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Last updated December 10, 2019. 4 minute read

Does yohimbe work for erectile dysfunction (ED)?

For centuries, yohimbe has been reputed to be an aphrodisiac. It’s available over-the-counter in many sexual-enhancement supplements. Some studies suggest that yohimbe could be an effective natural treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). Serious side effects have been reported, however.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

In the men’s health section of a vitamin store, you can’t throw a Spanish fly without hitting a “male enhancement” supplement containing yohimbe. This ancient herb, extracted from a tree, has long been publicized as an aphrodisiac. But it won’t necessarily give you wood. Read on to find out why.

Vitals

  • Yohimbe is an herb extracted from the bark of an African tree. Its active ingredient is yohimbine.
  • For centuries, yohimbe has been reputed to be an aphrodisiac. It’s available over-the-counter in many sexual-enhancement supplements.
  • Some studies suggest that yohimbe could be an effective natural treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • But serious side effects have been reported.
  • It’s always best to seek medical advice if you’re experiencing ED; it could be a sign of a larger health issue.

What is yohimbe?

Yohimbe (johimbe) is a dietary supplement made from the bark of the African evergreen tree (Pausinystalia yohimbe). It’s been used in traditional West African medicine for thousands of years.

Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, is an alkaloid that’s a common ingredient in supplements sold as male sexual enhancers.

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Yohimbe and ED

Some studies suggest that yohimbe may alleviate symptoms of ED, although this is controversial. In fact, a drug called yohimbine hydrochloride (yohimbine HCl) has been prescribed for erectile dysfunction since the 1930s. It’s one of the oldest prescription drugs ever developed for ED. (And it’s a different formulation than the yohimbe bark extract you can buy over-the-counter from a grocery or vitamin store.) But no matter how much of a vintage enthusiast you may be, the OG cred of yohimbe products isn’t necessarily a positive.

Researchers theorize that yohimbine may work by increasing blood flow to the penis (Cui, 2015).

According to a 2015 review of studies published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the authors noted that seven placebo-controlled trials determined that yohimbine was superior to placebo for treatment of ED and that side effects were rare. The researchers called yohimbine “one of the more promising natural products for treatment of ED.” However, they noted that no studies had directly compared PDE5 inhibitors (drugs, including Viagra and Cialis, that are the first-line treatment for ED) to yohimbine for effectiveness (Cui, 2015).

And some experts warn against taking yohimbe supplements, citing potential side effects such as high blood pressure and the fact that dosages may not be accurately labeled, because supplements aren’t regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Additional benefits of yohimbe

Yohimbe may support weight loss: One small study found that 20 obese women who ate a low-calorie diet for three weeks and took a yohimbine supplement lost more weight than women who took a placebo. But that study hasn’t been followed by more extensive research (Kucio, 1991).

Some supplements containing yohimbe tout that they can boost athletic performance. There is no significant scientific research to support this claim.

Forms of yohimbe

Yohimbe supplements are sold as extracts, capsules, powder, and tablets.

Side effects/potential risks of yohimbe

Supplements, unlike prescription medications, aren’t regulated by the FDA, so there’s no way of assuring the purity or potency of any variety you buy. Anytime you take one, you’re basically rolling the dice.

Plus, yohimbe supplements, in particular, may be improperly labeled, which can be dangerous. In 2015, researchers tested 49 popular supplements that include yohimbe and found that 39% of them were hazardously strong, containing as much of the herb as prescription-strength yohimbine hydrochloride. Some of the yohimbine was synthetic. Only 2 out of the 49 supplements provided accurate information about the amount of yohimbe they contained and information about yohimbe’s potential adverse effects (Cohen, 2015).

Reported side effects of yohimbe include high blood pressure, stomachache, elevated heart rate, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and sweating. Serious side effects are possible: According to the National Institutes of Health, yohimbe use has been associated with heart attacks and seizures (NIH, 2016).

Yohimbe may be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions or to take in conjunction with certain medications. People with high blood pressure, liver disease, kidney disease, benign prostate hypertrophy, or mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder should not take yohimbe (MSKCC, n.d.).

Taking high doses of yohimbe has been reported to be fatal in medical research (Anderson, 2013).

Always talk to your healthcare provider about the medications and supplements you’re taking before you begin any herbal supplement.

What is ED?

ED, the inability to keep or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfying sex, is the most common sexual dysfunction. Experiencing ED could mean you lose your erection, have softer erections, less frequent erections, erections that don’t last as long as you’d like, or a lack of morning erections.

Frequent ED (or worsening ED symptoms) can be an early warning sign of more serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or a hormone imbalance.

So it’s important to address ED with a healthcare provider at the first signs of trouble. If you choose to try and treat ED with an herbal supplement, you might be overlooking a larger medical issue.

Don’t be embarrassed about ED

ED may happen to most guys at some point in their lives, so it’s time to move past any shame or embarrassment associated with ED. Ignoring ED symptoms because you’re embarrassed can mean potentially life-threatening health problems down the road if an underlying condition is the cause of your ED.

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, talk to a healthcare provider today. And read our expert guide to ED, including ED treatments, the common causes of ED, and how ED medication (like Viagra, or sildenafil) works.