Wild Yam History
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to help with menstrual cramps and childbirth. The parts used are the dried roots or rhizome. Additionally, it was used for upset tummies and coughs. The roots of the wild yam contain diosgenin, a plant-based estrogen the can convert into the hormone known as progesterone. Probably the most familiar use of disogenin is the birth control pill, which was first produced in the 1960s.
What Are the Benefits of Wild Yam?
1. Potentially Regulates Blood Sugar
The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that wild yam may help regulate blood sugar. This is believed to be due to a substance called dioscoretine and has been studied showing positive results. (1)
Research from the Phytotherapy Research Laboratory at the University of Nigeria found that blood sugar was lowered in diabetic rabbits when administered dioscoretine that was extracted from tubers. (2)
2. May Fight Cancer
A study was conducted in Japan to help determine if wild yam could help reduce the risks of cancer. The study was provoked due to the extensive use for wellness benefits in Japan. While further research is needed, the researchers did find that the rhizome within in the wild yam plant — which produces the major compound dioscin — possessed antiproliferative effects on leukemia cells. (3)
Although it’s often used as a supplement, in northern part of Japan wild yam is consumed as a health food, and this research shows it may be a cancer-fighting food.
Furthermore, research published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found “that wild yam extract acts as a weak phytoestrogen and protects against proliferation in human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells.” (4)
3. Improves Cholesterol Levels
According to a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research, the diosgenin found in wild yam may help raise good HDL cholesterol and lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). In the study, rats were given wild yam for a period of one week to determine if diosgenin suppresses cholesterol absorption, and it was found the rats had better HDL to LDL ratio. (5)
Another study conducted on mice and rats suggests that supplementation using wild yam may be beneficial in controlling hypercholesterolemia. (6)
4. Offers Diverticulosis Relief
Wild yam may help treat a disorder of the intestines called diverticulosis. This happens when small pouches form on the colon wall. If they get inflamed, they are are referred to as diverticulosis and can be very painful, resulting in constipation and diarrhea and even fever at times.
Records indicate that diverticulosis is found in 30 percent to 40 percent of people over the age of 50, and it is caused by a highly refined low-fiber diet. So how does wild yam help with diverticulosis?
Wild yam is known to be be a good anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. As an anti-spasmodic, it may help reduce any pain caused by abdominal cramping around the inflamed area. A tincture of wild yam, valerian, cramps bark and peppermint may offer relief. (7)
5. May Help Reduce Photoaging
Studies indicate that the disogenin found in wild yam extract may have a “depigmenting effect.” This means it could help with issues such as melasma, melanodermatitis and sun lentigo — issues that ultimately result in hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is harmless and rather common, but it can be frustrating since it is a skin condition that develops, rather noticeably, as darker patches of skin. (8)