The bark of the West African yohimbe tree is a traditional aphrodisiac and the source of yohimbine, a prescription drug for impotence. It appears to be modestly effective, but it also presents numerous safety risks. Yohimbe should not be used except under physician supervision.
What Is Yohimbe Used for Today?
Like the drug yohimbine, the bark of the yohimbe tree is widely used to treat impotence. Many herbalists report that the herb is more effective than the purified drug, perhaps due to the presence of other unidentified active ingredients. However, there have been no studies to evaluate this claim. Furthermore, due to the lack of supervision of herbal products, there are real concerns that herbal yohimbe might contain either too much or too little yohimbine. (See also Safety Issues
Yohimbine (the drug) is only modestly effective at best; better than
One small, double-blind study of yohimbine combined with arginine found an increase in measured physical arousal among 23 women with
Yohimbe bark is best taken in a form standardized to yohimbine content so you can properly control your dose of the drug. Unfortunately, label claims for yohimbine content have been frequently found to be inaccurate. 16
The following discussion applies to the drug yohimbine, rather than the herb yohimbe. All risks of the drug apply to the herb, and there are additional risks to consider as well. For example, as noted above, the amount of yohimbine in a given sample of the herb may not be accurately reflected on the label. 16
Yohimbine in any form should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, or those with kidney, liver, or ulcer disease, or high blood pressure. Intake of more than 40 mg a day of yohimbine can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, abdominal pain, fatigue, hallucinations, and paralysis. (Interestingly, lower dosages can cause an increase in blood pressure.) Since 40 mg is not very far above the typical recommended dose, yohimbine has what is known as a "narrow therapeutic index." This means that there is a relatively small dosing range, below which the herb doesn't work and above which it is toxic.
Even when taken in normal dosages, side effects of dizziness, anxiety, hyperstimulation, and nausea are common.
Finally, yohimbine may interact adversely with numerous medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, buproprion, methamphetamine, phenothiazines, clonidine, and other drugs for lowering blood pressure.
12. Lacomblez L, Bensimon G, Isnard F, et al. Effect of yohimbine on blood pressure in patients with depression and orthostatic hypotension induced by clomipramine. Clin Pharmacol Ther . 1989;45:241-251.
15. Lebret T, Herve JM, Gorny P, et al. Efficacy and safety of a novel combination of L-arginine glutamate and yohimbine hydrochloride: a new oral therapy for erectile dysfunction. Eur Urol. 2002;41:608-613.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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