Wild yam is a perennial vine found across the midwestern and eastern United States, Latin America and Asia. It is different from the yams and sweet potatoes commonly eaten in North America. Its roots and rootstock are the ones used for herbal remedies. During the 18th and 19th century, the plant was used to treat cramping during menstruation, childbirth problems, stomach upsets, and coughs. Today it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of conditions.
It is called many other names such as American Yam, Atlantic Yam, Chinese Yam, Colic Root, and Barbasco. The names China Root, Devil’s Bones, Dioscorea, and DHEA Naturelle are also used to refer to this plant. Dioscorea has variations with the following names added to it: Alata, Batatas, Composita, Floribunda, Hirticaulis, and Japonica.
Wild yam is used for several health benefits such as the ones mentioned below. The plant, however, is yet to be tested by the Food and Drug Administration in terms of its safety, effectiveness, and purity. Extra precaution is advised before taking it.
- Natural alternative to estrogen therapy
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Treatment for dryness in the vaginal area in older women
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Cramping during menstruation
- Increased energy and sexual drive in men and women
- Breast enlargement
- Gallbladder pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Lowers the risk of breast and endometrial cancer
- Helps lose weight and reduce high levels of cholesterol
- Reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
Although herbalists continue to use the plant for the benefits enumerated above, no studies have shown that it actually works. Other studies showed that it has no effect at all. Despite this, herbalists continue to use it because its key component, diosgenin, is believed to be converted to progesterone by the body in order to treat various conditions. In fact, according to studies, diosgenin can only be converted to progesterone through a lengthy process in the laboratory setting. This is why people are advised to avoid buying products that are labelled “natural progesterone.” They may either contain no genuine progesterone or they may only contain synthetic progesterone. However, since progesterone is absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, it may have pharmacologic effects on the body.
On a positive note, the use of wild yam for treating various conditions may still be considered as it has not been conclusively shown to present the suspected risks. If ever you plan on taking supplements with this as the key ingredient, however, be sure to consult with a health professional first.