Yohimbe is a popular ingredient in many weight loss supplements as well as products for sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction and loss of libido; it is undeniably a strong and powerful plant extract with many possible benefits. However many people are put off by the potential side effects because it can pose a serious health risk. So, is it good or is it bad? Is Yohimbe a supplement saint, or a dodgy looking sinner?
We look into all things Yohimbe to find out.
Yohimbe is a type of tree, specifically one of five Pausinystalia evergreen trees that can be found in the lowland forests of Western and Central Africa. It is straight like a fir tree and can grow up to 30 metres in height. The Yohimbe tree has a thin trunk usually no wider than 60cm, with reddish brown bark on the outside, and the inside of the bark usually a more pinky colour. The bark is soft and easy to peel, and when eaten has a bitter taste. It is this tree bark which is the substance usually included in supplements and medicines.
Yohimbe bark has long been used in traditional medicine in its native growing areas. The bark is taken to enhance sexual prowess and pleasure.
It has also been used as a treatment for fever, coughs, and leprosy, and it is known as a mild hallucinogenic. These qualities have made Yohimbe a popular and almost legendary medicine.
The claims about Yohimbe are nothing new. In the 19th century, German missionaries carried back Yohimbe from West Africa to Europe where it soon became very popular. The Yohimbe tree became known as “the love tree”, and Yohimbe bark was placed into novelty sugar candles. In turn these became known as “Love Candles”, a popular gift between lovers in the late 1800s.
Nowadays, the popularity of Yohimbe has soared. The bark is usually sold as dietary supplements in tablet or powder form, and it can also be taken as a tea. Yohimbe is marketed for erectile dysfunction, weight loss, exercise performance, low blood pressure adjustment, and anxiety disorders.
The long history of Yohimbe in traditional medicines as an aphrodisiac is probably at the root of its popularity. Reported effects include increased libido, increased sensation, and increased stamina. It stimulates blood flow and nerve centres to the genitals, so it can strengthen and prolong an erection. It also helps counteract the sexual side effects of certain medications used for depression.
The US Food & Drug Administration ran scientific tests on Yohimbe in the 1960s to see if it actually worked as an aphrodisiac. Scientists discovered that Yohimbe was an aphrodisiac, especially for men, but it was not able to help those who suffer from organic impotency.
The studies also reported Yohimbe can heighten the sense of touch, and send tickling sensations up and down the spine. Source
Yohimbe is often claimed as a weight loss and fat burner. This is because some studies have shown Yohimbine, the active chemical, is effective in removing “stubborn fat.” Yohimbine prevents the release of a mobilzer important in the fight or flee response. This has an unusual side effect which causes Norepinephrine levels to rise, which in turn causes the body to break down fat cells.
In simple terms, Yohimbe puts your body into stress mode and because this causes the metabolism to rise, it can increase the rate at which your body burns fat. There is some good evidence for this, but over time these effects are seen to drop off so its long term value is probably over rated.
The rise in metabolism is also used to reason that Yohimbine can also be used as a pre workout supplement. However, side effects have been reported that can be unpleasant and dangerous, including increased anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and sweating profusely.
Yohimbine blocks monoamine oxidase (MAO), dopamine and serotonin, and blocking MAO, can be used to help with depression. However, blocking dopamine and serotonin can also make depression worse. Taking Yohimbe along with MAOIs might dangerously increase the effects and side effects of Yohimbe and MAOIs. Taking Yohimbe extract for anxiety and depression is not a good idea.
Small amounts of Yohimbine can increase blood pressure, and large amounts can cause dangerously decrease pressure, so it is seriously unpredictable. This is very risky and can impact badly on the heart, unless you have been advised by a doctor to try this. It is not advisable to take any form of Yohimbe if you have any form of cardio vascular problems.
Yohimbe can cause either hypotension or hypertension. The herb dilates the blood vessels by relaxing their walls. According to the National Library of Medicine, this will reduce blood pressure to dangerously low levels. Because of its effects, it can also cause dangerously high blood pressure, as it increases the heart rate dramatically. Early symptoms of this can be felt as dizziness and shortness of breath, which are signs of cardiac issues caused by Yohimbe.
The main extract from Yohimbe is an alkaloid called Yohimbine. This is also the main ingredient for a drug used in veterinary medicine to reverse the effects of sedentary effects of Xylazine in dogs and deer. Xylazine is used for sedation, anaesthesia, and muscle relaxation. For clarity – the effect of the Xylazine is reversed in animals by using Yohimbine to bring them round. Source
Yohimbe and the ingredient Yohimbine can cause stomach upset, excitation, tremors, sleep problems, anxiety or agitation, high blood pressure, a racing heartbeat, dizziness, stomach problems, drooling, sinus pain, irritability, headache, frequent urination, bloating, rash, nausea, and vomiting.
A major additional problem with using Yohimbine, is it reacts with many prescription pharmaceuticals with some strong adverse effects.
Taking high doses can cause severe problems, including difficulty breathing, paralysis, very low blood pressure, heart problems, and in a few cases, death.
A supplement with Yohimbe and other herbs may conflict with prescription medications or the body’s metabolism. Yohimbe definitely falls into this category, and the problem is you can’t be certain of what you are taking.
A form of Yohimbe, called Yohimbine hydrochloride, is a prescription drug in North America that comes under names including Aphrodyne and Yacon, and this cannot be sold legally over the counter. This ED drug can be used in the short term under medical supervision, but is not considered safe for use when unsupervised.
However, Yohimbe as a plant extract is legal to buy in the USA, and it shows up in numerous supplements despite the risks to health.
Yohimbe is banned for supplement use in the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, and across Europe, although it is available in some countries for prescription use and for veterinary purposes.
There is a long list of health warnings which will be made worse if you have any specific medical issues, and if you are walking around with an undiagnosed medical condition, you could be in serious trouble.
As a prescription medication, Yohimbe can be effective. Healthy individuals taking Yohimbe products at recommended doses, with the knowledge and permission of their Medical practitioner, rarely experience serious side effects. Your doctor will not prescribe Yohimbe if you have any underlying medical conditions relating to the cardiovascular or nervous system, or any psychological issues.
For the rest of us, Yohimbe is unpredictable. When it is added to supplements in uncertain quantities, you really will have no idea what you are taking or how it will affect you. The FDA control and regulate prescription drugs and over the counter medicines. They have little control over herbal supplements, so you are on your own with using them.
It is important to remember that just because a supplement is openly on sale, it does not mean it is safe. Yes, Yohimbe may work in the way it is supposed to work but with this dangerous extract, the long list of potentially devastating side effects certainly is not worth the risk.