Misconceptions about the active ingredients in wild yam have led to much marketing hype. The herb has been hailed as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Even though it's not been proved effective for this purpose, wild yam does have other benefits.
What it is?
Native to North and Central America, the wild yam was first used medicinally by the Aztecs and Mayans because of its pain-relieving qualities. Later, European settlers took advantage of wild yam's therapeutic properties and used it to treat joint pain and colic. The root is the part of the plant that has medicinal value. It is available as a dried herb for use in tea, and is also sold in capsule, tablet and tincture forms.
What it does?
In recent years, wild yam has been extolled for its ability to mimic certain hormones – especially progesterone – and has been said to relieve menopausal or PMS symptoms. Most of these claims, however, remain scientifically unproved. It's true that wild yam contains a substance called diosgenin that can be converted to progesterone in the laboratory, but the human body may not be able to make this conversion.
Some holistic practitioners have reported that patients suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal symptoms experienced good results with wild yam cream – which is applied to the soft areas of the body (the belly and thighs). How the cream helps in unclear. Sometimes manufacturers of the creams add laboratory-synthesized progesterone, which could well account for some of the therapeutic effects. At this time, despite positive reports from some users, the value of pure wild yam creams has yet to be scientifically proved.
When taken in capsule, tincture or tea form, however, wild yam does have other medicinal effects. Some herbalists believe that crude forms of this herb may help hormonal imbalances associated with PMS and menopause because it contains oestrogen-like substances. In addition, it acts as a muscle relaxant, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory, which may explain why it eases menstrual complaints in some women.
Wild yam contains substances called alkaloids, which are muscle relaxants that especially target muscles in the abdomen and pelvis. This action suggests that wild yam may be of particular value for digestive disorders, such as diverticulitis, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also help to ease menstrual cramps and the pain associated with endometriosis. Some women find that wild yam combined with other herbs, such as chaste tree, produces a mild soothing effect that can relieve the symptoms of PMS.
Other active ingredients found in wild yam, known as steroidal saponins, play a role in alleviating muscle strains, chronic muscle pain and arthritis.
- Relieves menstrual cramps.
- May ease the pain of endometriosis.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Dried herb/tea.
- Pregnant women should not use wild yam.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
In order to receive the therapeutic benefits of wild yam, take 1/2 teaspoon of tincture three or four times a day or 500 mg of wild yam in capsule form twice a day. If you prefer, drink a cup of wild yam tea three times a day.
Guidelines for use:
Have wild yam supplements or tincture with food to minimize stomach upset. To make wild yam tea, pour a cup of very hot water over 1 or 2 teaspoons of the dried herb and let steep for 15 minutes. You can also add other soothing herbs to this tea – valerian or peppermint, for example – when using it for digestive disorders.
Possible side effects
In extremely large amounts, wild yam supplements and tinctures can cause nausea and diarrhoea.
- Keep in mind that it's still a matter of debate whether wild yam cream has any hormonal value. It effectively relieves menopausal symptoms in some women, but for a direct hormonal effect, it's probably better to buy a cream that contains so-called natural progesterone (available only from pharmacies).
Did you know?
The first birth control pill was derived from diosgenin, the hormone-like compound found in wild yam.