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Wild yam (Dioscoreavillosa)

Synonyms/Common Names/Related Substances:

  • Atlantic yam, barbasco, batata silvestre, black yam, China root, colic root, devil's bones, Dioscorea, Dioscorea barbasco, Dioscorea hypoglauca, Dioscorea macrostachya, Dioscorea opposita, Dioscorea villosa, Dioscoreae (family), diosgenin, Mexican yam, natural DHEA, phytoestrogen, potassium, rheumatism root, shan yao, white yam, wild yam root, yam, yellow yam, yuma.
  • Note: "Yams" sold in the supermarket are actually members of the sweet potato family and are not true yams.

Clinical Bottom Line/Effectiveness

Brief Background:

  • It has been hypothesized that wild yam (Dioscorea villosa and other Dioscorea species) possesses dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)-like properties and acts as a precursor to human sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. Based on this proposed mechanism, extracts of the plant have been used to treat dysmenorrhea, hot flashes, and headaches associated with menopause. However, these uses are based on a misconception that wild yam contains hormones or hormonal precursors, which is largely due to the historical fact that progesterone, androgens, and cortisone were chemically manufactured from Mexican wild yam in the 1960s. It is unlikely that this chemical conversion to progesterone occurs in the human body. The hormonal activity of some topical wild yam preparations has been attributed to adulteration with synthetic progesterone by manufacturers, although there is limited evidence in this area.
  • The effects of the wild yam saponin constituent "diosgenin" on lipid metabolism are well documented in animal models and are possibly due to impaired intestinal cholesterol absorption. However, its purported hypocholesterolemic effect in humans and the feasibility of long-term use warrant further investigation.
  • There are few reported contraindications to the use of wild yam in adults. However, there are no reliable safety or toxicity studies during pregnancy, lactation, or childhood.

Dosing/Toxicology

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Precautions/Contraindications

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Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

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Mechanism of Action

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History

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Evidence Table

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Evidence Discussion

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Products Studied

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.