Dealing with frustrating symptoms like hot flashes while going through “the change” isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun time. If you’ve been searching for natural remedies to extinguish those flames, you may have come across wild yam cream. Some swear by its hormone balancing benefits, while others remain skeptical. So, we took a closer look at whether yam cream can really help — and other potential perks.
Wild Yam Cream for Menopause
Easing menopause, perimenopause, and menstrual symptoms are the most common reasons people reach for wild yam cream. According to the Mount Sinai Health Library, the plant’s root became a popular treatment for those issues back in the 18th and 19th century.
Unlike the yams and other tubers we eat, wild yam refers to Dioscorea villosa variety of inedible yams. It’s native to the United States, but is grown all over the globe and extracts from it are frequently used in topical products.
A phytoestrogen (or plant-based estrogen) found inside wild yam known as diosgenin can be converted into progesterone and was even used to make the first birth control pills in the 1960s. However, that conversion doesn’t seem possible without scientists creating it in a laboratory rather than happening naturally inside our own bodies.
Because it needs that extra step in a laboratory to create the progesterone, which doesn’t happen before getting placed in most topical products, experts are skeptical about its effectiveness. Many point to a small study in 2001 which observed 23 women using either the cream or a placebo over a six month period. Although there were no adverse side effects in the wild yam group, they also didn’t show much difference in menopausal symptoms from those with the placebo.
Again, this was a very small study and there doesn’t seem to be much more research done on the subject. Mount Sinai adds that some wild yam creams may have a synthetic progesterone added to their product, which likely leads to the benefits more than the wild yam itself.
One popular product, Swanson Wild Yam Cream (Buy on Amazon, $10.69), lists progesterone USP among its ingredients. Researchers describe this as “a micronized progesterone which is chemically identical to progesterone of ovarian origin.”
Reviews for this cream are still overwhelmingly positive, though, with several claiming it significantly lessened or completely got rid of their hot flashes and painful menstrual cramps. One happy customer described it as a “miracle worker.”
Although the perks may be thanks to the synthetic progesterone ingredients, the wild yam could be giving it a boost, too. More research needs to be done, but there are some other promising ways wild yam can help us feel our best.
Other Wild Yam Benefits
Aside from potentially balancing hormones, the diosgenin in topical wild yam cream has been shown to have an anti-aging effect by encouraging new skin cell growth. Studies have also found diosgenin helps ease painful conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In both cases, the diosgenin inhibited inflammation flare ups.
Other researchers claim ingesting diosgenin as a supplement showed signs of lowering blood sugar and preventing kidney damage. Plus, another animal study found it drastically reduced overall cholesterol levels, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol.
There clearly needs to be a lot more research on just how helpful wild yam cream and other products with the phytoestrogen diosgenin might be, but there should be no harm in trying it for yourself in the meantime. Just be sure to check with your doctor, especially if you have any personal or family history of hormone-related issues.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.