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Yohimbe is a herbal supplement derived from the bark of the evergreen yohimbe tree, which grows in the lowland forests of Central and Western Africa. It has a long history in West African medicine, principally as an aphrodisiac. Today, it’s marketed as a herbal remedy for erectile dysfunction and weight loss, however, studies into these claims are inconclusive.
While it may help alleviate ED, yohimbe supplements also have a wide range of reported side effects, and should not be considered an alternative to FDA-approved ED medications.
It’s been praised as a herbal remedy for erectile dysfunction, while bodybuilders swear by its fat-fighting properties. But just how effective is yohimbe at tackling these issues?
In this article, we’re going to explain what yohimbe is, where it comes from, and how to use it, before examining its potential health benefits and side effects.
What is Yohimbe?
Pausinystalia johimbe, commonly called yohimbe, is a plant species found in the lowland forests of Central and Western Africa — most notably Nigeria, Gabon, and Cameroon.
An evergreen tree that grows to around 30m tall, its extracts have been used in traditional medicine in West Africa as an aphrodisiac. More recently, yohimbe has been sold as a dietary supplement with a wide range of claimed health benefits.
The bark of the tree contains active compounds called alkaloids, the principal of which is called yohimbine. It’s typically sold in health food stores and online as a capsule, tablet, or in powder form, and is often marketed as yohimbe bark extract or, simply, yohimbine.
How does it work?
It’s believed that the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, yohimbine, works by blocking the body’s alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. These receptors are responsible for preventing erections, so by blocking them, it may help alleviate erectile dysfunction.
It may also promote the release of nitric oxide in the body, which could help to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to sexual organs.
How to Use Yohimbe
Yohimbe has a reddish, copper-like colour and a bitter taste.
It’s taken orally, either as a capsule or a liquid extract. It’s also widely available as a powder supplement, which can be mixed into a beverage of your choice.
A number of different dosages have been observed in scientific studies, but there’s no single recommended dose of yohimbe. It does, however, have a narrow therapeutic window. Too small a dose, and it won’t do anything. Too high, and it can be toxic.
Potential Health Benefits of Yohimbe
There are a number of potential health benefits to using yohimbe. But, before we delve a little deeper, it’s important to note that research into the effectiveness of yohimbe is still ongoing.
Many of the studies are inconclusive and dated, while the supplement’s popularity has come about largely due to anecdotal evidence as opposed to anything scientific.
Yohimbe may help with:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Weight loss
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Yohimbe is perhaps best known for its alleged ability to treat erectile dysfunction:
- A UK analysis of randomized clinical trials suggests there might be something to this claim, concluding that the “benefit of yohimbine medication for erectile dysfunction seems to outweigh its risks.”
- And one of the studies analysed as part of the review found that 34% of patients taking yohimbine observed a partial improvement in ED symptoms, and 20% experienced full and sustained erections.
- However, a 2014 review of sexual enhancement products suggested it was no more effective than a placebo.
Yohimbine supplements are also popular with bodybuilders, athletes, and with the weight loss community.
But do its fat-fighting claims stack up?
As far as scientific studies are concerned, it’s a mixed bag:
- A 2006 study of the effects of yohimbine on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players observed that body fat percentage significantly decreased. However, there were no changes in exercise performance indicators.
- Meanwhile, a 1991 study of 20 obese females found that those taking yohimbine — in conjunction with a low-energy, 1,000-calorie a day diet — lost more weight than those in the placebo group.
- However, another couple of controlled studies found that yohimbine was not effective in the treatment of obesity and that it did not affect fat distribution in men.
What Are the Side Effects of Yohimbe?
Unlike prescription medication, diet supplements are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The responsibility for labelling rests with the manufacturer, and this means there’s no guarantee that what’s listed is an accurate reflection of the ingredients in the supplement.
These discrepancies were highlighted by a Harvard Medical School study, which found that the majority of the 49 yohimbe supplements they examined did not list how much yohimbe was in the product. And, more worryingly, the supplements that did list yohimbe content were inaccurate.
Misleading labelling puts you at risk of consuming higher doses of yohimbe than intended, and this could lead to potentially serious side effects.
Side effects can include:
- Faster or irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Heightened anxiety
- Breathing problems
- Chest pain
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- A rash or flushed skin
- Muscle tremors
- Trouble sleeping
- A painful erection that won’t subside
- Pain in your genitals
Yohimbe may also interact with medications. You should avoid using yohimbe if you’re taking medication for diabetes, or if you have heart, kidney, or liver problems. And you shouldn’t use it if you suffer from mental illness or seizures.
With such a long list of concerns attached, it’s little wonder yohimbe supplements are currently banned in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, along with Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Yohimbe remains a popular herbal supplement, but its reputation for helping with ED and weight loss deserves scrutiny.
Research into both claims has returned mixed results, while reports of inaccurately labelled supplements could expose users to higher-than-recommended doses and harmful side effects.
And as far as ED treatment goes, yohimbe should not be considered an alternative to FDA-approved drugs like Sildenafil and Tadalafil.