Yohimbine: Can this African “Love Tree” Help Heat Up the Bedroom?
Deep in the forests of Western Africa, a simple evergreen tree may hold promise for a stalled sex life.
If you’re a member of a tribe in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, or other parts of the region, it’s likely that you’ve relied on the bark of an evergreen tree for its purported aphrodisiac properties.
Indeed, Pygmies and Bushmen distilled this bark to produce a tea, which they consumed as a tonic to enhance sexual prowess and pleasure.
Now, you don’t have to live in Africa to access this substance. Today, it’s available to everyone.
Sound like just the thing to help you step things up between the sheets?
There’s just one catch… just because tree bark is natural, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. In fact, this product could be downright risky.
A Potent Love Potion?
Europeans visiting Africa soon caught wind of this supposedly magical substance, and in 1896 a German chemist isolated an alkaloid compound from the tree bark, which was named yohimbine. Within four years, yohimbine was being studied, with researchers discovering that the compound may indeed act as a sexual excitant in both animals and humans.
As you can imagine, yohimbine was suddenly very popular in Europe, too. The yohimbe tree was nicknamed the “love tree” and couples often sent each other “love candies” made from the bark.
A Supplement by Any Other Name…
Today, you can find tablets, capsules, and teas sold over the counter and labeled “yohimbe,” “yohimbe bark extract,” and “yohimbine”. To make things even more confusing, a standardized version of yohimbine called “yohimbine HCl” is available as a prescription drug.
All of these terms are often used interchangeably, which has many people believing that the products have the same bedroom benefits.
It’s true that both yohimbine and yohimbine HCl appear to act as mononamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, stimulating the central nervous system and increasing circulation by dilating blood vessels. That mechanism could explain their reputation as sexual health supplements.
Ready to run out and start eagerly experimenting? Well, I hate to rain on your parade, but there’s more to this supplement that meets the eye – and it may not all be so rosy.
A Bedroom Boost – or Bust?
See, it’s true that yohimbine is best studied for its potential as a sexual stimulant: Research shows that it can boost blood levels of dopamine and norepinephrine by 66%. These neurotransmitters play an important role in sexual excitement and mood.7
Some studies suggest that yohimbine HCl may benefit men’s sexual health in particular: It appears to best help men with erectile dysfunction due to vascular, diabetic, or psychogenic causes.2,3
In fact, a systematic review and meta-analysis of seven randomized, controlled trials found that yohimbine HCl was superior to a placebo in treating erectile dysfunction, with few side effects. The researchers determined that the potential benefits of yohimbine HCl outweigh any possible risks.1
Other research has examined the effects of yohimbine HCl on orgasmic dysfunction in men and reduced libido in women, with positive findings. It even appears to improve sexual dysfunction associated with SSRI antidepressants.7
But there’s one problem, and it’s a biggie.
The majority of studies on this compound used yohimbine HCl, the standardized drug form of the substance.5
In other words, many of the claims made for yohimbine supplements are based on research involving the drug. And yohimbe bark itself hasn’t been studied at all.5
It isn’t clear if these supplements will have the same effects as their prescription counterpart.5,7
This Bark Has a Bite…
I know what you’re thinking: It sounds like yohimbine (or “yohimbe bark extract”) and yohimbine HCl are essentially the same thing. Can’t you just take the supplement and get the benefits of the drug?
Not so fast.
See, yohimbine HCl is standardized, which means that the drug contains a specified amount of yohimbine.
On the other hand, supplements labeled “yohimbine” or “yohimbe bark extract” may contain varying amounts of this ingredient, so there’s no way of knowing if you’re getting the same proven benefits as you might get from the drug.7
Because of this, side effects associated with yohimbine HCl – typically stomach upset, anxiety, tremors, racing heart, high blood pressure, sweating or chills, dizziness, and insomnia – could be better or worse in supplemental yohimbine.4,5,6,7
We just don’t know.
But we do know that all forms of yohimbine act as MAO inhibitors, which can cause serious adverse effects when taken with certain foods (such as liver, cheese, and red wine) or with over-the-counter products containing phenylpropanolamine, such as nasal decongestants and diet aids. You don’t want to take an MAO inhibitor without your doctor’s supervision.4,5,6,7
That’s reason enough to take a pass on yohimbine supplements.
A Libido Letdown…
Yohimbine can also interact with other MAO inhibitors (some antidepressants), high blood pressure medications, stimulant drugs, and caffeine.4,5,6
And yohimbine (both the drug and supplement) isn’t recommended for people with anxiety, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, angina (chest pain), or liver disease.4,5,6
There have even been two reported deaths linked to yohimbine overdoses.4,5 That’s not exactly the type of spice you want to add to your love life.
Until we have much more research on the effectiveness and safety of yohimbe and yohimbine supplements, steer clear of them. No sexy stimulant is worth these risks!
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Rowland DL, Kallan K, Yohimbine, erectile capacity, and sexual response in men. Arch Sex Behav. 1997 Feb;26(1):49-62. PMID_9015579
2Mann K, Klingler T, Noe S, Effects of yohimbine on sexual experiences and nocturnal penile tumescence and rigidity in erectile dysfunction. Arch Sex Behav. 1996 Feb;25(1):1-16. PMID_8714425
3Ernst E, Pittler MH. Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Urol. 1998 Feb;159(2)
5American Botanical Council. Yohime Bark.
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