The wild yam, also commonly known as the wild Mexican yam, is believed to replicate some of the effects of progesterone. It is used as an ingredient in capsule, gel, or cream supplements as a replacement for hormone therapy. Some supplements also include small amounts of synthetic progesterone. There is not a direct relationship between wild yam and progesterone, only some claimed similarities in the effect on the body. Historically, there has not been evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of wild yam supplements as a replacement for hormone therapy.
Though there are many who believe in a direct connection between wild yam and progesterone, there are several misconceptions about the specific nature of that relationship. Wild yams were used as ingredients in early versions of progesterone supplements, though the way the yam was processed was different than the method used to create modern supplements. There is a chemical called diosgenin in wild yams which can be altered via laboratory work to become progesterone. The body cannot accomplish this process naturally, as would be necessary with a wild yam supplement.
Products that claim to boost the connection between wild yam and progesterone by supplementing with a synthetic version of the hormone have also generally been found to be ineffective. This is because the amount of synthetic progesterone is usually too small to have a significant effect. A natural prescription variety of the hormone known as micronized progesterone has proven to be more effective than wild yam supplements as it has been properly processed to be absorbed by the human body.
In addition to the weak connection between pre-laboratory-processed wild yam and progesterone, there are many possible side effects. The severity of symptoms depends on the amount of product used and the quantity of each ingredient. Creams that also have synthetic progesterone can cause headache, constipation, stomach problems, and uncharacteristic tiredness. Excessive use of the supplements can also cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
There are several instances of wild yam being used in the traditional medicine of China, East India, and Native America. Common uses include treatment for coughs, rheumatism, asthma, and sexual problems. It was also believed to be helpful for hormonal problems.
Many modern marketers claim that in addition to the claimed similarities between wild yam and progesterone, the supplements can help treat the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), low sex drive, and menopause. Some products claim to work as birth control, while others are promoted as an aid against infertility. There has historically been no proof to support any of the claimed benefits of using a wild yam supplement, despite the past use of wild yams in folk medicine.