“Yohimbe” is the common name for the tree Pausinystalia yohimbe. Its bark or bark extract is used in dietary supplement products marketed to increase sex drive and for erectile dysfunction, weight loss, and bodybuilding. The bark of the yohimbe tree contains many chemical substances, including yohimbine, which also occurs in a variety of other plants, including Rauvolfia serpentina. It also can be produced synthetically, that is, made in a laboratory.

Yohimbine (usually as yohimbe hydrochloride) is available as a prescription medication, and it was used for a long time to treat certain types of erectile disfunction (with moderate results). Now it is rarely used for this purpose, since more effective drugs with fewer side effects have been developed. However, yohimbine should not be used to treat ED without a doctor’s supervision.

A supplement with “yohimbe” or “yohimbe extract” on the label doesn’t necessarily contain a significant amount of yohimbine, because the concentration of the chemical in the tree bark is highly variable and often low. Extract of the yohimbe tree also might contain any of the other substances that occur naturally in the plant; yohimbine is just one of 55 alkaloids that have been identified in the plant. Another that often shows up in dietary supplements is rauwolscine.

Some supplements specify “yohimbine” as an ingredient. A recent (2015) study of 49 such products found through chemical analysis that the amount of yohimbine in such products ranged from zero to more than 12 mg per recommended serving. In most cases, the amount found did not match the amount stated on the product label—a finding consistent with previous studies.

Scientific research into various effects and possible uses of yohimbine is fairly extensive, but yohimbe has been studied much less. However, there is insufficient evidence as to the effectiveness of either yohimbe or yohimbine for athletic performance and weight loss.

Severe side effects from taking yohimbe or yohimbine have been reported, and yohimbine is banned for use in supplements in a number of countries. Both yohimbe and yohimbine might interact with other dietary supplement ingredients, such as caffeine (including caffeine in herbs such as coffee, guarana, and tea) and other stimulants. Individuals who experience anxiety, depression, hypertension, hypotension, or PTSD should avoid use of yohimbine.

Updated 09 September 2019

References

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