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Dec 23, 2021
6 min read

Yohimbine: benefits, uses, and side effects

Yohimbine is the active component of Yohimbe bark, which is derived from a tree native to Africa. It’s available over-the-counter in a range of herbal supplement combinations. It’s been reputed to enhance male sexual function, increase libido, raise testosterone levels, boost athletic performance, and help you lose weight, but there’s minimal evidence to support these claims.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

When you’re browsing through a vitamin store, you can’t take a step without bumping into a male enhancement supplement containing yohimbine. This ancient herb extracted from tree bark has been touted as an aphrodisiac, a weight loss aid, an athletic performance booster, and more. But are these claims more bark than bite? Read on to find out.

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What is yohimbine?

Yohimbine is a substance derived from the bark of an African evergreen tree called Pausinystalia yohimbe. It’s been used in traditional West African medicine for thousands of years as an aphrodisiac.

The active component actually made its way into the world of prescription healthcare and was used as a treatment for ED before pills like Viagra took the world by storm in the late 1990s. 

What’s the difference between Yohimbe and yohimbine?

Yohimbe (johimbe) refers to the Yohimbe tree or Yohimbe bark, while yohimbine is the active chemical extracted from the tree bark responsible for the bark’s purportedly potent properties. A synthetic preparation called yohimbine HCl (yohimbine hydrochloride) is a modified version of the Yohimbe or Yohimbe bark extract you can buy over-the-counter from a vitamin store. Since it’s more concentrated, it’s only available as a prescription drug.

Yohimbine and ED

Some dietary supplements that contain Yohimbe or yohimbine suggest that they may alleviate ED (erectile dysfunction). But this bark won’t necessarily give you wood. 

There’s some research that suggests Yohimbe may stimulate the release of certain chemicals that can help you get an erection. A 1998 review of seven clinical trials found that Yohimbe was better than a placebo for the treatment of ED. In fact, after eight weeks of treatment over three times as many people had satisfactory erections in the Yohimbe group compared to the placebo group, and side effects were rare. Next, the people in the placebo group were given Yohimbe, and around 40% saw improved erections (Ernst, 1998). 

Still, researchers in later studies weren’t quite as convinced. A 2001 review found that yohimbine was rarely significantly better than a placebo for treating ED (Tam, 2001). 

And while Yohimbe may be more effective than no treatment at all, there are no studies directly comparing the naturally occurring supplement to what healthcare providers would consider the best treatments for ED, like Viagra (generic name sildenafil; see Important Safety Information) or Cialis (generic name tadalafil; see Important Safety Information) (Cui, 2015). 

Yohimbine for weight loss

Yohimbe is sometimes used in dietary supplements that claim to support weight loss. One small study found that 20 women with obesity who ate a low-calorie diet for three weeks and took a yohimbine supplement lost more weight than women on the same diet who took a placebo (Kucio, 1991).  But it’s hard to draw any major conclusions from a study that small.

A 2005 review found that only a few studies compared yohimbine for weight loss to placebo, and the results were conflicting. They conclude that there isn’t much evidence that yohimbine can support weight loss (Pittler, 2005).  

Yohimbine for athletic performance

Some supplements containing Yohimbe are marketed as athletic performance boosters, but there’s no significant scientific research to support this claim. 

In one clinical trial, researchers found that yohimbine didn’t change the overall performance or muscle bulk in a small group of soccer players (Ostojic, 2006). A 2011 review found that yohimbine is usually tolerated well with only a few side effects, but doesn’t really have much of an impact on athletic performance (Cimolai, 2011). 

Forms of yohimbine

Yohimbine is found either alone or as part of Yohimbe supplements. They’re sold as extracts, capsules, powder, and tablets.

Yohimbine side effects and potential risks

Even though yohimbine is available over-the-counter, it’s not without risks. Yohimbine works by blocking certain receptors in the body, including alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. These receptors play a crucial role in regulating important body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, just to name a few. 

Unlike medications, supplements like yohimbine aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they’re sold, so there’s no guarantee of purity or potency of any variety you buy (FDA, 2017).

Plus, Yohimbe supplements are often improperly labeled, which can be dangerous. In 2015, researchers tested 49 popular over-the-counter supplements that included Yohimbe or yohimbine and found that only 4% had accurate concentrations of yohimbine listed on the label. Most products either didn’t list a quantity at all or had amounts that differed from the concentration on the label. Some were far stronger, while others were much weaker (Cohen, 2015).

