Wild yam is the common name for Dioscorea villosa, a perennial flowering plant that originates from eastern North America. It is a hardy plant to zone 6 and grows abundantly in a wide variety of soil types, including sand, loam and clay. Wild yam is also highly tolerant of soil pH, from acidic to alkaline. It requires at least partial sun and prefers moist soil. The most likely places to find wild yam include the borders of bogs, marshes and swamps.
Wild yam is a tuberous climbing vine that can reach a length of almost 10 feet. The flowers typically bloom in early fall, depending on the latitude. This species is dioecious, meaning that each individual plant only grows flowers of one sex. Wild yam therefore requires plants of both sexes to produce seed.
The primary commercial use of wild yam is in health supplements. The roots and bulbs are the most important part of the plant, which are harvested in the fall before the plant goes dormant. The roots are typically dried and ground into powder, which is used to prepare an extract. The most active part of this extract is diosgenin, which is chemically classified as a steroidal saponin. Diosgenin can be used directly as a health supplement, but it can also serve as a precursor for steroid hormones like dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and estrogen.
Diosgenin appears to exhibit some estrogen-like activity, meaning that it may serve as a natural alternative to estrogen. Most uses of wild yam therefore deal with the female reproductive system.
The management of menopause support is one of the most common uses of wild yam extract. Additional applications include the support of bone health, healthy cholesterol level management and stress management.
Some studies show that wild yam extract may support neuroimmunological function, which can help manage stress.
The osteogenic properties of diosgenin may make it useful for managing the symptoms of menopause. These symptoms primarily include menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and vaginal dryness.
Early human studies show that wild yam extract may be useful in helping to manage a healthy cholesterol profile. The specific components of this profile include low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglycerides.
Diosgenin may support the formation of bone, especially in older women. This mechanism generally consists of increasing the formation of calcium deposits within the extracellular matrix (ECM) of the bones.
Conditions affecting the female reproductive system are generally the most significant reasons for supplementing with wild yam extract. These signs primarily include PMS, menstrual cramps and vaginal dryness.
Additional signs that you may need to take wild yam extract include poor bone health, muscle cramps, unhealthy cholesterol levels and stress.
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