What is it?
Wild yam is a plant. It contains a chemical, diosgenin, which can be made in the laboratory into various steroids, such as estrogen and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The root and the bulb of the plant are used as a source of diosgenin, which is prepared as an “extract,” a liquid that contains concentrated diosgenin.
There are over 600 species of wild yam. Some species are grown specifically as a source of diosgenin for laboratories to use in making steroids. These species are generally not eaten due to a bitter flavor. Only about 12 of the 600 species are considered edible.
Diosgenin or wild yam is often promoted as a “natural alterative” to estrogen therapy, so you will see it used for estrogen replacement therapy, vaginal dryness in older women, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), menstrual cramps, weak bones (osteoporosis), increasing energy and sexual drive in men and women, and breast enlargement. Wild yam does seem to have some estrogen-like activity, but it is not actually converted into estrogen in the body. It takes a laboratory to do that.
Similarly, you will also see wild yam and diosgenin promoted as a “natural DHEA.” This is because in the laboratory DHEA is made from diosgenin, but this chemical reaction is not believed to occur in the human body. So taking wild yam extract will not increase DHEA levels in people. Individuals who are interested in taking DHEA should avoid wild yam products labeled as "natural DHEA."
Wild yam is also used for treating a disorder of the intestines called diverticulosis, gallbladder pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and for increasing energy.
Some women apply wild yam creams to the skin to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for WILD YAM are as follows:
Possibly ineffective for...
- Hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause, when wild yam cream is applied to the skin. Using wild yam cream for 3 months doesn’t seem to help with these menopausal symptoms. It also doesn’t seem to affect levels of hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol, or progesterone that play a role in menopause.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Use as a natural alternative to estrogens.
- Postmenopausal vaginal dryness.
- PMS (Premenstrual syndrome).
- Weak bones (osteoporosis).
- Increasing energy and sexual desire in men and women.
- Gallbladder problems.
- Painful menstrual periods.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Menstrual disorders.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate wild yam for these uses.
Wild yam contains a chemical that can be made into various steroids, such as estrogen, in the laboratory. However, the body can't change wild yam to estrogen.
Wild yam is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults. Large amounts can cause vomiting.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of wild yam during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Wild yam might act like estrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use wild yam.
Protein S deficiency: People with protein S deficiency have an increased risk of forming clots. There is some concern that wild yam might increase the risk of clot formation in these people because it might act like estrogen. There is one case report of a patient with protein S deficiency and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who developed a clot in the vein serving the retina in her eye 3 days after taking a combination product containing wild yam, dong quai, red clover, and black cohosh. If you have protein S deficiency, it’s best to avoid using wild yam until more is known.
It is not known if this product interacts with any medicines.
Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The appropriate dose of wild yam depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for wild yam. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
American Yam, Atlantic Yam, Barbasco, China Root, Chiense Yam, Colic Root, Devil's Bones, DHEA Naturelle, Dioscorea, Dioscoreae, Dioscorea alata, Dioscorea batatas, Dioscorea composita, Dioscorea floribunda, Dioscorea hirticaulis, Dioscorea japonica, Dioscorea macrostachya, Dioscorea mexicana, Dioscorea opposita, Dioscorea tepinapensis, Dioscorea villosa, Dioscorée, Igname Sauvage, Igname Velue, Mexican Yam, Mexican Wild Yam, Ñame Silvestre, Natural DHEA, Phytoestrogen, Phyto-œstrogène, Rheumatism Root, Rhizoma Dioscorae, Rhizoma Dioscoreae, Shan Yao, Wild Mexican Yam, Yam, Yuma.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Wild yam page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/970.html.
- Hudson t, Standish L, Breed C, and et al. Clinical and endocrinological effects of a menopausal botanical formula. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 1997;7:73-77.
- Zagoya JCD, Laguna J, and Guzman-Garcia J. Studies on the regulation of cholesterol metabolism by the use of structural analogue, diosgenin. Biochemical Pharmacology 1971;20:3471-3480.
- Datta K, Datta SK, and Datta PC. Pharmacognostic evaluation of potential yams Dioscorea. Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 1984;5:181-196.
- Araghiniknam M, Chung S, Nelson-White T, and et al. Antioxidant activity of Dioscorea and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in older humans. Life Sciences 1996;59:L147-L157.
- Vasiukova, N. I., Paseshnichenko, V. A., Davydova, M. A., and Chalenko, G. I. [Fungiotoxic properties of steroid saponins from the rhizomes of deltoid dioscorea]. Prikl.Biokhim.Mikrobiol. 1977;13:172-176. View abstract.
- Odumosu, A. How vitamin C, clofibrate and diosgenin control cholesterol metabolism in male guinea-pigs. Int J Vitam.Nutr Res Suppl 1982;23:187-195. View abstract.
- Uchida, K., Takase, H., Nomura, Y., Takeda, K., Takeuchi, N., and Ishikawa, Y. Changes in biliary and fecal bile acids in mice after treatments with diosgenin and beta-sitosterol. J Lipid Res 1984;25:236-245. View abstract.
