Yohimbe: Is This Herbal Supplement Really Safe and Effective?

Fact Checked

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Yohimbe belongs in the rubiaceae botanical family, and has a scientific name of Pausinystalia yohimbe
  • Yohimbe has long been known for its fat-burning and aphrodisiac properties
  • The touted benefits of yohimbe are linked to its capacity to stimulate the central nervous system, increase adrenaline levels and inhibit the regulatory process in fat cells

Most people think that all traditional herbal medicines are safe and effective. While most of these herbal remedies are safe, there are a few that may cause some serious side effects. Yohimbe is an example of herbal supplement that may do your body more harm than good.

Yohimbe has long been known for its fat-burning and aphrodisiac properties. However, it's also linked to a barrage of side effects that may put your life in danger.1 Before you consider taking yohimbe supplement, make sure that you're well aware of what it is, how it works and what its potential effects on your body are.

What Is Yohimbe?

Yohimbe is an evergreen tree that grows in Western and Central Africa, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. It belongs in the rubiaceae botanical family, and has a scientific name of Pausinystalia yohimbe.

It's traditionally used by Pygmies and Bushmen as an aphrodisiac and stimulant. In the 19th century, German missionaries brought this herbal plant to Europe, where it became known as the "love tree." The extract of this herb is clear and odorless with a bitter taste, and is traditionally prepared and consumed as a tea. Nowadays, medicines and supplements that contain yohimbe bark are available in capsule and tablet form.

The yohimbe bark extract contains approximately 6 percent alkaloids — 10 to 15 percent of this alkaloid content is yohimbine. It's important to note, though, that yohimbine is classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a potentially toxic alkaloid.2

The concentration of yohimbine in commercial supplements may vary from one manufacturer to another. A chemical analysis conducted on 26 brands of yohimbe supplement shows that nine products contain no yohimbe extract at all, while eight products contain only small amounts of yohimbine — approximately 0.1 to 1 parts per million (ppm), which is significantly low compared to 7,089 ppm yohimbine in an authentic yohimbe bark.3

Because of the inconsistency in yohimbine concentration, it's hard to know exactly how much yohimbe supplement must be taken before it delivers any positive effects. What's worse is that it may cause serious complications before it even provides any health benefits.

All the drawbacks of yohimbe make it a risky supplement to take, and you're probably better off avoiding this herb if you really want to maintain a healthy body.

The So-Called Benefits of Yohimbe: Can It Really Deliver These Effects?

The touted benefits of yohimbe are linked to its capacity to stimulate the central nervous system, increase adrenaline levels and inhibit the regulatory process in fat cells. However, there is still not enough evidence to support some of its benefits, which include:4,5

  • Increased blood circulation — Early studies suggest that a single dose of yohimbe is enough to increase the flow of blood throughout the body.
  • Increased fat breakdown and energy level — Yohimbe increases the amount of norepinephrine in the body, which may lead to better fatty acid mobilization. It's also believed to stimulate testosterone production, which helps build body mass.
  • Improved mood — Some studies suggest that yohimbe can help alleviate anxiety, fear and depression.
  • Better sexual health — Yohimbe has been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac. Some studies also suggest that it helps treat impotence, as it increases the flow of blood to the genitals.

Since it's still unclear whether yohimbe can really provide health benefits without causing any adverse side effects, it's wise to talk to your physician first before including this herb into your supplement regimen.

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What Are the Uses of Yohimbe?

As mentioned above, the extract of yohimbe bark has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Recently, yohimbe supplement also became popular for its bodybuilding and fat-burning properties, despite the lack of data to support it as a dieting agent. In addition, supplement manufacturers claim that yohimbe can be used for the following applications:6,7

  • Treating low blood pressure
  • Alleviating psychological stress, anxiety and depression
  • Treating erectile dysfunction
  • Preventing symptoms of dry mouth
  • Alleviating exhaustion
  • Relieving chest pain
  • Preventing diabetes complications
  • Inducing lipid mobilization in obese patients
  • Facilitating fear extinction
  • Suppressing appetite

However, more evidence is needed to confirm the efficiency of yohimbe supplement for these uses. In fact, a number of recent studies conducted on this herbal supplement shows conflicting results regarding its efficiency and safety, so it's hard to predict exactly what yohimbe does to the body and how it may affect your health.

Studies Show Mixed Results Regarding the Efficiency of Yohimbe

Researchers have been studying the benefits, uses and side effects of yohimbe over the years. While some studies confirm its efficiency, others dispute its benefits and safety.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses tested the effects of yohimbe if administered prior to exercise. The result suggests that this supplement helps boost lipolysis and lower the respiratory quotient, effectively promoting fat loss.8

However, a recent study that involves yohimbe supplementation to athletes ended with an unsatisfactory result. According to this study, yohimbe did not have any significant effects on body mass, muscle mass and exercise performance even after it was taken for 21 days. Even though it helped burn body fat, it may not be a useful supplement for boosting endurance.9

Moreover, the use of yohimbe as a treatment for sexual dysfunction has also been questioned in certain studies, despite the number of researches that supported its efficiency in this aspect.10

According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the use of yohimbe for increasing sexual desire and/or performance is not encouraged since it only has mild effects. While it may help treat psychogenic erectile dysfunction, it may not be efficient when it comes to treating severe cases of this condition.11

The conflicting results of these studies beg the question of whether it's worth the risk to take yohimbe for its mild and potentially insignificant benefits.

