Wild yam plants are found in the United States, Mexico and Asia where it is eaten as food. A few different species exist, all of which possess similar constituents and properties. The root is used medicinally.
Wild yam has been used by herbalists as an expectorant for people with coughs. It was also used for gastro-intestinal upset, nerve pain, and morning sickness. Eventually, it was discovered that the saponins from wild yam could be converted industrially into cortisone, oestrogens, and progesterone-like compounds. Wild yam and other plants with similar constituents continue to be a source for these drugs.
What it does
Wild Yam contains steroidal saponins, mainly diosgenin, which accounts for its antispasmodic and smooth muscle relacant properties. Another compound, dioscoretine, has been shown in animal studies to lower blood sugar levels. An extract of wild yam was also found in a clinical trial to have anti-oxidant properties and raised HDL, the “good,”cholesterol in elderly adults.
Contrary to popular claims, wild yam roots do not contain and are not converted into progesterone or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the body, but it does have a mild balancing action on female hormones.
Pharmaceutical progesterone is made from wild yam using a chemical conversion process, so whilst wild yam can be a source of progesterone, it cannot be used without this pharmaceutical conversion, which is not duplicated by the body.
Do not use in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.
Generally, there are no side effects or contra-indications from using wild yam at normal dosage levels. Excessively high intake may cause nausea or vomiting.
At the time of writing there were no well known negative drug interactions with wild yam.