As far back as the 18th century, herbalists have used wild yam, or Dioscorea villosa, to relieve menstrual pain, abdominal discomfort and coughs, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). The dried root of wild yam contains the phytoestrogen diosgenin that can be chemically transformed to the hormone progesterone. Wild yam continues to be used for a variety of maladies, many of which are related to the female reproductive system, even though there exists limited evidence of its therapeutic value
Menstrual & Menopausal Symptoms
Wild yam is often touted as a natural source of estrogen that may treat menstrual pain and headaches as well as menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, according to the UMMC. At least one study disputes these asserted benefits.
An Australian study of 23 healthy women, published in June 2001 in the journal “Climacteric” found wild yam had little effect on menopausal symptoms.
Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease
On a more promising note wild yam may protect the heart and prevent breast cancer.
A Taiwanese study published in 2005 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that the effect of wild yam might reduce the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases in postmenopausal women. Cardiovascular disease increases the risk of heart failure, heart attack, stroke and sudden death.
Wild yam has been purported as having the ability to decrease LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increases HDL or “good” cholesterol. It’s theorized that dosgenin can be chemically converted to the hormone progesterone and keep the body from absorbing cholesterol.
The UMMC notes that studies have produced mixed findings and further research is necessary to verify these proposed benefits.
Other Suggested Uses
Wild yam has been used traditionally to treat asthma, muscle spasms and inflammation according to the UMMC. Early Americans treated colicky babies with wild yam. In fact ‘colic root’ is another name for the plant.
Wild yam has also been suggested as a remedy for gastrointestinal disorders, urinary tract problems, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, osteoporosis and coughs. It’s even been proposed as a remedy for sexual dysfunction.
Wild yam can be purchased as liquid extract, capsule and tablets, It is also contained in some creams. Use wild yam carefully if you take medications to manage your blood sugar or cholesterol since it can affect both, advises Intelihealth.com.
About this Author
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on topics about health, fitness and personal growth, and her work has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine” and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell studied journalism and broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin and Brown College.