What Is Yohimbe And Should You Use It?

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

When you hear about a supplement that can make your sex life incredible and help you lose weight at the same time, you would want to get on your hands on it, wouldn’t you? But what if people are saying that it isn’t worth the risk? Welcome to the storm that yohimbe has kicked up. Yohimbe supplements are being promoted as a magic pill to crank the heat up, but to a cynic, it all seems too good to be true. Let’s dive deeper to understand what it is and whether yohimbe is as effective as claimed.

What Is Yohimbe?

Yohimbe is an evergreen plant from the Rubiaceae family native to Western Africa. Yohimbe bark contains, among other chemical substances, an organic chemical known as yohimbine, which is used to make medicines and supplements. Traditionally, yohimbe bark has been used as a stimulant tonic for men, as a performance enhancer for athletes, and as an aphrodisiac. The prescription drug for the treatment of erectile dysfunction uses a form of yohimbine called yohimbine hydrochloride that is made in the laboratory (1).

Food supplements using yohimbine hydrochloride as their active ingredient are banned in the USA. Hence, this article focuses on yohimbe supplements that use yohimbe bark extract or yohimbine.

In the next section, let us understand how yohimbe works.

How Does Yohimbe Work?

Yohimbine, the most important bioactive alkaloid in yohimbe bark, is an alpha-2-adrenoceptor antagonist that works on the central and peripheral nervous systems. Alpha-2 adrenoceptors are located at various places within the body and play a role in inhibiting fat breakdown, and promoting blood clotting, muscle contraction, and more. They also may contribute to erectile dysfunction. Yohimbe blocks the alpha-2-adrenoceptor and may help treat erectile dysfunction. However, further studies are essential to completely understand the mechanism of action and its efficacy (2).

Yohimbe also may block the alpha-2-adrenoceptors in fat cells. It helps break down stored fat and makes it readily available as fuel for the body (3), (4).

Studies on yohimbe bark extract and yohimbine in food supplements are still nascent. But yohimbe does seem to have some benefits. Let us understand them in detail.

Benefits Of Yohimbe: Looking At Claims And Evidence

Yohimbe has been used in traditional medicine for ages. While the most widely claimed benefit is its action as a stimulating tonic for men, it has other potential uses too.

1. May Resolve Sexual Problems Arising From Certain Medications

Some medications that are used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anxiety, often cause sexual impotence as a side effect. A study supports the effectiveness of yohimbine as a treatment for improving libido and sexual function. However, more controlled studies are required to accurately understand the dosage and safety of yohimbine in this regard (5).

Also, while the study mentions yohimbine, it is unclear if it is yohimbine in its organic form or yohimbine hydrochloride that is used. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information in this regard.

2. May Help Treat Erectile Dysfunction

You have probably heard about yohimbe supplements as a solution for erectile dysfunction. While supplements are not regulated by the FDA and may vary in terms of their yohimbine content, there is some evidence to suggest that yohimbine could be a potential solution to this problem. Studies suggest that the benefits of yohimbe medication can outweigh its risks. Serious adverse effects were rare, and they could be reserved even if they occurred (6).

Yohimbe extracts in the form of yohimbine hydrochloride are available as prescription medications for treating erectile dysfunction. However, speak to a healthcare professional before procuring any such medications.

3. May Support Weight Loss

Combining exercise with yohimbe may give you the desired results. This is because yohimbine, a natural alpha-2 adrenoceptor antagonist present in yohimbe supplements, helps break down the stored body fat so that it gets used up. This holds true especially if you are in a fasted state (where your body is looking for fuel to feed on) or when you are involved in physical exercise (4).

A study conducted to observe the changes in body composition (and performance) in soccer players found that those taking a specific dose of yohimbine saw significant fat loss (7).

On the contrary, another study found a lack of efficacy in yohimbine for the treatment of obesity (8). Hence, more concrete research is warranted to understand the role of yohimbe in aiding weight loss.