And even though Yohimbe is generally well tolerated, some people do experience side effects.  Reported side effects of yohimbine include (NIDDKD, 2012):

Yohimbe may be dangerous for people who have certain medical conditions or take certain medications. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), or mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder should not take Yohimbe (Tsai, 2012). 

In rare cases, Yohimbe can cause even more severe side effects. Experts warn that Yohimbe use has been associated with heart attacks and seizures (Kearney, 2010). There have also been reported cases of fatal Yohimbe overdoses (Anderson, 2013). It’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider about any underlying health conditions or risks you may have, as well as any medications you’re taking before you start a supplement. 

While yohimbe might support erectile function, weight loss, and athletic performance, the scientific evidence isn’t very strong. It’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional to help you find the best treatment options for you. 

References

  1. Anderson, C., Anderson, D., Harre, N., & Wade, N. (2013). Case study: two fatal case reports of acute yohimbine intoxication. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 37(8), 611–614. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkt057. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jat/article/37/8/611/776068
  2. Brunetti, P., Lo Faro, A. F., Tini, A., Busardò, F. P., & Carlier, J. (2020). Pharmacology of Herbal Sexual Enhancers: A Review of Psychiatric and Neurological Adverse Effects. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 13(10), 309. doi:10.3390/ph13100309. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7602496/
  3. Cimolai, N. & Cimolai, T. (2011). Yohimbine use for physical enhancement and its potential toxicity. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 8(4), 346–354. doi:10.3109/19390211.2011.615806. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22432773/Cohen, P. A., Wang, Y. H., Maller, G., Desouza, R., & Khan, I. A. (2015). Pharmaceutical quantities of yohimbine found in dietary supplements in the USA. Drug Testing and Analysis, 8(3-4), 357–369. doi: 10.1002/dta.1849. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26391406/
  4. Cui, T., Kovell, R. C., Brooks, D. C., & Terlecki, R. P. (2015). A urologists guide to ingredients found in top-selling nutraceuticals for mens sexual health. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(11), 2105–2117. doi: 10.1111/jsm.13013. Retrieved from https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(15)34439-8/fulltext
  5. Ernst, E. & Pittler, M. H. (1998). Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. The Journal of Urology, 159(2), 433–436. doi:10.1016/s0022-5347(01)63942-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9649257/
  6. Ernst, E. & Pittler, M. H. (1998). Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. The Journal of Urology, 159(2), 433–436. doi:10.1016/s0022-5347(01)63942-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9649257/
  7. European Food Safety Association (EFSA). Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of the safety in use of Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe (K. Schum.) Pierre ex Beille. EFSA J. 11(7):3302. Retrieved from https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/3302
  8. Kearney T, Tu N, & Haller C. (2010). Adverse drug events associated with yohimbine-containing products: a retrospective review of the California Poison Control System reported cases. Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 44(6):1022-1029. doi: 10.1345/aph.1P060. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20442348/
  9. Kucio, C., Jonderko, K., & Pikorska, D. (1991). Does yohimbine act as a slimming drug? Europe PMC, 27(10), 550–556. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/article/med/1955308
  10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (2016, September). Yohimbe. Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2021 from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yohimbe
  11. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD). (2012). LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2012). Yohimbine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548703/ 
  12. Ostojic, S. M. (2006). Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Research in Sports Medicine, 14(4), 289–299. doi:0.1080/15438620600987106. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17214405/
  13. Pittler, M. H., & Ernst, E. (2005). Complementary therapies for reducing body weight: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity, 29(9), 1030–1038. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803008. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/0803008#Tab2
  14. Tam, S. W., Worcel, M., & Wyllie, M. (2001). Yohimbine: a clinical review. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 91(3), 215–243. doi:/10.1016/s0163-7258(01)00156-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11744068/
  15. Tsai, H. H., Lin, H. W., Simon Pickard, A., Tsai, H. Y., & Mahady, G. B. (2012). Evaluation of documented drug interactions and contraindications associated with herbs and dietary supplements: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 66(11), 1056–1078. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2012.03008.x. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2012.03008.x
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2017). What you need to know about dietary supplements. Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2021 from https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/what-you-need-know-about-dietary-supplements