Wild yam caused a stir years ago for being a natural contraceptive. Although this has not been confirmed, the yam root seems to have a beneficial effect on the female hormone balance, so there are now studies on three effects: Wild yam strengthens the bones, protects the blood vessels, and helps with estrogen dominance – both before and during menopause.
The wild yam: Native American contraceptives
The wild yam belongs to the yam family. With around 800 species, they can be found primarily in tropical regions, where they are used as food and medicinal plants – in the past and still are today. The best known is the Mexican wild yam, which originally comes from Central and North America, but is now also cultivated and used in other parts of the world.
Wild yam was once used by Native American women primarily as a contraceptive and as a remedy for all female ailments, while men swore by its rejuvenating and strengthening properties.
Wild Yam is the ancestor of the birth control pill
As implausible as it may sound to us today to use a plant for contraception, it is precisely one plant – namely the wild yam – without which the modern birth control pill would probably not even exist.
In the 1930s, scientists attempted to synthesize artificial estrogen and progesterone to create a contraceptive. Although they achieved their goal, but only used extremely expensive raw materials. At that time, the economic use of hormones was unthinkable.
The breakthrough came only in 1942 by the American chemist Russell Marker. He came across wild yams while searching for a plant with plenty of hormone-like substances. He isolated the substance diosgenin – a precursor of progesterone – from the root of the plant and was able to convert this diosgenin into natural progesterone in the laboratory. Production of the first birth control pills started soon after. (The estrogen also required for this was obtained from mare urine).
Wild yam for contraception
Although the original form of the birth control pill would have been unthinkable without wild yam, the contraceptive effect of the root is based on a completely different mechanism than that of the pill.
Diosgenin is also highly unlikely to be the only substance in Wild Yam that has a contraceptive effect – if at all. Much more likely is an interaction of different ingredients that you don’t even know all of.
Because scientists are still arguing about whether the human organism is able to convert diosgenin from wild yam into progesterone or not – and diosgenin alone does not prevent it.
So you don’t know what exactly could prevent the wild yam root. However, the following mechanism is suspected: wild yam ensures the formation of a natural protective mucus in the cervix, on which the sperm slip and can no longer reach the egg cell.
The contraceptive pill, on the other hand, changes the hormone balance in such a way that ovulation does not occur in the first place and the fallopian tubes are paralyzed, which of course is not the case with wild yams.
Prerequisites for the preventive effect of wild yam
In order for Wild Yam to actually be a contraceptive, it is said that certain conditions have to be met. First of all, you have to be very patient. Because the contraceptive effect should only develop after about 6 to 12 months if taken daily – especially in very young women.
Although it is said in some places that the contraceptive effect already occurs after 9 weeks because the protective mucus has built up by then, reports of experience (the baby came despite Wild Yam) show that this is not always the case.
Another condition that wild yam supplements place on the woman is that she should practice a healthy diet and lifestyle. Because the wild yam root protects against primitive peoples, among other things, because they would live so naturally and healthily.
Smoking, alcohol, sugar, obesity, and too little exercise are said to impair the contraceptive effect of wild yam so, despite regular consumption of wild yam, pregnancy can occur if you indulge in one of these vices.
As a result, there are no real studies that would prove that wild yam can actually be an effective contraceptive for women because hardly any (young) woman would live so consistently that one could recommend contraception with wild yam to her with a clear conscience.
Advocates of the yam root only refer to the centuries-old tradition of many primitive peoples and to the reports of women from our time, which there are both positive and negative.
A midwife’s experiences with wild yam for contraception
Midwife Willa Shaffer chronicled her experience with wild yam in her booklet Wild Yam: Birth Control Without Fear. She recommends that her patients take 3000 mg of wild yam daily, with 1500 mg of wild yam in capsule form in the morning and evening.
According to Shaffer’s reports, nearly 100 percent of women were able to prevent birth control using wild yam alone. However, attention must be paid to the quality of the product, so that it is not a heated yam, for example, but a wild yam product of raw food quality.
So while the preventive effect of wild yams is not really certain, the bone-strengthening effect is quite different. There are several studies that have shown that wild yam has a very good effect on bone health, which is particularly interesting for women during and after menopause.
Wild Yam for prevention of osteoporosis
In 2010, Harvard Medical School in Boston tested a combination of eight different bone-strengthening medicinal plants (Drynol Cibotin), all of which have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM for the treatment of osteoporosis for many centuries – including Chinese angelica, the shiny privet, Astragalus and of course Wild Yam.
The results of the study were very positive, as it showed that the medicinal plants significantly stimulate the proliferation of bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) and at the same time prevent their increased destruction – as is the case with osteoporosis.
In addition, it was discovered that the plants improved calcium uptake into the bones, both in the short and long term. The formation of two key proteins that are important for bone formation was also clearly stimulated by the medicinal plants (collagen I and laminin B2).
The researchers then explained that bone-strengthening medicinal plants can be used either alone or in combination with vital substances to prevent osteoporosis.
A year later (2011), Korean scientists showed that diosgenin from wild yam could noticeably increase bone activity. They also found that wild yam promoted bone formation, particularly through increased production of collagen I and other proteins, all of which are responsible for good bone health.
And in 2014, the journal Preventive Nutrition and Food Science also published an article by Korean researchers. They confirmed the previous findings and wrote that both wild yam root and bark can activate a bone function.
