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Wild Yam

Wild yam, Dioscorea villosa, is a species of a twining tuberous vine that is native to and found growing wild in North America. Its fame is based on its steroid-like saponins which can be chemically converted to progesterone contraceptives and cortisone.

Wild yam is believed to be helpful to the liver and endocrine system. It regulates the female system, particularly during menstrual distress and menopause and is used in treating infertility. Used with chasteberry and dandelion it is an effective treatment for morning sickness.

It has been hypothesised that wild yam ( Dioscorea villosa and other Dioscorea species) possesses dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)-like properties and acts as a precursor to human sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. Based on this proposed mechanism, extracts of the plant have been used to treat painful menstruation, hot flushes and headaches associated with menopause. However, these uses are based on a misconception that wild yam contains hormones or hormonal precursors - largely due to the historical fact that progesterone, androgens, and cortisone were chemically manufactured from Mexican wild yam in the 1960s. It is unlikely that this chemical conversion to progesterone occurs in the human body. The hormonal activity of some topical wild yam preparations has been attributed to adulteration with synthetic progesterone by manufacturers, although there is limited evidence in this area.

Wild yam has a traditional use as an aphrodisiac and chemical analysis shows that it contains chemicals that can increase sensitivity in the genitals. It also has a reputation for inducing erotic dreams, when drunk at bedtime, although it has not been proven in clinical trials.

There are few reported contra-indications to the use of wild yam in adults. However, there are no reliable safety or toxicity studies on use during pregnancy, lactation or childhood.

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