Yohimbe Dosage: How Much of This Supplement Is Safe to Take?

Yohimbe is usually taken orally, but it may also be administered intravenously for certain cases. Weight is also sometimes used as a guide to determine the dosage of this supplement. A 150-pound (lb.) person should take roughly 14 mg of yohimbe per day, while those who weigh 200 lbs. and 250 lbs. should take around 18 mg and 22 mg yohimbe, respectively.

Since most yohimbe supplement do not declare exactly how much yohimbine they contain, it's important to start with a half-dose first to properly assess the body's tolerance to this supplement before increasing the dosage.

It's important to note that precaution must always be observed when taking yohimbe supplement, since one wrong dosage may lead to a variety of serious side effects.

Find Out the Numerous Side Effects of Yohimbe

The potential side effects of yohimbe outnumber its benefits, which is why it's prohibited in many countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and Austria.12 Here's how it may affect the following body systems:13,14,15

  • Cardiovascular system — Some of the cardiovascular side effects of yohimbe include hypertension, palpitation, atrial fibrillation, breathing problems and heart failure.
  • Nervous system — Yohimbe may affect the nervous system and cause muscle tremors, dizziness, agitation and increased motor activity.
  • Gastrointestinal system — Gastrointestinal side effects that are linked to yohimbe include nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, bloating and loss of appetite.
  • Excretory system — It may affect the urinary system and cause frequent urination, kidney diseases and progressive kidney failure.
  • Dermatologic — Dermatologic side effects include skin flushing, rashes, itchiness and scaling.
  • Psychiatric — Some of the psychiatric problems caused by yohimbe supplementation include anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Yohimbe may also interact with other medicines and supplements, such as antidepressants, stimulants, antihistamines, antibiotics and prescriptions drugs for diabetes and blood pressure.

Moreover, it's considered unsafe for pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, as well as those who are suffering from certain conditions and diseases, such as kidney and liver problems, diabetes, bleeding conditions and heart disorders.16

There's no doubt that yohimbe is a supplement that must be taken with precaution, what with all the side effects and interactions that it may cause. If you want to lose weight and boost your athletic performance without compromising your overall health, then I suggest choosing other natural alternatives that do not have any side effects.

Try These Safe, Natural Options to Lose Weight, Boost Endurance and Improve Sexual Health

You don't have to risk your health by taking yohimbe just to achieve your dream body or improve your sexual health. There are other natural alternatives that are a lot safer than this traditional herbal medicine. Here are some methods that you should try:

Watch what you eat — Keep in mind that your diet significantly affects different processes in your body, so make sure that you carefully choose the foods that you ingest. Processed foods and sugary snacks are generally bad for your health, so it's best to remove them from your diet.

Make sure that you're eating real food. Organic foods that are rich in high-quality fiber are great for those who are trying to lose weight, while foods that are rich in flavonoids may help treat sexual dysfunction.

Get a good night's sleep — Quality sleep restores your endurance, cognitive abilities, responsiveness and sexual drive. Be sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep to keep your mind and body in tiptop shape.

Eliminate your bad habits — Bad lifestyle habits may take a toll on your body, making it harder for you to maintain your athletic performance, regulate your weight or treat sexual dysfunction. To keep your body in its best condition, quit your bad habits immediately — eliminate smoking, avoid excessive alcohol intake and cut down your late-night meals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Yohimbe

Q: Is yohimbe safe?

A: Some studies claim that yohimbe is safe if taken in correct doses.17 However, there are reported cases wherein people experienced side effects, such as muscle tremors, insomnia, anxiety and headache, even though they took the right amount of yohimbe.

It's also important to note that this supplement is deemed unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for those who are suffering from certain conditions, such as schizophrenia, diabetes, depression and diseases of the heart, liver and kidney.18

Q: Does yohimbe work?

A: It's still unclear whether yohimbe works or not, since the studies regarding its efficiency have shown conflicting results. There is very little research that supports its fat-burning properties, so it may not be the best supplement for losing weight.

However, its efficiency as an aphrodisiac is better documented, which means that it may have some potential advantage for sexual health and/or performance. You should keep in mind, though, that taking this herb may expose you to various health risks.19

Q: What is yohimbe used for?

A: Yohimbe is commonly used as a weight loss supplement since it's touted to boost athletic performance and burn body fat. Its standardized form is also used for treating erectile dysfunction.20

Q: How long does it take for yohimbe to work?

A: The absorption rate of yohimbe is fast. According to studies, it's completely absorbed by the body after 45 to 60 minutes of ingestion.21

Q: How much yohimbe should I take?

A: The recommended dosage for yohimbe depends on a person's weight. However, it's important to be cautious when taking yohimbe supplement, since one wrong dosage may lead to a variety of serious side effects.