‘Wild Yam’ creams have been recommended for quite some time for their ‘progesterogenic’ effects and used to treat a wide range of menopausal problems.
Over the years I have heard of quite a number of varying responses, some people claiming that the creams are absolutely marvellous and others saying they are totally useless.
I do not know exactly which brands have been sited in each case but I suspect that the creams that have had the most beneficial effects to be the ones that have had a commercially manufactured progesterone added.
Progesterone that is of the same structure as that manufactured by the body
(ie)’bio-identical’, can be made commercially and confusion arises when herbal creams are said to contain ‘natural progesterone’, especially as doiscin (the steroidal saponin in Wild Yam) is the starting material for the commercial production.
As far as I know naturally occurring progesterone is not known to exist in biologically active levels and therefore could not be added to any cream.
There are also some claims made that the transdermal up-take of dioscin from Wild Yam cream, is converted to progesterone in the body. I am not sure that this is a logical assumption as for dioscin to become progesterone it needs to undergo a series of chemical processes that do not occur naturally in the body.
The traditional use of Wild Yam is oral and the scientific basis for its use is that the steroidal saponin dioscin is converted in the gut to diosgenin which can cause estrogenic
changes in the tissues (but not necessarily progesterenic).
In the transdermal application of Wild Yam this saponin to sapogenic step is bypassed.
Some have said that using Wild Yam cream is ‘as ineffectual as a placebo’ this may be true in some instances where it is not the correct herb for the patient, but often good results can be obtained treating hormonal and menopausal problems, by using a combination of herbal extracts that are known to contain phyto-estrogens or steroidal saponins.
Plant estrogens are all very weak but can become useful to the body when it is not producing any of its own estrogens and often work best when combined with other herbs that are indicated for the actual symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, sweating, insomnia and inflammation.
Wild Yam does fall into this category as it is a very useful herb to use for inflammatory symptoms as well as symptoms of low oestrogen.
Many herbs known as ‘hormonal herbs’ work by their influence on the pituitary gland which in turn influences all the glands (thyroid, adrenal and ovarian), Wild yam also comes into this category along with Black Cohosh, Dong Quai and Chaste tree.
See page on Menopause.