Yohimbine is a chemical compound commonly extracted from Pausinystalia yohimbe (Yohimbe for short), an African plant, the bark of which is generally standardized for Yohimbine content and sold as an herbal dietary supplement. While Yohimbine is used as an aphrodisiac and sometimes to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), the primary focus of this article is on its potential as a fat-burner…
HOW DOES YOHIMBINE WORK?
The primary mechanism by which Yohimbine burns fat is via inhibition of alpha-adrenergic receptors which carry out a regulatory function with regards to lipolysis (fat breakdown).
Adrenergic receptors control the sympathetic nervous system and require activation by catecholamine neurotransmitters, particularly adrenaline and noradrenaline. Adrenergic receptors can be further broken down into two subsets, alpha-receptors and beta-receptors. It’s worth mentioning that alpha receptors can be further divided into the subsets α1 and α2, whereas beta receptors can be divided into the subsets β 1,β2, and β3.
However, for the purpose of this article, we will be using the general terms alpha-receptor and beta-receptor to reference each group of receptors. So, generally speaking, alpha receptors inhibit lipolysis while beta receptors induce lipolysis.
Because these receptors are designed to keep the fat burning process as a whole in check, adrenergic receptors can be considered regulatory receptors. Beta receptors initiate fat burning and alpha receptors “turn off” fat burning.
INTERACTION WITH ALPHA-RECEPTORS
As alluded to above, Yohimbine is considered an alpha-adrenergic receptor antagonist, meaning it blocks the action of alpha-receptors (recall that alpha-receptors inhibit lipolysis). By blocking the alpha-receptor, Yohimbine allows lipolysis to continue, assuming it was triggered by something (like exercise). It’s important to understand that by blocking the alpha-receptor, Yohimbine is not directly burning fat, it is simply ALLOWING the process to go on.
This means that for Yohimbine to truly be a truly effective weight-loss agent, it must be accompanied by something that induces lipolysis. The neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline are beta-receptor agonists which induce lipolysis and exercise happens to be a great way of releasing them. When combined with exercise, Yohimbine allows significantly more fat to be burned than just exercise alone.
INTERACTION WITH BETA-RECEPTORS
In addition to alpha-receptor inhibition, Yohimbine causes the release of adrenaline/noradrenaline which in turn activate beta-receptors (triggering lipolysis). So, even in the absence of exercise, Yohimbine still has a mechanism by which fat-loss may be achieved. By increasing the actions of beta-receptors while simultaneously decreasing the action of alpha receptors, Yohimbine is able to burn fat with remarkable efficacy.
However, it is worth noting that the ability of Yohimbine to release adrenaline (activating beta-receptors) may diminish fairly quickly, as evidenced in 1990 study in which the significant increase of noradrenaline faded within 2 weeks of supplementation while the alpha-receptor inhibition remained constant. So, Yohimbine can potentially burn fat by itself in the short term, but must be combined with exercise for significant results.
A 2006 study, published in “Research in Sports Medicine”, found that 20mg of Yohimbine divided into two daily doses significantly reduced fat mass in male soccer players without significantly effecting lean (muscle mass) or exercise performance.
It’s worth mentioning that a 1990 study, published in the “International Journal of Obesity”, found that men who consumed as much as 43mg/daily of Yohimbine over a six month period did not experience any fat-loss. However, as exercise was not part of the protocol for this study (as was the case in the above mentioned study), this actually makes perfect sense.
Since Yohimbine’s primary mechanism of action is via inhibition of alpha-adrenergic receptors and its ability to increase adrenaline tends to fade quickly, the fat-burning effects are contingent on some sort of beta-adrenergic receptor activation to facilitate fat loss while the alpha-receptors are being blocked. In other words, Yohimbine does not simply burn all your fat away. It simply increases the amount of fat that can be burned during exercise. It is possible that individuals taking Yohimbine may experience some mild fat burning effects without exercise in the short term, but to experience the complete effects, regular exercise is required. The more, the merrier.
IS YOHIMBINE SAFE?
Given that Yohimbine effectively increases noradrenaline, the usual negative side-effects can potentially occur if too high a dose is taken in stimulant-sensitive individuals. The most common of these side-effects is anxiety, as demonstrated in a 1983 study in which subjects who received 30mg of Yohimbine reported increased anxiety.
However, using lower doses of 10-20mg, anxiety is likely only to manifest itself in individuals with some sort of predisposition to anxiety, as demonstrated in a 1997 study in which oral Yohimbine induced panic-attacks in several panic-attack susceptible subjects but not in control subjects (not susceptible to panic attacks).
The effects of Yohimbine are quite stimulatory in nature, so individuals who react poorly to other stimulants are more likely to experience similar reactions with Yohimbine. As with any supplement (especially stimulants), it is advised to take smaller doses to assess tolerance and work-up if necessary. Furthermore, because Yohimbine interacts with neurotransmitters, it is ill-advised to combine it with other medication.
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THE BOTTOM LINE
Yohimbine, when combined with regular exercise, can be a highly effective fat-loss supplement. However, it is important understand that Yohimbine’s effects are highly stimulatory, so individuals with certain medical conditions or stimulant-sensitivities should probably avoid it. Currently Yohimbine is available in hundreds of fat-burner supplements alongside other stimulants, or by itself as Yohimbine HCl. Furthermore, as with any and all supplements, individual experiences may vary. We hope this article was helpful in developing a better understanding of what Yohimbine does and its potential role as a fat-burner.
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