Traditionally, people in western Africa have used the bark of the yohimbe tree as an aphrodisiac and to boost general health as well as athletic performance.
Now you can get yohimbe bark extract as a dietary supplement that you can buy without a prescription. Its promoters claim it can help erectile dysfunction (ED), low sex drive in women, and the unwanted sexual side effects of some antidepressant medicines. But the science around modern claims shows mixed results or not enough research.
Not the Same as Prescription
Yohimbe bark extract isn't the same as yohimbine hydrochloride, the prescription treatment for impotence that's been around since the 1930s. So you can't take it instead of the medication, or expect that it will work the same way.
Prescription drugs are strictly regulated by the FDA around testing and labeling, and they have to approved before they can be sold. But supplements don't have the same requirements, and they don't need FDA approval before you can buy them. The companies that make and sell them are responsible for their safety and truthful labeling.
Researchers analyzed several yohimbe supplements and found that the amount of the key compound, yohimbine, was less than it would be in the tree's bark. They also found that many of the products had things that aren't normally in yohimbe bark.
Safety and Side Effects
Yohimbe may affect medications you're taking and other supplements. It can make you bleed easier if you're taking a blood thinner, like warfarin (Coumadin). You shouldn't use yohimbe if you're taking medicine for diabetes, or if you have kidney, liver, or heart problems. Avoid it if you have seizures or a mental illness, including ADHD.
Side effects can include:
- Higher blood pressure and a faster or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems
- Flushed skin or a rash
- Tremors (rhythmic muscle movements you didn't mean to make)
- Pain in your genitals
- A painful erection that won't go away
- Feel dizzy, nervous, worried, or cranky
- Get a headache
- Get an upset stomach or lose your appetite
- Have trouble sleeping
The safest bet is to talk to your doctor before you start taking it.