Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe) is an evergreen tree that grows in various locations throughout the African continent. Traditionally yohimbe was used in Africa to treat fever and leprosy, and as an aphrodisiac. The bark of the tree contains alkaloids, the main one of which is called yohimbine (yohimbine hydrochloride), which is a prescription drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, although it is rarely used today since Viagra and other ED prescription drugs hit the market.
Yohimbe vs Yohimbine for ED
Yohimbe bark extract, however, is popular among some men who use it to treat erectile dysfunction, even though it may cause dangerous side effects and there is limited evidence that it works for this purpose. Yohimbine, on the other hand, has been shown to relax and dilate blood vessels in the penis, which results in an erection. Not all studies of yohimbine and ED have resulted in positive outcomes, however. While one small study found that yohimbine helped men whose ED was caused by a physical problem (Guay 2002), another reported that yohimbine was no more effective than a placebo. (Morales 1987)
In a French study, yohimbine was administered alone or combined with L-arginine glutamate and compared with placebo in a group of 45 men who had erectile dysfunction. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-way crossover clinical trial involved 6 mg of yohimbine hydrochloride and 6 g of L-arginine glutamate. During each of the two-week, crossover periods, the men took their assigned substance 1 to 2 hours before intended sexual intercourse.
The difference in response between the men who received both arginine and yohimbine and those who received placebo was statistically significant. The researchers concluded that “on-demand oral administration of the L-arginine glutamate 6g and 6 mg yohimbine combination is effective in improving erectile function in patients with mild to moderate ED.” (Lebret 2002)
Side Effects of Yohimbe and Yohimbine
Both yohimbe bark and yohimbine may raise blood pressure and heart rate. Anyone who has high blood pressure, anxiety or nervous disorders, or heart, kidney, or liver disease should not take these supplements. Yohimbe may interact with other drugs and herbs, so always tell your doctor before taking yohimbe and what other substances you are using. Other side effects of yohimbe bark or yohimbine include anxiety, breathing problems, chest pain, palpitations, queasiness, sleeplessness, and vomiting. Do not eat foods that contain tyramine (e.g., beer, red wine, liver, aged or smoked meats, aged cheese) when taking yohimbine because the combination may raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. The amino acid tyrosine, taken along with yohimbe, reportedly causes severe palpitations. The Food and Drug Administration has received reports of seizures and kidney failure associated with use of yohimbe.
How to Use Yohimbe
As a dietary supplement, the dried bark of the yohimbe tree is available in capsules, tablets, powder, and as a tea. Because the dose range is very narrow—too little doesn’t work and too much is toxic—use of this herb is not recommended.
Guay AT et al. Yohimbine treatment of organic erectile dysfunction in a dose-escalation trial. Intl J Impot Res 2002; 14(1): 25-31
Lebret T et al. Efficacy and safety of a novel combination of L-argining glutamate and yohimbine hydrochloride: a new oral therapy for erectile dysfunction. Eur Urol 2002 Jun; 41(6): 608-13
Morales A et al. Is yohimbine effective in the treatment of organic impotence? Results of a controlled trial. J Urology 1987; 137(6): 1168-72