat his brother who was lying in a Santa Andre, Brazil hospital dying of cancer. His brother recovered, and the physician, Dr. Orlando de Santi, began to use the herb to treat other cancer patients at the hospital. Other physicians joined the team, and after a few months, several cures were recorded. In the typical case, pain disappeared rapidly and sometimes complete remission was achieved in as little as four weeks.

Because of the work at the Municipal Hospital of Santo Andre, lapacho has become a standard of treatment for some kinds of cancer and for all kinds of infections in medical establishments throughout Brazil. It should be noted that after the first reports of “miraculous” herbal cures appeared in Brazil, the national government ordered a blackout of any more public statements by doctors involved in the research. The silence was finally broken by Alec De Montmorency, who in 1981 published a lengthy review of the ongoing clinical work in Brazil. This report succeeded in stimulating worldwide interest in the plant.

In 1968, Dr. Prats Ruiz of Concepcion, Paraguay, successfully treated three cases of leukemia in his private clinic. Some of these results were widely published and also helped to establish the popularity of lapacho among the “civilized” inhabitants of South American countries.

A common thread that runs throughout early and current empirical and clinical reports of lapacho treatment is the consistent observation that the herb eliminates many of the orthodox medications. There is no explanation of this action, but it is so often seen that one cannot easily doubt its validity. Pain, hair loss and immune dysfunction are among the symptoms most commonly eliminated.

While scientific research on lapacho has been going on for decades, most of it is worthless from a medicinal point of view. Some of it, however, is very good and has resulted in the isolation of several individual medicinally active constituents and in the analysis of their properties. The current interest in AIDS has stimulated renewed interest in lapacho since the herb is such an effective antiviral substance.

Doctors Discover Lapacho

South American medical doctors who discovered Lapacho in the pharmacopoeia of the natives were the first to experiment with it as a treatment for cancer. Dr. Walter Accorsi reported that it “eliminated the pains caused by the disease and multiplies the body’s production of red corpuscles”.

Numerous South American physicians tried Lapacho with their patients and the claims of cures of cancer and other diseases became abundant. North Americans have been trying Lapacho tea for a few years now. Reports that have appeared in various U.S. publications are both informative and encouraging: Lets live, February 1985 said, “Over the past 20 years reports from doctors and patients have indicated that this bark, when ingested (usually in tea form), has cured terminal leukemia, arthritis, yeast and fungus infections, arrested pain, stopped athlete’s foot and cured the common cold.” And it “has been found to be an effective analgesic, sedative, decongestant, diuretic and hypotensive.”

The July 1985 issue of Vegetarian Times reported that Red and/or Purple Lapacho “is currently being hailed for its effects on cancer and candida…Traditional herbalists agree that it strengthens and balances the immune system” and is currently used as a remedy for immune system-related problems such as colds, flu, boils, infections, and that “tests have anti-malarial and anti-cancer activities”. Further, the article stated that drinking Red or Purple Lapacho tea, “can combat infection, give great vitality, build up immunity to disease, strengthen cellular structure and help eliminate pain and inflammation…It can be taken either periodically as a preventive, or used consistently during an active infection.”

Lapacho Toxicity

While there can be no doubt that lapacho is very toxic to many kinds of cancer cells, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and other kinds of microorganisms, the substance appears to be without any kind of significant toxicity to healthy human cells. The side-effects mainly encountered, and usually with isolated lapacho constituents, are limited to nausea and anticoagulant effects in very high doses, a tendency to loosen the bowels, and diarrhea in very high doses. As indicated earlier, some nausea should be expected as a natural consequence of the detoxification process.
The FDA gave lapacho a clean bill of health in 1981.

Some trials have indicated that lapachol has anti-vitamin K action. Other constituents have a pro-vitamain K action; it is likely, therefore, that the two actions cancel each other out (except possibly when one or the other is necessary–as one would expect from an herbal tonic).

Perhaps the most significant study on toxicity was published in 1970 by researchers from the Chase Pfizer & Co., Inc. Looking specifically at lapachol, these investigators found that all signs of lapachol toxicity in animals were completely reversible and even self limiting, i.e., over time the signs of toxicity decreased and even disappeared within the time constraints of the study. The most severe kinds of self-limiting side-effects they observed were an anti-vitamin K effect, anemia, and significant rises of metabolic and protein toxins in the blood stream. The diminution of these signs indicates that lapacho initiates an immediate “alterative” or “detoxification” effect on the body’s cells. Once the cells are “cleaned up,” the signs of toxicity disappear. This effect is quite common among herbal tonics.

Lapacho Side Effects

The primary immediate side effects observed were nausea and diarrhea. Herbal practitioners note that the body rids itself of toxins through the urine and bowels and that these symptoms could logically be due to release of toxins. These symptoms were strong enough to have caused some experimental subjects to drop out of studies.

Lapacho Warning

Pregnant or nursing women, infants and small children should not take lapacho.

Lapacho has a natural blood-thinning action and should not be taken by those who are already taking anti-clotting or blood-thinning medications such as heparin, Ticlid, Lovenol, Fragmin, Plavix and Coumadin or NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), naproxen (Naprosyn, Anaprox, Aleve), ketoprofen, Relafen, Indocin,Toradol, Clinoril, Feldene, diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam) and Daypro.

Herbal blood-thinning preparations also should not be combined with lapacho, these include: angelica, anise, arnica, asafoetida, capsicum, celery, chamomile, clove, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, panax ginseng, horse chestnut, horseradish, licorice, onion, papain, passionflower, red clover, turmeric and willow.

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Lapacho Research Links

Growth inhibition of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells by Taheebo from the inner bark of Tabebuia avellandae tree.

Antioxidant activity and characterization of volatile constituents of Taheebo (Tabebuia impetiginosa Martius ex DC).

In vitro and in vivo anti-inflammatory effects of taheebo, a water extract from the inner bark of Tabebuia avellanedae.

Growth inhibition of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells by Taheebo from the inner bark of Tabebuia avellandae tree.

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