Where it comes from: Yohimbe is derived from the bark of a west African evergreen tree. Yohimbine is an active chemical (an alkaloid) found in said bark and is cultivated into supplement form. Yohimbine hydrochloride is a standardized form of yohimbine that is available as a prescription drug in the United States. These terms are all related but are interchangeable.
What it’ll do for you: “Yohimbe dilates the blood vessels and can lower blood pressure,” says Dr. Patrick M. Fratellone, an integrated physician with a practice in Manhattan. “So experts figured, if it can do that, it must give you an erection and treat erectile dysfunction.” Some proponents say that yohimbe extracts are powerful antioxidants that can prevent heart attacks, act as a stimulant and an anti-depressant, and an aid to weight loss. Here, a closer look at the key benefits:
- Treats erectile dysfunction: In some countries, the extract is used as a prescription drug to treat erectile dysfunction. A 2002 study in Germany found that pro-erectile effects of the bark extract may predominantly be caused by the yohimbe. But it’s unclear if the yohimbe is enough on its own to help.
- Aids in fat loss: Yohimbe and other alkaloids in the bark extract are said to block specific receptors that actually inhibit fat loss. A three-week study in 1991 observed 20 obese females on 1,000-calorie diets. They were given 20 mg of yohimbe each day and lost three pounds more than the group receiving placebos. Not a drastic weight loss, but enough to give experts hope that yohimbe can help with weight loss. Other studies have found that yohimbe increases the amount of non-esterified fatty acids, a result of fat breaking down. More research is needed.
Most other studies in the field are done using the drug yohimbine. Extracted chemicals are not the same as yohimbe bark. Studies with yohimbine are expected to give different results than studies that used the raw plant.
Suggested intake: “The problem with yohimbine is that you can’t regulate the amount in a dosage,” says Fratellone. “It all depends on what part of the tree it comes from, how it’s cultivated, how it’s exported, and so on. The amount of extract you get will vary.”
FDA researchers analyzed a number of over-the-counter yohimbe bark products. They found that the supplements contained only seven percent or less of the amount of yohimbine that would be found in actual yohimbe bark, which suggests that they contained little or no yohimbe. However, the prescription form of yohimbine is strictly regulated by the FDA. It is approved only for the treatment of impotence, and is available in tablets and capsules. For erectile dysfunction, 5.4 to 10 milligrams three times daily has been studied and regarded as generally safe.
Associated risks/scrutiny: “A dose of yohimbine that’s too big could drop your blood pressure, cause dizziness, facial flushing and nausea,” warns Fratellone.
Yohimbine and yohimbe bark may also increase heart rate and raise blood pressure.
“No one should experiment with herbs without talking to their doctor,” reminds Fratellone. “If you’re taking Flomax and you start taking yohimbe, you’re going to dilate your penal vessels and you’ll pee more.” Other potential interactions between yohimbe and other drugs and herbs should be considered. Some of these combinations may be dangerous.