Medical News Today: What are the health benefits of wild yam?

Wild yam is a plant that people have used for centuries in alternative medicine. Potential medicinal uses for wild yam include the treatment of menopause symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and muscular cramps.

There are various other names for wild yam, such as colic root, devil's bones, rheumatism root, or China root. While there are over 600 species of wild yam, only 12 are edible.

In this article, we investigate the potential medicinal uses of wild yam and the evidence supporting them. We also look at how to take it and its safety and side effects.

Benefits and uses

Wild yams in a bowl.
Some believe that wild yam may help treat symptoms of menopause and rheumatoid arthritis.

The bulb and roots of wild yams contain a chemical called diosgenin, which can influence the production of several useful hormones in humans, such as estrogen or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Consuming wild yam may be a natural way of promoting these hormones in the body, which could have certain medical benefits.

However, at present, there is little evidence to support any medical applications of wild yam. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have yet to evaluate wild yam for its safety or effectiveness.

Some of the potential medical uses of wild yam include:

Menopause symptoms

Some traditional medicine practitioners suggest using wild yam as an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy for treating symptoms of menopause. The theory is that wild yam may increase or stabilize estrogen levels in the body to help relieve a person's symptoms.

However, there is very little evidence to support these claims. One of the only studies available on the topic found that the 23 women who applied a wild yam cream over a 3-month period experienced no changes in their menopausal symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Some traditional medicine practitioners believe that wild yam has anti-inflammatory properties and use it to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. This can cause pain and stiffness that restricts mobility in people with the condition.

It is possible that wild yam might reduce this inflammation and have a positive effect on symptoms, but there is little evidence to support this.

Blood sugar regulation

Wild yam also contains a chemical called dioscoretine, which some people think helps with the regulation of blood sugar levels. Wild yam could be useful in regulating blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. However, the effect of dioscoretine on blood sugar has only been studied in animals so far. It is unclear whether it would have the same effect in humans.

Cramps and muscular pain

Other proponents of wild yam, believe that it has anti-spasmodic properties, which are substances that reduce muscle spasms. This anti-spasmodic property means that wild yam might be useful for reducing cramps and muscular pain related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), for example. However, more research is needed to support this.

How to take wild yam

Consuming wild yam is rare due to its bitter taste. However, it is available in a variety of formulations, including:

  • tablet
  • capsule
  • tincture
  • cream
  • tea
  • powder

Many of these formulations of wild yam are available to purchase online.

How much wild yam to take depends on several factors, such as:

  • the person's health condition
  • the person's age
  • the formulation of the wild yam

However, scientific studies have yet to determine a safe and effective dosage range for wild yam. It is therefore essential to consult a medical professional before taking wild yam. Always read the packaging carefully before using.

Safety and side effects

Nausea and headaches are potential side effects of wild yam.
Nausea and headaches are potential side effects of wild yam.

The FDA have not yet evaluated wild yam for its medicinal use, so there is little detailed information on its safety or side effects.

Wild yam is a natural substance, but this does not mean it is free from side effects. In small doses, wild yam is considered safe for most people. However, large amounts of wild yam can lead to side effects, including:

Some people may also have an allergic reaction to wild yam. For example, wild yam may cause skin irritation when applied as cream.

People who have hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer or uterine fibroids, should not use wild yam. It is possible for wild yam to influence estrogen production and worsen the condition.

There is also insufficient evidence about whether wild yam is safe during pregnancy, breast-feeding, or for young children. For this reason, doctors recommend people avoid using wild yam during these times.

Wild yam has been shown to interact with certain medications. For example, it can interact with estradiol, which is a substance used in certain birth control pills or hormone replacement therapies.

There may be other medications that wild yam can interact with, but further investigation is needed. It is essential to consult a doctor before taking wild yam to ensure it is safe for use.

Outlook

Although traditional medicine practitioners use wild yam to treat a variety of health conditions, further research is needed to determine its safety and effectiveness.

Wild yam may interact with other medications, and consuming large amounts can lead to side effects. It is, therefore, necessary to speak to a doctor before taking wild yam.

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