Wild yam, also known as Dioscorea villosa, is originally found in the US, Latin America (especially Mexico) and Asia. It is a twining, tuberous vine with small, greenish-white and greenish-yellow flowers with heart-shaped leaves. The root of wild yam is used medicinally. Traditionally herbalists used wild yam for cough, stomach upset or colic, inflammation, menstrual cramps and problems related to pregnancy.
The main active ingredients in the roots of wild yam are diosgenin, dicroetine and an antioxidant. Diosgenin is a phytoestrogen that can be chemically converted in a lab into a hormone called progesterone. Diosgenin was used to make the first birth control pills in the 1960s. What is interesting about diosgenin is that the human body cannot convert it to progesterone but this can be done chemically in the lab. Wild yam supplements have not been shown to increase estrogen or progesterone in human studies to date. Also there has been no studies to date that support wild yam’s use in helping with menstrual cramps, pregnancy symptoms or with menopause symptom’s. Another active component, dicroetine, has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in studies. An antioxidant contained in wild yam has also been shown to raise HDL, the good cholesterol, and decrease triglycerides in human studies.
Wild yam is available as a supplement in liquid extract, as a powder, capsule, tablet and as a topical cream. Wild yam has been traditionally taken as a tincture 2-3 ml, 3 times a day, or in powdered, capsule and tablet form 1 gram 3 times per day. These supplements are not recommended for children and should not be given to pregnant or lactating moms. Wild yam supplements should not be used with hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills because it might interact with estradiol and therefore the medications ability to work properly.
Garby, Alan, et al. The Natural Pharmacy, 3rd edition, 2006
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