Wild Yam

Wild Yam

Wild Yam, Dioscorea villosa, is a species of yam native to North America. It is a perennial vine that grows in various habitats, including forests, fields and along roadsides. The term “wild yam” is often used to refer specifically to the root of the plant, which has been used historically for medicinal purposes by indigenous peoples and traditional herbalists.

Active Ingredients in Wild Yam Root

Wild yam root contains various phytochemical compounds including; diosgenins, alkaloids, flavonoids, steroidal saponins, tannins, phytosterols and starch.

Diosgenin in Wild Yam Root

Diosgenins are steroid-like compounds that are structurally similar to progesterone, a hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

While wild yam contains diosgenin, a compound structurally similar to progesterone, there is debate among researchers about whether these compounds are effectively converted into hormones in the human body.

Historically, wild yam was believed to contain precursors to hormones, leading to its use in herbal medicine for hormone-related conditions. However, research has shown that the human body lacks the necessary enzymes to convert diosgenin into progesterone or other hormones.

Diosgenin is primarily used as a starting material for the synthesis of steroidal hormones in the pharmaceutical industry. Through chemical processes, diosgenin can be converted into synthetic hormones such as progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. These synthetic hormones are then used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications.

While wild yam supplements may contain diosgenin, there is little evidence to suggest that they have hormonal effects when consumed orally. Any perceived hormonal effects from wild yam supplements are likely due to a placebo effect or other factors.

Health Benefits of Wild Yam

The root of wild yam has a long history of use in traditional medicine for its purported health benefits. It has been used to support women’s health, particularly during menopause, as well as for its potential anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties.

Wild yam root contains compounds called diosgenins, which are precursors to certain hormones, leading to its use in some herbal supplements marketed for hormone balance and reproductive health. However, as mentioned above, it is debatable whether the body can’t turn these diosgenins into hormones.

Wild Yam for Women’s Reproductive Health

Wild yam root has long been used for its benefits in women’s reproductive health including premenstrual syndrome and menopausal problems.

Wild yam’s traditional use is for easing menstrual cramps. Its antispasmodic effect is beneficial for any kind of muscular spasm, ovarian and uterine pain and for abdominal and intestinal cramping.

Wild yam root can be taken in capsules or in tea (though there are mixed opinions on the flavour). The powder can be added to creams and vaginal ointments.

Wild Yam for Menopause Support

Wild yam supplements are sometimes promoted as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and vaginal dryness.

However, scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of wild yam for menopausal symptoms is limited and inconclusive. Some studies have found no significant difference between wild yam and placebo in relieving menopausal symptoms.

Antispasmodic Effects of Wild Yam Root

Wild Yam is a very good antispasmodic so is beneficial for any kind of muscular spasm and colic. It is used for; menstrual cramps, relaxing muscles, intestinal and bilious colic, flatulence, ovarian and uterine pain, soothing nerves, relieving pain, poor circulation, neuralgia, for the inflammatory stage of rheumatoid arthritis and for abdominal and intestinal cramping.

Wild Yam for Liver Health

As a stimulant for increased bile flow, it can help to relieve hepatic congestion, bilious colic and gallstones.

Also known to have a therapeutic action on overall liver health, it is believed that wild yam root’s ability to lower blood cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure indirectly helps the liver by increasing its efficiency and reducing stress.

Wild Yam as a Diuretic

The diuretic effect of Wild Yam, combined with the antispasmodic action, soothes painful conditions of the urinary tract.

Anti-inflammatory Effects of Wild Yam

In traditional medicine, wild yam has been used for its potential anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects. The steroidal saponins in Wild Yam are anti-inflammatory, making it a useful herb when treating rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory conditions of the bowel.

Wild Yam is used topically as a poultice or ointment to soothe skin irritations, bruises and muscle cramps. However, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms of action and effectiveness of wild yam for these purposes.

Wild Yam Root for Nervous Conditions

Some proponents of wild yam root suggest that it may have calming or sedative properties that could help alleviate nervousness, anxiety or stress.

Wild yam root contains various bioactive compounds, including diosgenins, saponins and alkaloids, which may have pharmacological effects on the body. However, there is limited scientific research to support these claims.

How to Take Wild Yam

While wild yam root has been used for medicinal purposes, it is not commonly consumed as a food due to its bitter taste and fibrous texture. In contrast, other varieties of yams, such as Dioscorea rotundata and Dioscorea alata, are cultivated and consumed as staple foods in many parts of the world.

Wild Yam is usually taken in the form of capsules and tinctures internally, and creams and gels to be applied externally.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Wild Yam Notes / Side Effects

Whilst wild yam has a history of traditional use for various health purposes, more research is needed to determine its safety, efficacy and potential therapeutic applications.

Some people have speculated that wild yam may have estrogenic or anti-androgenic effects, meaning it could potentially affect estrogen or testosterone levels in the body. However, research has shown that diosgenin is not converted into hormones when consumed orally.

To err on the side of caution, women with hormone-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and cancers of the breast, ovaries or uterus, and men with prostate cancer, should not take or use wild yam due to its possible hormonal effects.

Pregnant women should not take wild yam because it may stimulate the uterus to contract, possibly causing a miscarriage.

Because very little information is available on how wild yam might affect an infant or a small child, its use is not recommended while breast-feeding or during early childhood.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using wild yam supplements if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications, to avoid potential interactions or adverse effects.

Latin Name

Dioscorea villosa

Common Names

Aluka, Barbasco, Colic Root, China Root, Devil’s-bones, Mexican Wild Yam, Rheumatism Root, Shan-yao, Wild Yam, Yuma

Properties of Wild Yam

Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, blood purifier, diaphoretic, hepatic, anti-rheumatic, cholagogue, uterine tonic.

Wild Yam is Indicated for:

Relaxing muscles, soothing nerves and relieving pain, uterine tonic, menstrual cramps, reducing colic and flatulence caused by muscle spasms, poor circulation, neuralgia, inflammatory stage of rheumatoid arthritis, abdominal and intestinal cramping, nervous conditions, a stimulant for increased bile flow, relieve hepatic congestion, bilious colic, gallstones, kidney and gallbladder problems, rheumatic conditions.

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