According to the researchers, under the influence of wild yam, the bone matrix becomes more mineralized, which means that more calcium can be incorporated into the newly built bone tissue.
Where this bone-strengthening effect of the wild yam root comes from is not certain. What is certain, however, is that the hormonal imbalance that occurs during menopause promotes osteoporosis. If wild yam has a hormone-balancing effect – as is suspected – this could explain the positive influence on the bones.
Wild yam during menopause
Some experts are now certain that the typical menopausal symptoms (dryness of the skin and mucous membranes, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, etc.) are not or not always due to a pure estrogen deficiency, but rather to so-called estrogen dominance.
This means that the balance between estrogen and progesterone is disturbed in favor of estrogen. Of course, the affected woman can still have too little estrogen. However, if there is much less progesterone in relation to the remaining estrogen, this is also referred to as estrogen dominance – despite the lack of estrogen.
It is also important to remember that during menopause, progesterone levels drop much faster than estrogen levels. Because even after menopause, certain amounts of estrogen are still formed in the adrenal cortex, the fatty tissue, and the ovaries, while the body’s own production of progesterone is almost completely stopped. Consequently, progesterone should initially receive much more attention than estrogen.
Due to its diosgenin content, wild yam is said to have a progesterone-like effect, so the plant can gently counteract estrogen dominance in this way, and is worth trying when the first menopausal symptoms begin.
Because the synthetic hormones that are usually prescribed can have severe side effects – from breast cancer to thrombosis and cardiovascular problems.
Is Wild Yam an alternative to hormone therapies?
Conventional medicine prefers to administer estrogens in order to compensate for the estrogen deficiency that is so typical of menopause, while possible estrogen dominance is completely ignored. If progesterone is also given, this is usually also done in synthetic form.
In the meantime, however, the possibility of so-called bioidentical hormones is no longer so unknown and some doctors now also advise it. These are hormones that are absolutely identical to the body’s own. Of course, these bioidentical hormones can also have side effects if they are not dosed correctly for the individual woman.
If the menopausal symptoms are only mild, it is therefore a good idea to first test gentle and side-effect-free herbal remedies, such as B. the wild yam (wild yam).
However, estrogen dominance is by no means just a problem for women going through menopause. Instead, it is a very widespread but unfortunately often unrecognized cause of many women’s complaints, which often weigh heavily on their entire lives.
Wild Yam for Estrogen Dominance and PMS
Estrogen dominance is therefore a very common problem in women of almost all ages, and not infrequently in men too. Because chemicals in the environment have estrogen-like effects, we are all surrounded by estrogens or substances that can mimic the effects of estrogens.
Estrogen dominance can manifest itself in a wide range of symptoms in women. Some of them are also summarized in their entirety under the premenstrual syndrome (PMS):
- The feeling of tension in the breasts
- Depression and severe mood swings
- sleep disorders
- Fatigue and limited performance
- water retention
- fibroids and cysts
- Shortened cycles and spots in the 2nd half of the cycle
- skin problems such as B. Acne
- hair loss
There are no official studies on the effect of wild yams on estrogen dominance and PMS. But the doctor and medicinal plant expert Heide Fischer, who specializes in women’s naturopathy, conducted her own small “study”, which she describes on her website:
Wild Yam is ideal for Premenstrual Syndrome
In 2002, as part of a specialist training course “Women’s naturopathy with a focus on phytotherapy” led by Heide Fischer, she developed a yam root gel that 20 volunteer women with premenstrual or menopausal symptoms used for two months.
It has now been shown that women with premenstrual symptoms experienced a significant improvement in almost all symptoms, whether it was breast tenderness and water retention or mood swings and spotting.
The menopausal symptoms also improved, especially at the beginning of the menopause when there were also premenstrual problems.
However, if it was the advanced menopause with hot flashes etc., then the successes with Wild Yam were less clear. But of course, it was not certain whether a higher dose would not have been necessary here or whether a longer application period would have been necessary.
Wild yam as an antioxidant against atherosclerosis
Arteriosclerosis is a problem in middle to old age, i.e. when osteoporosis could also threaten. Anyone who now thinks of osteoporosis prophylaxis with wild yam could kill two birds with one stone since wild yam can also protect the blood vessels from deposits at the same time. At least that is what a study from 2005, which was carried out at the China Medical University, indicated.
Three groups of subjects with arteriosclerosis either received a cholesterol-lowering drug, wild yam or served as a control group that did not take anything. It was found that in the control group 80 percent of the vessel walls (in the aorta) were covered by deposits, while in the wild yam group it was only 40 percent, so it can be assumed that wild yam is a useful measure to reduce arteriosclerosis represents.
The wild yam root: the conclusion
In summary, it can be said that the wild yam root is obviously an excellent additional measure to prevent osteoporosis, which can also protect the blood vessels from deposits.
Wild yams can also be of help for mild menopausal symptoms, especially if they are associated with estrogen dominance. However, for more severe menopausal symptoms, bioidentical hormones may be more effective.
For women of reproductive age suffering from premenstrual syndrome or other symptoms of estrogen dominance, wild yam is a very good component of natural therapy.
For prevention, however, we would not recommend Wild Yam.
Application of Wild Yam
The wild yam root is available in many different preparations: as capsules, cream, or vaginal gel. Wild Yam is used in the fertile age from ovulation, so it does not take it throughout the cycle.
The cream or gel is applied to the chest, stomach, arms, or inner thighs once or twice a day, ideally, if you don’t plan to shower for the next hour.