Wild yam root has been promoted as a “natural progesterone”. Many herbalists have raised doubts about the practical value of the plant in that regard and concerns relating to possible toxic effects of the herb.
In the past, wild yam root was used as a starting material to synthesize progesterone medications such as cortisone, estrogen and other steroid products.
Wild yam root contains a compound called diosgenin, which is used in birth control pills and other steroid hormones. This has supported the idea that the herb could regulate female sex hormones and be used as an herbal remedy for many of the symptoms associated with menopause.
Diosgenin is technically a “hormone precursor”, meaning that it must be treated chemically in a laboratory in order to have a value as a synthetic version of the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone.
Products containing wild yam root are often marketed with the claims that diosgenin may increase the levels of testosterone, progesterone and other hormone compounds. Similarly, wild yam and diosgenin are promoted as a “natural DHEA”. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone ) is naturally produced by the kidneys in humans and is the most common adrenocorticoid hormone in the body.
The fact is that there are complex processes involved when making a steroid hormone such as (DHEA) and it is far from clear that the herb in its natural form, be it as a decoction, tincture or capsule, may have any form of hormone action in the body.
So far no studies have been able to prove the that the herb increases the amount of DHEA in the body but to be fair these studies have been few and small and additional larger studies are needed to confirm or refute the alleged hormone effects of wild yam.