EFSA’s yohimbe aphrodisiac assessment ‘interesting and surprising’: EU herbal expert

By Luca Bucchini, PhD

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Efsa, European union, European food safety authority

Bucchini: "We need EFSA to be able to assess botanicals, but more discriminatory power is necessary."
Bucchini: "We need EFSA to be able to assess botanicals, but more discriminatory power is necessary."
Last week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said a lack of data meant it could not decide upon the safety of aphrodisiac herbal, yohimbe. But are its methodologies up to scratch for this kind of assessment? asks Italy-based botanicals expert, Luca Bucchini, PhD.

The EFSA opinion​ on yohimbe/yohimbine is extremely interesting, certainly surprising and may have significant implications.

The background is that Germany has sought to define a list of botanicals banned across the EU, using existing European legislation on substances that can and cannot be added to food and food supplements.

This initiative was partly thwarted when it was observed that only plants that have sometimes been used in food supplements could be added – and not poisonous plants nobody has ever used in food supplements.

Bad apples?

Yohimbe and ephedra seemed good examples of botanicals used in food supplements at some point in time, and that most if not all EU member states regard as unsafe for use in food supplements. A scientific consensus that these two plants are bad apples would seem straightforward, at least in the EU.

EFSA seems to support this view, at least for yohimbe, but its opinion raises several questions.

First, for yohimbe, EFSA has used its own guidance​ for assessing the safety of botanicals dated 2009. With that methodology, EFSA concludes that there are insufficient data to assess the safety of yohimbine – that is level A in their system.

“…the chemical and toxicological characterisation of yohimbe bark and its preparations for use in food are not adequate to conclude on their safety as ingredients of food…”​ EFSA wrote.

This would seem all right.


But given past EFSA exercises, it is fair to wonder whether most botanicals, even those, unlike yohimbe, generally accepted as safe by member states, would be lumped, if assessed, in level A. The guidance for safety assessment is probably a good starting point, but it needs to be refined in order to better discriminate levels of risk.

Also, EFSA uses literature data for assessing population exposure but this is unlikely to reflect the actual range of exposures experienced by the population. It's an area where the authority could refine its approach.

Medicinal uses

Finally, it is remarkable that EFSA took into consideration medicinal uses of the plant, and the levels at which "pharmacological properties"​ are observed. While this helped with the specific safety assessment of yohimbe, the legal underpinnings of this part of the methodology should be clarified; EU law does not support this approach.

My view is that, if a negative list of botanicals is to be established in the EU, as is sought by Germany and others, EFSA should be enabled to refine its safety assessment approach for botanicals.

We need EFSA to be able to assess botanicals, but more discriminatory power is necessary. Exposure assessment can't be based on a few pieces in the literature, it may often not be reliable.

Also, the legal basis for the use of medicinal data needs explaining and sharpening; can EFSA consider medicinal uses of botanicals in its safety assessment? They have not done it for other substances, and I am not too sure they can do it for botanicals.

We need EFSA to assess the safety of botanicals; we also need even better methodology, from the scientific and regulatory standpoint.

[NB. Yohimbe bark (Pausinystalia yohimbe) contains the active compound yohimbine, which is said to have sexual stimulant and aphrodisiac effects and is often used as a weight loss aid. It is banned in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Adverse effects have included headache, nausea, increased urinary urge, insomnia, anxiety, diarrhoea and genital pain.]

Luca Bucchini PhD, MPH, is the managing director of Italian-based Hylobates Consulting.

Related topics: Research, Suppliers, Botanicals, Energy

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Investing in a Sustainable Supply Chain

Investing in a Sustainable Supply Chain

SABINSA | 09-Nov-2020 | Business Advice

Becoming a global supply chain leader involves prioritizing key tenets, such as dedication to sustainability, the environment, farmers and the larger community....

Related suppliers

1 comment

I like to know Mr. Lucca Bucchini

Posted by Dr. Raul Alcalay Roses,

We would like to get in touch with Dr. Lucca Bucchini in order to get some counsel to register our products in EU.( Belgium )
Some legal dificulties in our country Spain, make it unavalable for sanitary problems.

Report abuse

Follow us


View more