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Christopher Hobbs Herb Walk

Wild Yam

Wild yam relieves spasms and inflammation, especially of the digestive tract and uterus and is used for colic, nausea, morning sickness, and gastroenteritis. It is particularly suitable for chronic flatulence. Wild yam is also considered a relaxant and is useful for menstrual cramps, dysmenorrhea, and hysteria. It contains diosgenin, which is used in the synthesis of progesterone, through a series of steps, utilizing a number of chemical solvents. This is the basis for numerous claims made for this herb — that it contains "natural progesterone," that it contains anabolic compounds that can help weight-lifters put on more muscle mass quickly, and that as a natural birth-control herb, it can prevent pregnancy. None of these claims has any basis in fact, according to scientific literature. Wild yam is not effective as an anabolic herb, and it neither increases testosterone levels in men, nor is it very effective as a birth-control herb. Some women who were using it subsequently became pregnant. As to whether it has any effects on progesterone levels in women who are taking it, that remains to be seen. There is little or nothing in the historical record about the herb's popular uses that would indicate that Dioscorea villosa has these effects, though they should perhaps not be discounted altogether.

Products, such as topical creams and other preparations that claim to be effective hormone regulators, relieving undesirable symptoms that can occur with PMS and menopause, have been known to add synthetic progesterone to increase effectiveness. These products do use wild yam, soybeans, or other sources of raw compounds to synthesize progesterone, but that hardly means that they contain "natural progesterone." For all the chemical solvents that touch the natural material, and all the steps of purification, it might as well be synthetic progesterone. Proper hormone balance comes from general health, and a number of herbs may help by providing a mild hormonal regulation, such as the herb vitex. Time will tell what action wild yam tincture or other whole-plant extracts have on the human hormonal system.