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Wild yam (dioscorea)

What is wild yam? What is it used for?

Wild yam is indigenous to the southern U.S. and Canada. The plant has small, greenish-yellow flowers, with a pale brown, cylindrical rhizome similar in size and shape to a potato. The rhizome and accompanying roots contain medicinal properties and are used in several herbal remedies.

The active compound in wild yam is diosgenin, an anti-inflammatory. Traditionally, wild yam has been used for rheumatic conditions, dysmenorrhea and cramps. Animal studies suggest that another wild yam compound, dioscoretine, may reduce blood sugar and intestinal inflammation, increase bile production and raise levels of HDL, or "good," cholesterol. It may also protect liver cells and, in some anecdotal studies, act as a form of "natural" progesterone, a female hormone.

How much wild yam should I take?

Some practitioners recommend 2-4 grams of wild yam root daily. Other providers recommend 2-3ml of a wild yam tincture taken up to four times daily.

What forms of wild yam are available?

In addition to dried root, wild yam is also available in capsules, tinctures and liquid extracts

What can happen if I take too much wild yam? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Extremely large amounts of wild yam may cause nausea in some individuals. In addition, there is some evidence that wild yam may enhance the effect of estrogen-containing drugs. Patients taking estrogen-containing drugs or who are on hormone replacement therapy should consult with their health care provider before taking wild yam supplements.

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  • Araghiniknam M, Chung S, Nelson-White T, et al. Antioxidant activity of dioscorea and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in older humans. Life Sci 1996;11:147—57.
  • Bertram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers, 1995, 454.
  • Dollbaum CM. Lab analyses of salivary DHEA and progesterone following ingestion of yam-containing products. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients Oct 1995:104.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, p. 817-818.
  • Iwu MM, Okunji CO, Ohiaeri GO, et al. Hypoglycaemic activity of dioscoretine from tubers of dioscorea dumetorum in normal and alloxan diabetic rabbits. Planta Med 1990;56:264—7.


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