Wild yam and inflammation
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Information, in part, from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/wild-yam-000280.htm and http://www.herbs2000.com/homeopathy/dioscorea.htm
Wild yam is not related to the vegetable most commonly served at Thanksgiving.
A native plant of North and Central America, the wild yam was first used medicinally by the Aztecs and Mayans because of its pain-relieving qualities. Later, European settlers took advantage of the wild yam's therapeutic properties and used it for treating joint pain and colic. The root is the part of the plant that has medicinal value. It is available as a dried herb for use in tea, and is also sold in capsule, tablet, softgel, and tincture forms.
In recent years, wild yam has been extolled for its ability to mimic certain hormones - especially progesterone - and said to relieve menopausal or PMS symptoms. Most of these claims, however, remain scientifically unproved. It is true that wild yam contains a substance called diosgenin that can be converted to progesterone in the laboratory, but the human body is unable to make this conversion.
Some holistic practitioners, however, have reported that patients suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal symptoms experienced good results with wild yam cream. Sometimes manufacturers of the creams add laboratory-synthesized progesterone, which could well account for some of the therapeutic effects.
When taken in capsule, tincture, or tea form, however, wild yam has other medicinal effects. Some herbalists believe that crude forms of this herb may help hormonal imbalances associated with PMS and menopause because it contains estrogen-like substances. In addition, it acts as a muscle relaxant, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory, which may explain why it eases menstrual complaints in some women
In 1942 chemist Russell E. Marker discovered that he could use the Mexican wild yam to produce a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. It was a success, but the synthetic use of this natural plant came with side effects such as increased risk of cancer, birth defects and permanent infertility. Wild yam has been claimed to prevent cancer, relieve rheumatism and menstrual problems and prevent miscarriage.
Wild yam (Also known as Colic Root, Rheumatism Root, Chinese Yam, Bitter Yam) has historically been used to treat a variety of problems, such as cancer, diarrhea, colic, muscle spasms, painful menstruation and rheumatism- In large doses it has been used as a diuretic and an expectorant. Historically it was also used to ease the passage of small gallstones.
Wild yam contains substances called alkaloids, which are muscle relaxants that especially target muscles in the abdomen and pelvis. This action suggests that wild yam may be of particular value for digestive disorders, such as diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also improve menstrual cramps and the pain associated with endometriosis.
Historically, wild yam was used to help reduce inflammation. Scientific studies show that diosgenin found in wild yam has an anti-inflammatory effect in animals. In humans, this substance has proven very helpful in reducing inflammatyion in joints. Wild yam has been used to stop diarrhea and to clear out the gas and obstructions associated with colic. Wild yam may also prevent spasmodic asthma.
Other active ingredients found in wild yam, known as steroidal saponins, play a role in alleviating muscle strains, chronic muscle pain, and arthritis.
With the use of wild yam in commercial products, there have been many recent scientific studies of the plant and its medicinal values. Wild yam has been shown to possibly have an anti-cancer activity in animals. In vitro, it acts as an anti-fungal agent. Wild yam has also been shown in uncontrolled studies to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Laboratories use Mexican wild yam (which contains diosgenin) to make DHEA, progesterone and other hormones.
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