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Wild Yam


Wild yam (dioscorea) is a plant that is indigenous to the Americas, with many varieties growing from New England through Mexico and South America. Itís been used for centuries to relieve menstrual cramps, colic and other types of abdominal cramps.


Scientists have discovered a substance in the dried root, diosgenin, can be used to synthesize progesterone under laboratory conditions. This has led many to believe that wild yam root and wild yam extract might be a substitute for hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women. There is no evidence to support that belief, nor is there anything to suggest that the body can synthesize progesterone from wild yam root. There are some manufacturers, however, who add progesterone to their wild yam formulations, and it may be that wild yam helps boost the effects of other ingredients in the formula.


Because of the controversy, many have discounted the very real benefits of wild yam. As is the case with many other traditional and herbal cures, scientists studying the effects of wild yam are finding evidence to support the traditional uses. In at least one case, researchers looking for one thing made the surprising Ė to them Ė discovery that dioscorea has an antioxidant effect that helps increase levels of HDL. Another study found that wild yamís anti-inflammatory effect is useful in reducing the severity of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.


Wild yam is still widely used by pharmaceutical companies to synthesize hormones, and for other uses. If youíre considering using wild yam as a supplement or to relieve symptoms of PMS, menopause, gastric upset or one of its many other uses, please carefully consider the information below.


What Wild Yam  Does:

Wild yam contains alkaloids, diosgenin and several other saponins, glucosides found in some plants. Many saponins are currently being studied for their antioxidant effects and their potential to protect against cancerous changes to cells. It also acts as an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory agent, which may account for the pain-relieving effects in treatment of abdominal and gastro-intestinal cramping. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia lists the following uses for wild yam root: mild diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and cholagogue.


Health Benefits of Wild Yam:

Reduces symptoms of PMS and dysmenorrhea

Because of its anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects, wild yam has a long traditional history of use in treating menstrual cramps and related complaints. Itís also long been recommended to help reduce morning sickness during pregnancy


Relieves colic

Wild yam was so often used for relieving colic and intestinal discomfort that it is often called colicroot. The root contains a chemical substance which stimulates the production of bile, and helps to ease the cramping and pain associated with colic. For the same reasons, it is being studied as a treatment for ulcerative colitis.


Reduces pain and inflammation

Applied as a topical cream, wild yam is readily absorbed by the skin. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are well documented.


Possible Side Effects of Wild Yam

Wild yam shows few side effects in studies. Some report stomach discomfort or rash in those who are allergic to wild yam. If you are taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, you should consult your doctor or health professional, as there may be some hormonal effect. This is particularly important, as there are reports of some manufacturers adding hormones to their wild yam creams. There is a possibility that wild yam may lower blood sugar. Therefore if you are taking insulin or being treated for low blood sugar, you should also consult your doctor for monitoring if you are taking wild yam.



Wild yam has a long history of traditional use in treating Ďfemale problemsí, including painful menstrual cramps, swelling and bloating. It has been used to treat pain and swelling, and to combat rheumatoid arthritis. The preliminary research into most of wild yamís medicinal research is promising, particularly in regards to pain relief and relief of gastro-intestinal symptoms.


While itís been established that diosgenin cannot be used in the body to manufacture progesterone, the jury is still out on whether wild yam has some effect on hormone production. It has also been studied in connection with glucose regulation and production, and again, the preliminary research points to a possible use in treating diabetes.


As the possible side effects are minimal, and the possible benefits are great (as any woman who has ever suffered from painful menstrual cramps will tell you), wild yam cream may be helpful in alleviating pain, muscle cramping, nausea and nerve pain. Because wild yam is not considered a drug, however, and therefore is not subject to strict oversight during manufacture and distribution, we highly advise buying products containing wild yam from a trusted source.


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