- Nervi, F., Bronfman, M., Allalon, W., Depiereux, E., and Del Pozo, R. Regulation of biliary cholesterol secretion in the rat. Role of hepatic cholesterol esterification. J Clin Invest 1984;74:2226-2237. View abstract.
- Cayen, M. N. and Dvornik, D. Effect of diosgenin on lipid metabolism in rats. J Lipid Res 1979;20:162-174. View abstract.
- Ulloa, N. and Nervi, F. Mechanism and kinetic characteristics of the uncoupling by plant steroids of biliary cholesterol from bile salt output. Biochim.Biophys.Acta 11-14-1985;837:181-189. View abstract.
Juarez-Oropeza, M. A., Diaz-Zagoya, J. C., and Rabinowitz, J. L. In vivo and in vitro studies of hypocholesterolemic effects of diosgenin in rats. Int J Biochem 1987;19:679-683. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., Elliott, W. H., McLaughlin, P., and Upson, B. Effects of synthetic glycosides on steroid balance in Macaca fascicularis. J Lipid Res 1987;28:1-9. View abstract.
- Kubo, Y., Nonaka, S., and Yoshida, H. Allergic contact dermatitis from Dioscorea batatas Decaisne. Contact Dermatitis 1988;18:111-112. View abstract.
- Nervi, F., Marinovic, I., Rigotti, A., and Ulloa, N. Regulation of biliary cholesterol secretion. Functional relationship between the canalicular and sinusoidal cholesterol secretory pathways in the rat. J Clin Invest 1988;82:1818-1825. View abstract.
- Huai, Z. P., Ding, Z. Z., He, S. A., and Sheng, C. G. [Research on correlations between climatic factors and diosgenin content in Dioscorea zingiberensis Wright]. Yao Xue.Xue.Bao. 1989;24:702-706. View abstract.
- Zakharov, V. N. [Hypolipemic effect of diosponine in ischemic heart disease depending on the type of hyperlipoproteinemia]. Kardiologiia. 1977;17:136-137. View abstract.
- Burrowes, J. D. and Ramer, N. J. Removal of potassium from tuberous root vegetables by leaching. J Ren Nutr 2006;16:304-311. View abstract.
- Cayen, M. N., Ferdinandi, E. S., Greselin, E., and Dvornik, D. Studies on the disposition of diosgenin in rats, dogs, monkeys and man. Atherosclerosis 1979;33:71-87. View abstract.
- Rosenberg Zand, R. S., Jenkins, D. J., and Diamandis, E. P. Effects of natural products and nutraceuticals on steroid hormone-regulated gene expression. Clin Chim.Acta 2001;312(1-2):213-219. View abstract.
- Wu WH, Liu LY, Chung CJ, et al. Estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr 2005;24:235-43. View abstract.
- Cheong JL, Bucknall R. Retinal vein thrombosis associated with a herbal phytoestrogen preparation in a susceptible patient. Postgrad Med J 2005;81:266-7.. View abstract.
- Komesaroff PA, Black CV, Cable V, et al. Effects of wild yam extract on menopausal symptoms, lipids and sex hormones in healthy menopausal women. Climacteric 2001;4:144-50.. View abstract.
- Eagon PK, Elm MS, Hunter DS, et al. Medicinal herbs: modulation of estrogen action. Era of Hope Mtg, Dept Defense; Breast Cancer Res Prog, Atlanta, GA 2000;Jun 8-11.
- Yamada T, Hoshino M, Hayakawa T, et al. Dietary diosgenin attenuates subacute intestinal inflammation associated with indomethacin in rats. Am J Physiol 1997;273:G355-64. View abstract.
- Aradhana AR, Rao AS, Kale RK. Diosgenin-a growth stimulator of mammary gland of ovariectomized mouse. Indian J Exp Biol 1992;30:367-70. View abstract.
- Accatino L, Pizarro M, Solis N, Koenig CS. Effects of diosgenin, a plant-derived steroid, on bile secretion and hepatocellular cholestasis induced by estrogens in the rat. Hepatology 1998;28:129-40. View abstract.
- Zava DT, Dollbaum CM, Blen M. Estrogen and progestin bioactivity of foods, herbs, and spices. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1998;217:369-78. View abstract.
- Skolnick AA. Scientific verdict still out on DHEA. JAMA 1996;276:1365-7. View abstract.
- Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal, 4th ed., Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, LLC 1997.
- Show more references
- Show fewer references
Last reviewed - 02/27/2013
This copyrighted, evidence-based medicine resource is provided by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database disclaims any responsibility related to consequences of using any product. This monograph should not replace advice from a healthcare professional and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
Copyright © 1995 - 2014 Therapeutic Research Faculty
, publishers of Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
, Prescriber’s Letter
, Pharmacist’s Letter
. All rights reserved. For scientific data on natural medicines, professionals may consult the Professional Version of Natural Medicines Comprehensive DatabaseNatural Medicines Comprehensive Database (http://www.naturaldatabase.com/)