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Yohimbe is a tree native to Western Africa, where its bark has long been thought to boost libido. The active ingredient from the bark of yohimbe -- yohimbine -- is used in some prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction.

Why do people take yohimbe?

There's a key difference between the natural supplement yohimbe and the chemical yohimbine. Although yohimbine comes from the yohimbe bark, it's concentrated and standardized.

Studies have shown that drugs containing the chemical yohimbine work for erectile dysfunction. Yohimbine drugs have also been used to ease the sexual side effects of antidepressants and to treat low sex drive in women. 

However, it's not clear that yohimbe -- the natural product -- has the same benefits as yohimbine. Experts don't know if the amount of yohimbine in natural yohimbe is enough to have an effect. More research needs to be done.

Yohimbe has been used traditionally for many conditions, such as fatigue, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Some people take it hoping that it will improve their athletic performance or help them lose weight. However, these uses have not been studied. Because yohimbe can have serious risks, don't use it without a doctor's supervision.

How much yohimbe should you take?

Yohimbe bark is an unproven treatment. There is no standard dose. Be aware that using yohimbe for a long time -- or in high doses -- can be dangerous.

Can you get yohimbe naturally from foods?

There are no natural food sources of yohimbe. The bark extract is sometimes used to make a tea.

What are the risks of taking yohimbe?

  • Side effects. Yohimbe bark might cause skin flushing, rash, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, increased urination, headache, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Risks. More serious side effects can include chest pain, heart attack, heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation, kidney failure  and seizures. High doses have caused breathing problems, paralysis, severe low blood pressure, heart failure and even death. If you have any medical conditions -- like anxiety disorders, depression, other psychiatric conditions, heart problems, prostate problems, high or low blood pressure, kidney or liver disease, or Alzheimer's disease -- DO NOT take yohimbe supplements without talking to a doctor first.
  • Interactions. If you take any medicines or supplements regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using yohimbe supplements. They could interact with many different drugs and supplements, like antidepressants, stimulants (including caffeine), diabetes drugs, antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, tranquilizers, and antibiotics. Special precaution should be taken if you are using a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) medication. Use of yohimbe while taking MAOIs should be avoided due to the potential for very serious side effects. Do not take yohimbe with foods high in tyramine, like wine, aged cheeses, and cured meats.

Given its serious risks, yohimbe should not be used by children or by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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