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There are over 600 species of wild yams. About 12 species are edible. Some people use wild yam as a source of steroids, but the body can't make steroids such as estrogen and DHEA from eating wild yam. This conversion has to be done in a lab. There might be other chemicals in wild yam that act like estrogen in the body.
These findings suggest that wild yam may aid in the treatment of osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear arthritis"), a condition characterized by chronic inflammation. Its use in treating rheumatoid arthritis is less certain given that the source of the inflammation—namely the body's own immune system—is less affected by anti-inflammatory compounds. In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbalists used wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) to treat menstrual cramps and problems related to childbirth, as well as for upset stomach and coughs. In the 1950s, scientists discovered that the roots of wild yam -- not to be confused with the sweet potato yam -- contain diosgenin. Diosgenin is a phytoestrogen, or plant-based estrogen, that can be chemically converted into a hormone called progesterone. Diosgenin was used to make the first birth control pills in the 1960s.
Although wild yam is often advertised as a natural source of estrogen, there is no scientific evidence that wild yam works to treat menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis. In fact, several studies have found that wild yam does not reduce the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, or raise levels of estrogen or progesterone in the body. Some preparations of wild yam may contain progesterone, but only because a synthetic version of progesterone (medroxyprogesterone acetate or MPA) has been added to them. Also known as colic root, wild yam is a twining, tuberous vine. One species is native to North America; another is native to China. Both contain diosgenin and have similar medicinal properties. There are an estimated 600 species of yam in the genus Dioscorea. Many of them are wild species that flourish in damp woodlands and thickets, and not all of them contain diosgenin. Wild yam is a perennial vine with pale brown, knotty, woody cylindrical rootstocks, or tubers. Unlike sweet potato yams, the roots are not fleshy. Instead they are dry, narrow, and crooked, and bear horizontal branches of long creeping runners. The thin, reddish-brown stems grow to a length of over 30 feet. The roots initially taste starchy, but soon after taste bitter and acrid. (Source: www.mountsinai.org)