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Does Yohimbe Boost Weight Loss?

The supplement industry is rife with products that have unrealistic claims about the effects of their ingredients and unverified promises about their benefits.

With so many fat burners on the market you need to do your research first to make sure you are getting something that will work, and more importantly that it is safe.

A supplement currently popular in the media is Yohimbe – an African evergreen tree, reported to help you lose weight. But can it?

In this article you will learn about why it might not be the best choice fat burner. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is Yohimbe ?
  • How does it work?
  • Is it safe?
  • What safe alternatives are available?

What is Yohimbe?

The Pausinystalia Yohimbe plant is native to central Africa. It is an evergreen tree, from which the bark can be extracted and used as a supplement.

The active compound that derives from the bark is Yohimbine. It is an indole alkaloid which is a naturally-occurring chemical that has a direct effect on the body.

In traditional medicine, the tree extract has been used to improve libido and seems to be fairly effective in improving symptoms of erectile dysfunction [1].

This supplement has a high affinity for alpha 2-adrenoceptors. Studies show that when these receptors are engaged, adipose tissue can be mobilized, therefore fat burning increases [2].

So could this supplement help you lose weight? Let’s take a look…


Can Yohimbe Help You Lose Weight?

The evidence that this supplement increases weight loss seems inconclusive. There are studies showing some benefits, but most show no differences at all.

One of the few present human trials available for example found that 20mg yohimbine daily – 2 doses of 10mg – reduced body fat from 9.3% to 7.1% over a 3-week period [3]. There were however, no differences between the group receiving the supplement or control groups for weight loss or muscle mass. Neither did it improve any marker of fitness or performance.

A study by Sax [4] reported that when 47 men were given either a high dose of Yohimbine (43mg per day) or a placebo over a 6-month period, no effects on weight loss were seen. This was reported using a comprehensive range of assessment measures including body weight and body mass index; body fat; and fat distribution as measured both by waist-to-hip ratio and by CT scan.

Similar results were seen in a study by Berlin [5] and colleagues too. In their research, they recruited 19 obese volunteers and asked them to take a fairly small dose of 18mg per day for 8 weeks. Compared to a placebo group there were no difference between the two groups with respect to either body weight.

Finally, in a large review of dietary supplements published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [6], Yohimbine – along with other plant extracts such as Garcinia cambogia and Yerba mate – were found to be ineffective at causing weight loss. The study authors concluded that there was “no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the specific dietary supplements in the review were effective for reducing body weight”.

Ultimately, this is a seriously under researched drug. One study showed potential benefits on fat loss but most studies show no difference.


Is Yohimbine Safe?

So it appears that there is minimal evidence that this supplement will boost weight loss. It is also clear that any potential benefits come at a cost as well.

Side effects for recommended dosages include digestive and abdominal discomfort. One study reported 238 cases of adverse drug events in a six-year period [7]. These included gastrointestinal distress, anxiety/agitation and high blood pressure. 

The study also suggested that the adverse events were associated with significantly more serious outcomes than the average exposures reported to authorities.

At higher doses, Yohimbe can cause adverse cardiovascular reactions too. In one case study [8], a 16-year old female reported feelings of anxiety, headache, nausea, palpitations, and chest pain. These effects lasted 2 days.

Similarly, in another case study [9], a bodybuilder was admitted to the ER after taking 5g of Yohimbine at a bodybuilding show. He lost consciousness and suffered repeated seizures. Severe hemodynamic and neurological side effects were evident for a 22-hour period after ingestion.

Worryingly, many supplements have been found to be incorrectly dosed, with many companies underestimating the quantities placed in products. The actual dose of yohimbine in many supplements has been found to vary from the labeled dose from 25-150%. 

Summary – Is Yohimbe a Good Choice For Weight Loss?

Yohimbe is an evergreen tree native to central Africa. The active compound that derives from the bark of the tree is yohimbine, which is an indole alkaloid.

Although the extract has been used in traditional medicine to treat a range of conditions, there is limited evidence that this supplement can help you lose weight. It is a very under-researched extract and with only a few human studies to draw upon, it appears that there are no benefits.

Even at recommended dosages you may suffer from side effects including nausea, gastrointestinal distress and high blood pressure. There are a number of safer alternatives that will not provide these effects and may provide better results too.

Many Yohimbine-containing supplements have been found to be incorrectly dosed by as much as 25-150% from the label dose, meaning that high quantities of the extract may be ingested. With large doses more severe side effects may occur such as loss of consciousness and seizures.

There are a number of much safer alternatives available that will provide much better results than this supplement. Until more conclusive research is available, we recommend you avoid Yohimbe.

Is There a Safer Alternative?

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  1. Ernst, E et al. Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Urol. 1998; 159: 433-436
  2. Galitzky, J et al. Role of vascular alpha-2 adrenoceptors in regulating lipid mobilization from human adipose tissue. J Clin Invest. 1993; 91(5): 1997-2003
  3. Ostojic, SM. Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Res Sports Med. 2006; 14(4): 289-99
  4. Sax, L. Yohimbine does not affect fat distribution in men. Int J Obes. 1991; 15(9): 561-5
  5. Berlin, I et al. Lack of efficacy of yohimbine in the treatment of obesity. J Pharmacol. 1986; 17(3): 343-7
  6. Pittler, MH et al. Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr2004; 79(4): 529-536
  7. Kearney, T et al. Adverse drug events associated with yohimbine-containing products: a retrospective review of the California Poison Control System reported cases. Ann Pharmacother. 2010; 44(6): 1022-9
  8. Linden, CH et al. Yohimbine: a new street drug. Ann Emerg Med. 1985; 14(10): 1002-4
  9. Giampreti, A et al. Acute neurotoxicity after yohimbine ingestion by a body builder. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2009; 47(8): 827-9