Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is often used by menopausal women as a natural alternative to estrogen therapy.
It has the potential to treat the symptoms of menopause and rheumatoid arthritis. Note that hormone creams marked “natural” made from wild yam to rub into the skin may contain progesterone, estrogen, or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); the yam itself does not contain any of these hormones.
Does wild yam work as a menopause remedy?
The research is mixed. In a 2001 study conducted by the Baker Medical Research Institute In Australia, 23 menopausal women who experienced hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia used a yam cream rubbed on their skin or a placebo for 6 months. While it seemed safe, the researchers concluded that the yam cream had “little effect on menopausal symptoms«.
In a 2011 study by researchers from China Medical University and I-Shou University in Taiwan, 50 menopausal women used either a wild yam product or a placebo for 1 year. The group of women who used it saw some improvement after 6 months, reporting less anxiety, tension and nervousness, as well as relief from insomnia and muscle aches.
Wild yam as an alternative to hormone therapy
In the 1990s, volunteers taking hormone replacement therapy as part of a US-funded study were found to have developed an increased risk of breast cancer and stroke.
The study stopped. Inspired by the claims of alternative medicine practitioners at the time, many women turned to wild yam as a treatment for menopausal symptoms. It later became widely marketed as a non-drug menopause remedy, which could serve as a relief for hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia.
Risks Associated With Eating Wild Yam
Wild yam extracts should not be taken internally for longer than recommended, as a 2008 study of the University of Queensland from Australia found that long-term use increases the risk of kidney damage.
The future of wild yam
While the effect on menopause is still being discussed, interest in other possible uses for wild yam has grown. The preliminary evidence from a 2004 test tube study in the Kyung-Hee University from Korea suggested that the Asian wild yam Dioscorea tokoro may show promise against rheumatoid arthritis.
The compounds of this plant appear to reduce the production of inflammatory substances in the cells of human joint tissue.
In a 2005 study of the National Normal University From Taiwan, 24 postmenopausal women who used Dioscorea alata, every day for 30 days saw increases in blood levels of hormones, including estradiol and sex hormone-binding globulin.
The scientists noted that these effects could reduce the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. However, tests are still being carried out to confirm all these benefits.