4. May Improve Performance In Athletes

Yohimbe extract and bark and the over-the-counter supplements are commonly used for their potential action as an energy enhancer (9). However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that yohimbe can improve athletic performance.

A study conducted on soccer players given specific doses of yohimbine revealed that there was no marked difference in their performance as compared to the group that received a placebo (7). Also, an article published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements suggests that there is no conclusive evidence for the drug to enhance physical performance (10).

Yohimbe has potential as medicine with certain benefits that you may be interested in. However, yohimbe dietary supplements are unregulated and may be inconsistent with their labels, ingredients, composition, safety, and efficacy. Let us look at some of the reported yohimbe side effects.

Yohimbe Side Effects and Potential Allergies

Yohimbe may cause some side effects when used to reduce sexual side effects of depression medications. These may include (5):

  • an increase in anxiety
  • excessive sweating
  • a wound-up feeling

Excess intake of yohimbe as a drug for treating erectile dysfunction may cause (11):

  • increased frequency of urination
  • high blood pressure
  • mild anxiety

In a study, a young girl taking yohimbe for weight loss experienced a few severe side effects that included (12):

  • alcohol and cocaine-seeking behavior
  • changes in defensive behavior
  • suicidal tendencies

Another case study looking at two yohimbe-related deaths compiled some more reported side effects of the drug. These side effects were observed at different doses of yohimbine, beginning with as low as 0.2 g. The side effects included (13):

  • anxiety
  • hypertension or high blood pressure
  • tremors
  • nausea
  • headache
  • rash
  • issociative reaction
  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • retrograde amnesia
  • atrial fibrillation
  • unconsciousness
  • priapism, or prolonged erection not connected to sexual stimulation
  • seizures
  • sinus tachycardia
  • death

Allergic reactions to yohimbe bark extract and yohimbe medication have been reported (1). Immediately consult a doctor in case you experience the following severe allergic reactions after taking yohimbine:

  • rash
  • breathing difficulty
  • swelling in face/throat/tongue
  • severe dizziness

These are the potential risks of yohimbe. Following certain precautions can help you avoid them. Let us understand more in the following section.

What Are The Precautions To Consider Before Using Yohimbe?

Yohimbe is very commonly available as a street drug, over-the-counter pill, and herbal supplement. It is often used without prescription as a hallucinogen, aphrodisiac, and weight loss pill. Research on yohimbe bark extract used in dietary supplements is insufficient and the supplements themselves are unregulated by the FDA.

Yohimbe extract, purified in the lab to form yohimbine hydrochloride, has some research to support its use as a prescription drug for erectile dysfunction. Given the potential adverse effects of yohimbe, you need to consider certain precautions before using it personally:

  1. Most yohimbe products do not contain sufficient or accurate information on their labels. In an analysis of yohimbe supplements spread across 49 brands, only 2 out of the 49 brands of the supplement had accurate information about the quantity of yohimbine as well as the potential adverse effects of the product. It was also found that 39% of the customers used either highly processed or synthetic yohimbine. Most of the labels on the supplements were inaccurate, and the quantity of yohimbine used in them ranged from 23 percent to 147 percent (14). Be aware of this, as such supplements may either cause an overdose or be ineffective.
  2. Yohimbe products can induce psychiatric adverse effects in healthy people. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions in people with diagnosed or undiagnosed psychiatric conditions, including anxiety (15).
  3. Yohimbe has not been studied for safety in pregnancy and lactation. Hence, pregnant or breastfeeding women must avoid yohimbe-related products (1), (16).
  4. You should not take yohimbe if you have renal and hepatic problems, hypertension, glaucoma, and cardiac impairment (17).

Yohimbe Drug Interactions

Yohimbine may adversely interact with certain prescription drugs. According to a scientific opinion on the evaluation of the safety of yohimbe, some interactions are listed here (1), (16).

  • You should not take yohimbe supplements with MAO inhibitors.
  • Yohimbine may interact with drugs for hypertension.
  • Yohimbe may interact with tricyclic antidepressants and phenothiazines.

