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The inner bark of the lapacho tree plays a central role in the herbal medicine of several South American indigenous peoples. They use it to treat cancer as well as a great variety of infectious diseases.
There has been very little scientific investigation of lapacho as a whole herb. However, an enormous amount of scientific interest has focused on three constituents of lapacho: lapachol, lapachone, and isolapachone. The relevance of these findings to the use of lapacho itself remains unclear.
Based on its traditional uses, lapacho is sometimes recommended by herbalists as a treatment for cancer . However, there is no reliable scientific evidence that the herb is effective. Test tube studies have found that lapachone can kill cancer cells by inhibiting an enzyme called topoisomerase, and there are hopes that effective anti-cancer drugs may eventually be produced through chemical modification of lapachone. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Nonetheless, this does not indicate that lapacho is effective against cancer in humans; it would be difficult to take enough of the herb to provide active levels of lapachone.
Similarly, test tube studies have found that constituents of lapacho (especially lapachone, isolapachone, and lapachol) may be able to kill various...
When taken in normal dosages, lapacho has not been found to cause any obvious side effects. 8 However, full safety studies have not been performed. Furthermore, the anti-cancer actions of lapachone raise serious concerns about the safety of lapacho for pregnant women, because like cancer cells, cells of a developing fetus rapidly divide. Also, a study in animals found that lapachol caused fetal death. 9 For all these reasons, pregnant or nursing women should not use lapacho. Safety in young children or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.