Yohimbe is an herbal remedy extracted from the bark of the Pausinystalia Yohimbe tree; a very tall evergreen that grows in certain African countries including Cameroon, Nigeria and Gabon. Yohimbe bark contains an active chemical ingredient called yohimbine which is the ingredient responsible for its purported use for sexual dysfunction.
As well as its use as an arousal enhancer, yohimbe might enhance athletic performance, aid weight loss and improve focus. In the US yohimbine hydrochloride has been approved by the FDA and is available as a prescription medication to treat erectile dysfunction.
Some people claim that Yohimbe bark extract contains potent antioxidants and can be used to prevent heart attack. While most studies suggest that yohimbe is safe in moderate doses, there is a very real risk of adverse side effects when Yohimbe supplements are taken in high doses which we will look at in more detail later in the article.
It should also be noted that all of the studies into yohimbe have been done with regard to yohimbine hydrochloride (HCL) as opposed to the yohimbe bark extract.
For Weight Loss
With obesity becoming such an enormous societal health issue in the Western world, there is huge interest in discovering a treatment which will help get the problem under control. Whether yohimbe can actually help you to lose those unwanted pounds is still a matter of some dispute but yohimbe has become relatively popular among bodybuilders cutting weight prior to competition.
The alkaloids present in yohimbe bark extract are believed to block alpha-2 receptors in the body which inhibit the loss of fat. Several studies have been conducted into yohimbe’s potential as a weight loss aid with mixed results.
A small scale study published in 1991 observed the effects of yohimbine on 20 obese women undergoing strict calorie control diets of 1.000 calories a day. At the end of the 3 week experiment, those who received a daily 20 mg dose of yohimbine hydrochloride lost around 3 pounds more than the placebo group. While this is not a huge amount of weight, researchers concluded that the results merited further research into yohimbe to manage and treat obesity. (1)
Fat Loss and Exercise
Yohimbine has developed a reputation for its ability to target and reduce stubborn body fat. Many people have also suggested that yohimbe may be able to boost athletic performance when taken before exercise and a few studies have explored the truth of this claim. Results have demonstrated that yohimbe has minimal effect on athletic performance but it does have an impact on the body composition and fat loss in those who take it.
When taken immediately prior to exercise, yohimbine might enhance the efficiency and quality of exercise leading to greater fat loss. Research has demonstrated that when taken before exercise, yohimbine boosts lipolysis as well as serum levels and contributes to fat loss. (2)
A relatively recent study published in 2006 was conducted to explore the effect of yohimbine supplements on exercise performance and body composition in professional athletes. 20 high level soccer players were given a daily yohimbine dose of 20 mgs for 21 days. No improvements in performance or body weight were observed however there was a significant decrease in the body fat percentage of subjects who took the supplement compared to the control group. (3)
For Sex Drive and erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction to one extent or another is an ever increasing problem. Some 30 million men in the US alone are afflicted. Yohimbe has developed a reputation as a treatment for male impotence and for increasing sexual arousal in both men and women. Yohimbe and other herbs like “Horny Goat Weed” have been touted as herbal Viagra alternatives.
According to research yohimbe or more specifically its active compound, yohimbine stimulates the body’s central nervous system resulting in an increased production of noradrenaline and nitric oxide. This process causes the body’s blood vessels to dilate and the combination of raised energy and blood flow gives the herb its aphrodisiac qualities.
Nearly all of the known research has focused on yohimbine and it is still unclear whether yohimbe bark itself has the same effects yohimbine. As well as its aphrodisiac effect, yohimbine has been tested for its effects on impotence and erectile dysfunction against a placebo in a number of randomized trials with mixed results depending on the severity of erectile dysfunction.
Yohimbine is available in the US and certain other countries in prescription form for ED. In the US it is strictly regulated by the FDA and is only prescribed for erectile dysfunction. Doses of up to 10 mg a day have been tested and are considered to be safe. There are some suggestions and anecdotal reports that yohimbe bark has a greater effect than the yohimbine ingredient but there have been no studies to determine whether this is the case.
One of the earliest studies published in 1989 studied the effects of yohimbine hydrochloride in 82 impotent male participants. Following a month of treatment with 42 mg doses of the extract, 14% of the subjects experienced full restoration of erections, 20% reported partial response while the majority experienced no improvement at all. Researchers concluded that the potential benefits outweighed the risks and that yohimbine was a worthy first line of treatment to overcome severe cases of impotence. (4)
Several more recent studies have found that yohimbine in single doses as low as 5 to 10mgs stimulated blood flow to the penis and had a positive effect on erectile dysfunction though the extent of the effect depended on the severity of the dysfunction. (5) (6)
There is also some evidence that when sexual dysfunction is caused by prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitors that yohimbine is an effective treatment. (7) Yohimbe can be safely combined with L-arginine to treat ED. (8)
Yohimbe is a known vasodilator meaning that it allows the body’s blood vessels to expand. This means that blood is able to flow more efficiently and smoothly around the body. Studies into the active compound yohimbine have demonstrated that it is especially effective in improving the flow of blood to the extremities and also aid the delivery of nutrients to the cells.
Preliminary research has indicated that yohimbine supplements can improve dry mouth symptoms for those taking antidepressants. The effect of yohimbe bark has not been examined and remains unclear.
In some type 2 diabetics Yohimbine can increase insulin secretion (10). The research is in a very early stage. The benefits are specific to type 2 diabetics with a ADRA2A gene of a specific “insulin reducing” type.
Yohimbe side effects
Yohimbe is considered safe when taken in moderate doses and for a short period but as was mentioned at the beginning of the article; yohimbe is not risk free. In higher doses it is known to cause a number of adverse side effects and should be taken only under medical supervision.
Reported side effects include rapid and irregular heartbeat, profuse sweating, seizures, kidney failure and even heart attack. It might also cause stomach upset, dizziness, anxiety, raised blood pressure, nausea and vomiting. The extent of the problem can be seen by the dramatic rise in the number of adverse drug effect cases reported to the California Poison Control system between 2000 and 2006. (9)
- Children should not take yohimbe or yohimbine products.
- Extremely high doses of yohimbe (over 40mg) can result in even more serious side effects like hallucinations and even paralysis.
- Yohimbe is considered unsafe for pregnant women as it may damage the uterus and put the pregnancy at risk. Nursing mothers are also recommended to avoid taking yohimbe.
- People with pre-existing liver, kidney or heart disease should not take yohimbe.
- Yohimbe can affect the blood pressure. High doses can result in very low blood pressure while low doses are known to raise the blood pressure.
- People with anxiety issues or depression are advised not to take yohimbe as it might exacerbate the symptoms.
- Some fat loss supplements mix yohimbe and caffeine—which can increase the potential side effects.
If you are going to take Yohimbe I’d recommend starting with a small dose to see how you respond to the side effects. While there is research showing it is effective—there is as much research showing it has potentially serious side effects on the level of prescription drugs. If you take Yohimbe—take it seriously!
Just because it is an herb does not mean it’s automatically “safe”. If you want to try Yohimbe we suggest a trusted brand like TwinLabs.