Ingredient Review: Yohimbe / Yohimbine

Common Name: Yohimbe / Yohimbine

Source: Evergreen trees in central and wester Africa (Pausinystalia Yohimbe)

Background: In central and western Africa there is an evergreen tree called the Yohimbe. Its bark contains a chemical called yohimbine and it is used in herbal medicine, supplements, and even in some prescription medicines (as in Aphrodyne).

Claims: Supplements are not regulated like prescription medications and Yohimbine (the active ingredient in Yohimbe) is available in a wide variety of natural dietary supplements. Traditionally, this chemical derived from tree bark has been used to treat or improve the following health issues:

  • 1. Treat erectile dysfunction
  • 2. Treat SSRI (anti-depression medication) related erectile dysfunction
  • 3. Improve athletic performance
  • 4. Cause weight loss
  • 5. Decrease exhaustion
  • 6. Decrease chest pain
  • 7. Decrease high blood pressure
  • 8. Treat orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up)
  • 9. Treat diabetic neuropathy (pain and numbness due to diabetes)
  • 10. Treat medication related emotional depression

That's quite a list! And I have to stress that what it has been used for traditionally is not always what it is useful for and certainly doesn't mean it stood up under scientific study.

Objective Information: Here is what we know - the quick and dirty science of it:

Yohimbine is a series of indole alkyloid that looks like this:

In its purified state, it is a crystalline powder which is odorless. A person ingests it, the body absorbs it, and it enters the blood stream where is affects the smooth muscle of the blood vessels - showing effects in the penis and the vagina. It acts specifically on the alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. It increases parasympathetic nervous system activity and decreases sympathetic activity.

Side note: the exact physiologic mechanism which makes it useful for treatment of erectile dysfunction is yet to be identified.

There is anecdotal evidence (stories about it, but not a scientific study) that it is effective for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. However, there is either no evidence or only mixed evidence in using Yohimbine to treat anxiety, depression, exercise performance, exhaustion, chest pain, diabetic nerve issues, high blood pressure, and orthostatic hypothension (low blood pressure when standing up).

Side effects: You should be told that "side" effects are just "effects." Due to the wonderful variation in human biology, some people experience no "side" effects, while others see little benefit and experience severe "side" effects. No matter what it is, severe "side" effects are a common cause for people to stop taking it.

Yohimbe has a potential "side" effect list that reads like this: irregular or rapid heartbeat, kidney failure, heart attack, and seizures (among others). It is listed as "likely unsafe" for pregnant mothers and “possibly unsafe” for all children. Even for adult men it is listed as "possibly unsafe."

Due to its long list and severity of the "side" effects, Yohimbe is growing less and less popular in its usage.

Subjective Information: Yohimbe is a common supplement found in a wide variety of readily available pills you can find anywhere from your local nutrition center to the world wide web, despite some online sources claiming that it is prescription only (it is not). The claims that Yohimbe will be able to improve anything other than erectile dysfunction are wishful at best, misleading at worst.

Recommendation: If you can avoid this dietary supplement, I would do it. Even if you have taken it in the past and experienced none of the side effects listed, there is no way to tell if you will experience them in the future. That’s a risk you’ll have to weigh for yourself, but with all of the other available dietary supplements and products available, you should certainly be able to find the effect you are looking for without taking such a risk.

Yohimbe - Avoid Use

Now you know, but as always, what you do with the information is up to you.

AUTHOR

Dr. Nick

Dr. Nick has been practicing medicine for over 10 years. After finishing his MD he began his residency in Laboratory Medicine where he gained first hand knowledge of some of the effects of dietary supplements. Dr. Nick now specializes in gastrointestinal health, Over the years of vigorous study and in-depth experimenting with a variety of dietary supplements Dr. Nick found that there are few sources of clear, evidence-backed, honest information about what the supplements can help achieve - and what they cannot. There are many companies out there selling promises without providing results.

Dr. Nick's goal is to educate the general public and do his part to help the world get healthy again. The industry needed an honest educated practitioner to reveal the real benefits of specific dietary supplements and to unbiasedly dig into the formulas and companies selling these formulas to reveal the true Pros and Cons of each supplement and to educate the general public about these ingredients found in various dietary supplements. Dr. Nick promoting general health and proper use of nutritional supplements is step one of the goal. In order to get the best effects without wasting time and money, a proper understanding of chemistry and human physiology are critically important. Since not everyone has the time to master these topics, Dr. Nick hopes to help clarify otherwise complicated topics and give the best, clear, evidence-backed input to help each person select the most appropriate supplements.

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