Wild Yam / Mexican Wild Yam Benefits and Side Effects
Wild yam extract is derived from the root of a plant that grows in vines in wooded areas of the eastern United States. A related plant, the Mexican yam, is also used as an herbal remedy, and another species of medicinal wild yam is native to China.
It is believed by some that wild yam can stimulate the ovaries to produce a balance of progesterone and estrogen, making it a popular alternative to synthetic hormones for women who experience symptoms of PMS or menopause.
Though there is little evidence to support the claim, creams made from wild yam are said to alleviate menstrual cramps and irritability, leg and back pain related to the menstrual cycle, and acute labor and postpartum pains.
The use of wild yam creams for these conditions is based on the belief that yams contain the female hormone progesterone. Though wild yam does contain diosgenin, a precursor to progesterone that can be used to synthesize the hormone in a laboratory, the body lacks the ability to make the conversion to progesterone naturally.
In some parts of the world, wild yam is used as a sexual tonic for men. In Chinese medicine, wild yam has a long history of use for its anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. It is used in this regard to treat pain in muscles, joints and tendons.
From the Chinese herbalist’s point of view, wild yam is said to enhance the flow of “chi” or “life force” in the body, making it useful in treating disorders of the gastrointestinal and digestive tracts as well. It is also said that wild yam relieves gas, nausea, hiccups, gall bladder pain, and urinary and bladder problems. Further, the herb is used to treat liver disease, hypertension and spasms of the arteries.
Wild yam is available in creams, tablets, capsules, tinctures and teas. Some wild yam products are standardized for diosgenin, the precursor to progesterone. Dosages of wild yam vary depending on the form in which the herb is sold and the manufacturer of the product. Pills and tinctures should be taken with food to reduce the risk of stomach irritation and nausea.
Since wild yam contains a potentially toxic substance known as dioscorin, it is important to take the herb only within recommended limits. Wild yam can interact with prescription hormones such as estrodiol, so anyone taking such prescriptions should consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider before using products that contain wild yam.