Yohimbe is also known to interact with alcohol. Mixing the two may impair one’s driving ability (17).

With the important precautions taken into consideration, here is some more information if you want to proceed with yohimbe.

How To Use Yohimbe

Yohimbe is available as prescription pills and an intravenous drug, as well as in the form of herbal supplements for oral use. For use as a fat loss aid, you may use it in a fasted state or before exercise (4). There is no standardized yohimbe dosage as it is a dietary supplement not regulated by the FDA. Use caution and your doctor’s advice before using any product containing yohimbe extract.

Yohimbe is a plant that produces an alkaloid called yohimbine, which can potentially help improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction and may aid weight loss. While yohimbine hydrochloride, a processed form of yohimbine, is approved for use as a prescription medicine to treat erectile dysfunction, the herbal supplements containing yohimbe extract have not been studied widely. The potential adverse effects of yohimbe, some of which are severe, have raised questions regarding its safety and efficacy. Hence, always consult your doctor before using yohimbe.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Is it safe to take yohimbe every day?

No, long-term usage of yohimbe is not recommended. There is insufficient evidence regarding the safety of yohimbe supplements containing yohimbe bark extracts (17). If you are prescribed yohimbe by a doctor, follow the prescribed dosage and duration.

Does yohimbe increase testosterone?

Yes, there may be a slight increase in free testosterone levels in individuals who respond well to yohimbe treatment for erectile dysfunction. There is, however, a very insignificant increase in testosterone with an increased dosage of yohimbe (18).

When should you take Yohimbe?

You should take yohimbe as prescribed by your doctor as part of your treatment plan for erectile dysfunction. No evidence or standardization is available for yohimbe supplements for weight loss. However, if you are using yohimbe supplements for weight loss or improved athletic performance, you can take it in a fasted state or fifteen to thirty minutes before exercise. The effect of yohimbine seems to be suppressed after food intake (4).

Does yohimbe make your penis bigger?

No, but yohimbe medication, when taken in prescribed doses, may help you develop and maintain an erection and improve penile rigidity (18).

References:

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  1. (Pausinystalia yohimbe (K. Schum.) Pierre ex Beille)
    https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2013.3302
  2. Yohimbine in Erectile Dysfunction: The Facts
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10845767/
  3. Plasma Catecholamine Levels and Lipid Mobilization Induced by Yohimbine In Obese And Non-Obese Women
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1885256/
  4. Alpha 2-antagonist compounds and lipid mobilization: evidence for a lipid mobilizing effect of oral yohimbine in healthy male volunteers
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2906290/
  5. Yohimbine treatment of sexual side effects induced by serotonin reuptake blockers
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1535072/
  6. Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9649257/
  7. Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17214405/
  8. [Lack of efficacy of yohimbine in the treatment of obesity]
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3795978/
  9. Selected herbals and human exercise performance
    https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/2/624S/4729720
  10. Yohimbine Use for Physical Enhancement and Its Potential Toxicity
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221876414_Yohimbine_Use_for_Physical_Enhancement_and_Its_Potential_Toxicity
  11. Yohimbine: a clinical review
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11744068/
  12. [Psychiatric effects and side effects of the alpha-2-antagonist yohimbine: a review of literature and case report]
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19821221/
  13. Case Study: Two Fatal Case Reports of Acute Yohimbine Intoxication
    https://academic.oup.com/jat/article/37/8/611/776068
  14. Pharmaceutical quantities of yohimbine found in dietary supplements in the USA
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26391406/
  15. Adverse Psychiatric Effects Associated with Herbal Weight-Loss Products
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4589574/
  16. Yohimbe
    https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yohimbe
  17. Scientific assessment of yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe)
    https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2016-10/labelling_nutrition-vitamins_minerals-sa_yohimbe_en.pdf
  18. Yohimbine treatment of organic erectile dysfunction in a dose-escalation trial
    https://www.nature.com/articles/3900803
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