AUTHORITY NUTRITION

Yohimbe: Benefits, Uses and Side Effects

Written by Keith Pearson, PhD, RD on October 13, 2017

Yohimbe is a popular dietary supplement made from the bark of an African evergreen tree.

It is commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction. It has also become a growing trend among bodybuilders to help with fat loss.

Despite its popularity, there are some risks that you may want to be aware of before taking this supplement.

This article provides everything you need to know about yohimbe and its benefits, uses and potential dangers.

Man Taking Supplements

Yohimbe is an herbal supplement. It has a long history of use in West African traditional medicine to improve sexual performance.

More recently, yohimbe has been sold as a dietary supplement with a wide variety of common uses. These range from treating medical conditions like erectile dysfunction to aiding in weight loss.

The supplement is derived from the bark of an evergreen tree found in western and central Africa called the Pausinystalia johimbe.

It is often sold in capsule or tablet form and marketed as yohimbe bark extract or yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark. Many believe that yohimbine works by blocking receptors in the body called alpha-2 adrenergic receptors (1).

These receptors play an important role in inhibiting erections. Therefore, yohimbine is thought to help alleviate erectile dysfunction by blocking the receptors responsible for preventing erections (2).

Yohimbine may also promote the release of nitric oxide. This could lead to the dilation of blood vessels and an increase in blood flow to sexual organs (2).

Summary: Yohimbe is an herbal supplement that is used to treat erectile dysfunction and promote weight loss. The main way that yohimbe works in the body is through blocking alpha-2 adrenergic receptors.

Yohimbe is most well known for its claimed abilities to alleviate erectile dysfunction, but many wonder if there is any evidence behind this claim.

A review of seven controlled studies indicates there may be truth to the claim. In this study, yohimbine was clearly more effective than a placebo in treating erectile dysfunction (3).

One of the studies in the review examined the effects of yohimbine on 82 male veterans with erectile dysfunction (4).

After a month of treatment, 34% of patients taking yohimbine experienced at least a partial improvement in symptoms, while 20% of patients reported full and sustained erections. Only 7% of veterans taking a placebo reported any improvements.

However, organizations like the American Urology Association do not recommend yohimbine for the treatment of erectile dysfunction due to insufficient evidence and the potential for adverse side effects (5).

Summary: Studies show that taking yohimbine is more effective at treating erectile dysfunction than taking a placebo. However, medical organizations are hesitant to recommend the supplement due to insufficient evidence and potential side effects.

Yohimbe supplements are also marketed to help with weight loss and improve body composition.

Yohimbine’s ability to block the alpha-2 adrenergic receptors located in fat cells could, in theory, lead to increased fat loss and weight loss. Several controlled studies have evaluated this and found mixed results.

One study examined the effects of yohimbine in 20 obese females who consumed a 1,000- calorie diet for three weeks. The women taking yohimbine lost significantly more weight than those taking a placebo — 7.8 pounds (3.6 kg) vs. 4.9 pounds (2.2 kg) (6).

Yohimbine was also studied in elite soccer players, and was found to decrease body fat by 1.8 percentage points over the course of three weeks. No significant changes were found in the placebo group (7).

On the other hand, two additional controlled studies concluded that yohimbine had no significant effect on weight loss or fat loss (8, 9).

More research is needed before yohimbe is recommended for widespread use as a weight loss supplement.

Summary: Some studies have found that taking yohimbine led to greater weight loss and decreases in body fat. However, other studies found no effect. More research is needed to evaluate if yohimbe is an effective weight loss supplement.

Yohimbine is available as a prescription drug called yohimbine hydrochloride for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. However, supplements sold as yohimbe bark extract or yohimbine hydrochloride are also readily available over the counter.

The main concerns with yohimbe as a dietary supplement are inaccurate labeling of the product and potentially serious side effects. For these reasons, yohimbe supplements are banned in many countries including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom (10).

Reports of Inaccurate Labeling

Because dietary supplements are not strictly regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), there is no guarantee that the product you are getting is exactly what is on the label.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School examined 49 different yohimbe supplements and discovered that 78% of them did not clearly label how much yohimbine was in the product (11).

What’s more, the supplements that did label yohimbine content were inaccurate. The actual amounts of yohimbine in the supplements ranged from 28% to 147% of what was listed on the label.

This is highly concerning because it puts you at an increased risk of taking a higher dose of this supplement than you intended, which could lead to harmful side effects.

Adverse Effects of Yohimbe

Taking these supplements comes with the risk of several potentially dangerous side effects.

One study reviewed all the cases reported to the California Poison Control System regarding the adverse effects of yohimbine-containing supplements (12).

The most commonly reported side effects included gastrointestinal distress, increased heart rate, anxiety and high blood pressure. A few people even experienced life-threatening events, including heart attack, seizure and acute kidney injury.

However, it is worth mentioning that many of these cases resulted from products that contained several other ingredients in addition to yohimbe, which may have contributed to the adverse effects.

Summary: Taking yohimbe supplements comes with some potential dangers, including inaccurate product labeling and adverse effects.

There are a number of people who should not take yohimbe.

People with a history of heart disease, high or low blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease and mental health conditions should not take yohimbe (10).

Pregnant women and children under the age 18 should also refrain from using yohimbe.

If you have erectile dysfunction and are seeking to alleviate symptoms, consider talking to your doctor about treatment options. Safer and more effective medications have been developed, so doctors now prescribe yohimbine hydrochloride less frequently.

The current evidence for the effects of yohimbe on weight loss is inconclusive. There are numerous other lifestyle changes you can make to help you lose weight.

Overall, because of the prevalence of inaccurate labeling and potential side effects, it may be safest to avoid this supplement altogether.

If you do decide to take yohimbe supplements, buy from a reputable company. Ensure the product has been tested for quality and safety and clearly labels how much yohimbine it contains.

There are no standard dosing guidelines for yohimbe supplements. Some sources have suggested taking no more than the equivalent of 30 mg of yohimbine hydrochloride per day, or around 10 mg three times daily (10).

Other studies have used 0.09 mg/pound/day (0.20 mg/kg/day) in study participants. That is equivalent to 15 mg/day for a 165-pound (or 65-kg) adult (13, 14).

Summary: Because of inaccurate labeling and potential side effects, it may be safest to avoid yohimbe altogether. If you do take yohimbe, make sure to find a product from a reputable brand that has been tested for quality and safety.

Yohimbe is a popular herbal supplement marketed to help with erectile dysfunction and improve body composition and weight loss.

Yohimbine is the main active ingredient in yohimbe supplements, and there is evidence that it can effectively improve erectile dysfunction. However, the research on weight loss and body composition seems to report mixed results.

Studies have revealed several cases of inaccurate labeling on yohimbe products. Not to mention, taking this product comes with the risk of some potentially harmful side effects.

Because of these things, it may be safest to avoid this supplement altogether or at least make sure you are purchasing a product from a reputable company.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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