By Cynthia Johnston


One of the most important herbs for women of all ages to get acquainted with these days is certainly Wild Yam (Dioscorea Villosa). A steroidal saponin derived from Wild Yam is used to create progesterone, Wild Yam extract and herbal Wild Yam creams. All of these offer a valuable alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a popular drug used to treat Menopause and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).

In the last sixty years, women have been given estrogen as they enter menopause to alleviate symptoms associated with this life change. It is seen as the dominant female hormone and does indeed show a decrease as we age. As long as we have our ovaries, however, we do continue to create some estrogen. It is our progesterone levels which, recent studies show, drop dramatically to zero in modern women. Progesterone made from Wild Yam is known as the "master hormone" and assists in balancing other sex hormones in wo-men. Without an adequate amount of progesterone in our systems, it is impossible to maintain estrogen balance.

Due to the numerous chemicals by which our bodies and this planet are being increasingly bombarded, humans must then deal with the resulting hormone imbalances. Menopause, for instance, is not a disease, but a natural life change akin to beginning menstruation. In times past, when women came of age, we simply stopped menstruating, no dis-ease. In todayıs society, however, our current chemical overload is creating imbalances in our bodies (female and male) too overwhelming for our systems to adjust to without help.

Off-gassing of plastics, many pesticides, car exhaust and other environmental pollutants, classified xenoestrogens, act in the body like synthetic estrogen. These chemicals are wreaking havoc in the sexual development of humans and animals in areas of high exposure. As humankind is beginning to realize how intricately we are related to our environment, it simply does not make sense to give women, who continue producing estrogen, extra estrogen, especially in the form of HRT. By better understanding the natural cycles of life, and the unnatural chemicals by which we are all affected, women now have better choices for dealing with the symptoms of menopause using Wild Yam.

Giving more estrogen and progestins (synthetic progesterone created from Wild Yam) in the form of HRT has been the popular method of treatment by doctors. Recently, however, it has come under scrutiny by alternative practitioners, some doctors and women wanting safer natural remedies. Though HRT does seem to ease the menopausal symptoms of hot flashes and vaginal dryness, it comes with uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects. Not only does it cause bloating, depression, mood swings, weight gain and insomnia in many women, recent studies show it greatly increases the risk of breast and uterine cancer. For many, these side effects are far worse than the symptoms HRT is meant to alleviate. A lesser known issue is how the estrogen drug, Premarin, is created. Made from pregnant mareıs urine, the cruelty involved in its production has been reason enough for many women to refuse using it.

Popular alternatives to HRT are "natural progesterone" therapy, lab-created "Wild Yam extract", and herbal Wild Yam creams. "Natural progesterone" is formulated from the diosgenin in Wild Yam by adding an enzyme to this saponin. "Wild Yam extract" is formulated by extracting diosgenin and other saponins and adding them to a cream base. Both of these methods would best be termed "semi-synthetic" as they are manufactured in a lab setting.

An even purer product is an herbal formula of Wild Yam. These are created by steeping Wild Yam into oil (creating an infused oil), or into alcohol (creating a tincture). This is a truly natural method of using Wild Yam. These formulas are used topically as ingesting Wild Yam decreases its potency by about 75% when metastasized in the liver. All three types of formulas are available in most natural food stores.

Wild Yam therapies do work! Though it is unknown just how this process occurs, they seem to assist the body in balancing hormone levels. Many women have felt relief from their symptoms using one of the various types of products available, without the harmful side effects of HRT. No one choice is right for every woman. It is important to have the information you need to choose the one that is right for you.

It is unfortunate that misleading labeling and marketing practices have infiltrated the Natural Foods Industry, creating a great deal of confusion for women attempting to make educated purchases of wild yam and progesterone products. Inadequate amounts of progesterone and the inaccurate marketing of Wild Yam extract as a precursor to progesterone (it is chemically impossible for the body to convert the diosgenin of Wild Yam into progesterone) are two common labeling confusions. Call manufacturers, ask questions, become educated. Take charge of your own health! Be certain the product you are purchasing can perform the way you expect it to.

Two important books for further education are "Herbal Remedies for Women" by Amanda McQuade Crawford and "Hormone Replacement Therapy, Yes or No" by Betty Kamen, Ph.D. For further reading on xenoestrogens, please read "Our Stolen Future" by Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers. For more information on the cruelty of Premarinıs production, write for a brochure from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), 501 Front Street, Norfolk, VA 23510.

Cynthia Johnston is the herbalist creator of MoonMaid Botanicals. Her three wild yam formulas: Pro-Meno and Pro-Meno Plus Wild Yam Creams, as well as Vita Vulva Wild Yam Vaginal Salve, can be found in many stores throughout the United States, Norway and Canada. For further information, call (305) 253-7853 or Fax (305) 253-5956.

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