There is a dearth of erectile dysfunction (ED) and sexual enhancement products on both the medical and herbal markets. The primary ingredient of these herbal supplements is yohimbe. According to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), yohimbe is extracted from the bark of an African evergreen tree. When ground up and ingested, it acts as a stimulant. It dilates blood vessels in and around the central nervous system, allowing blood to circulate with greater ease. While studies show that yohimbe may be effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, many groups warn that its side effects present a danger. Consumer Reports includes yohimbe on its list of "Hazardous Ingredients," linked to serious or theoretical risks.
As Part of a Blend
Dr. Todd Nippoldt, an endocrinologist with the Mayo Clinic, writes that herbal ED supplements may be dangerous due to the uncertainty of how it will react with the patient's body. While prescriptions and over-the-counter medicine is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, herbal supplements are not. A supplement with yohimbe and other herbs may conflict with prescription medications or the body's metabolism. Nippoldt says to be wary because "you can't be certain what you're taking."
Yohimbe can cause both hypotension or hypertension. The herb dilates the blood vessels by relaxing their walls. This has the potential, according to the National Library of Medicine, of reducing blood pressure to dangerously low levels. It can also cause dangerously high blood pressure, as it increases the heart rate dramatically. Dizziness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath are all linked to the cardiac issues caused by yohimbe.
Danger to Women
Yohimbe is also taken by women as a sexual stimulant. Blood vessel dilation causes blood to flow to the genitalia, increasing the area's sensitivity. Women who are pregnant should stay away from yohimbe as it could, according to the National Library for Medicine, "relax the uterus and be toxic to the fetus." Breastfeeding women should stay away from the herb as it is toxic to infants.
The Mayo Clinic and NCCAM each warn that individuals under treatment for mental illness should avoid yohimbe. The Mayo Clinic warns against heightened nervousness, while the NCCAM mentions heightened anxiety. Individuals taking antidepressants or psychotropic medications for the treatment of schizophrenia should also avoid the herb.