What is Wild Yam Extract?
Wild yam has a long history as a medicinal treatment. It was used in Asia for traditional medicine and the ancient Aztec civilization recognized its ability to heal and relieve pain (x). Traditionally it is a component of the “Pill of Eight Ingredients,” which is most commonly prescribed for diabetes and hypothyroidism in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (x). Wild yam is also known as devil’s bones, colic root and rheumatism root (x).
Today, people use it for many different reasons. Wild yam extract can offer benefits to a woman’s reproductive health. It is a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause and may also relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It may also have anti-inflammatory properties to help relieve arthritis and may act as a muscle relaxant (x, x).
Diosgenin is one of the most bioactive alkaloids in wild yam. Diosgenin is a phytoestrogen, which means the molecule comes from a plant but influences hormones, such as estrogen and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) (x). Recent research indicates that diosgenin may have anti-cancer properties. Various studies have shown that the diosgenin in wild yam extract can prevent cancer cells from spreading (x, x).
Benefits of Wild Yam Extract
Menopause is a process during which a woman stops having a monthly menstrual cycle. The body slowly makes less estrogen and progesterone, until the menstrual cycle eventually ends. Menopause is often marked with many physical, mental and emotional symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood swings or mild depression (x).
Wild yam may be a sufficient alternative to hormone replacement therapy. Compounds in wild yam extract may stabilize estrogen levels to relieve menopause symptoms. However, there is not enough evidence to confirm its effectiveness. Some studies conclude that it has little effect on the symptoms (x, x).
Most if not all women experience some form of premenstrual symptoms. The effects of PMS can be physical, emotional and/or behavioral. Similar to how wild yam extract may help with menopause symptoms, its bioactive compounds might be able to help influence hormone levels similar to estrogen, which may alleviate PMS symptoms. Wild yam has antispasmodic properties that may also ease painful periods. However, research is not yet conclusive on its effectiveness (x, x).
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, claiming over 600,000 lives each year and accounting for 25 percent of all deaths. High cholesterol is strongly associated with heart disease (x). Cholesterol gets a bad name, but it plays a more complicated role in health and labeling it as an evil that needs to be eradicated is a mistake. It is essential at normal levels, but dangerous only when they get too high (x). Animal studies show that wild yam may regulate cholesterol levels because diosgenin seems to block the body from absorbing it. However, more research is necessary to determine its effectiveness in humans (x, x).
More than 100 million adults in the United States currently have diabetes and many more have prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to qualify for type 2 diabetes (x, x). Wild yam extract contains a compound called dioscoretine that animal studies suggest may be able to help balance blood sugar levels, potentially helping manage diabetes. However, the studies have mainly focused on animal subjects and researchers do not know how effective it may be on humans (x, x).
The bloating, gas and cramps associated with an upset stomach are never welcome symptoms. A study suggests that wild yam may be an effective digestion aid and did not affect normal intestinal bacterial growth (x). Not only may it relieve symptoms of indigestion, but it may also improve gallbladder function (x).
Side Effects of Wild Yam Extract
Wild yam may worsen hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer or uterine fibroids by influencing estrogen production. Those with chronic conditions or taking medications should consult with a healthcare practitioner before adding this or any supplement to their diet.
Because it has estrogen-mimicking properties, wild yam extract may interact with prescription medication for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or birth control pills. It may not be safe during pregnancy, breastfeeding or for children (x).
Wild Yam Extract Dosage
The recommended dosage for wild yam extract powder is 400 mg once or twice a day. Take the supplement according to a physician’s instructions. Wild yam extract is not an adequate replacement for medical treatment.
The Bottom Line
Wild yam extract has a long medicinal tradition, from ancient Aztec civilization to traditional Chinese medicine. Historically it treated pain, diabetes and hypothyroidism. Today, many people still believe that wild yam can offer natural relief from certain conditions.
It may treat the troublesome symptoms of PMS and menopause, potentially relieving cramps and regulating hormone levels in the body. It may also help lower cholesterol and blood sugar to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and manage diabetes. Wild yam has not been regulated by the FDA and there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it effectively treats health conditions. Supplements are not a replacement for medical treatment. Always consult a physician before adding supplements to your diet.