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Our skin isn’t as resilient to time as we’d like it to be. As the years pass, we lose some of the ‘bounce’ from our skin. The ability to snap back and look fresh and glowing after a long night isn’t the only thing that wanes. Unfortunately, with aging comes the near inevitability of wrinkles, fine lines, and hyper-pigmentation. Combine this with any additional sun damage we have, and our age is often betrayed on our faces.

Naturally, we slather on any trusty serum or cream we can find that claims to be ‘anti-aging.’ We’re trying to regain that how-does-she-do-it youthful glow, and we don’t care how that happens – just that it happens. But shouldn’t we pay more attention to what’s in these products?

Yes. And we can do that by learning which ingredients really work. Knowing what they are and what they may be able to do is key.

If you’re reading labels and you see Dioscorea villosa, know that this is simply the scientific term for wild yam.

Yep, that’s right. A potato’s not-really-related cousin (wild yam is not to be confused with sweet potatoes) can possibly help you achieve better-looking skin.1

What’s Important About Wild Yam Extract?

Wild yam has a pretty cool make-up that may benefit several different parts of the body.

It’s filled with steroid saponins – which are basically naturally occurring molecules in plants.2 They’re structurally and functionally diverse, allowing for them to be applied to a number of uses.3

Saponins are considered to have a wide range of therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. In addition, they’re able to easily dig into cell membranes, which plays a huge role in allowing the molecule to actually work.4

Wild yam is also known for a compound known as diosgenin, a specific steroidal saponin. Diosgenin is used as an anti-inflammatory.5 It’s also been suggested to enhance DNA synthesis in human skin while restoring skin cells.6

Diosgenin is also believed to be effective as a depigmenting agent in the skin, helping to protect against some serious skin health issues that can arise from sun damage.7

What does this mean for us?

It means that wild yam extract can potentially soothe, treat, and even promote healthier skin.

Wild Yam Extract | Gundry MD

Getting the Skinny: Wild Yam Skin Benefits

Wild yam is used in cosmetic products to help keep skin healthy and fresh. Here’s just a few of the ways wild yam extract can affect the skin:

  • Wrinkles and Sagging Skin

Wrinkles may grow on us literally, but they never do figuratively. If we could erase them we would. Wild yam extract could possibly act as a kind of natural eraser.

The superstar saponin diosgenin is used in cosmetics for its ability to fight the loss of collagen in skin.8 Collagen plumps the skin, helping it to maintain its youthful appearance and fresh look, while holding everything together.

Because it’s collagen-friendly, diosgenin is also applied in treating certain skin health issues that could cause degenerative symptoms.9

  • Hyper-pigmentation

Dark spots, or hyper-pigmentation, occurs naturally with age and as a result of UV exposure (i.e. sun damage). Diosgenin acts as a depigmenting agent, potentially helping to reduce the appearance of unwanted dark spots and inhibiting the occurrence of new hyper-pigmentation.10

  • Irritation and Sensitive Skin

Irritated and sensitive skin may reap benefits from the collagen-boosting effects of diosgenin.11

It’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties come into play here as well, soothing skin while giving it the healthy nutrients it needs.12

  • Skin Radiance

Wild yam’s saponins have combined antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Diosgenin fights collagen and restores skin cells. All of these factors could possibly help skin become better moisturized, healthier, and more radiant.

Skincare is a popular use for wild yam extract, with good reason.

There are tons of benefits found with its saponins, from collagen reproduction to protecting skin cells from further harm. The ability of diosgenin to easily permeate cell membranes is another key reason it’s used in cosmetics.13

Skincare isn’t the only area wild yam is beneficial, though.

Wild Yam Extract | Gundry MD

Other Health Benefits of Wild Yam

  • Menopause

Mainly used for its anti-inflammatory properties, wild yam is used to calm symptoms related to periods and menopause. It’s believed to help soothe cramps and discomfort.14

Wild yam was shown to improve sex hormones, lipids, and antioxidants in postmenopausal women.15 By binding to estrogen receptors, wild yam’s phytoestrogens help stabilize hormones and soothe pain.16

  • Gastrointestinal Discomfort

Wild yam is also believed to help with stomach discomfort, again due to its anti-inflammatory properties.17,18

Diosgenin and dioscin (the glycoside form of diosgenin) has been suggested to stabilize in gastric and intestinal fluids. Dioscin is believed to have superior intestinal permeability, which could help ease discomfort.19

Further research is still being conducted to figure out what all wild yam can do, but it’s been suggested to help with muscle and lung health issues as well.20

An Interesting History

From as far back as the 18th century, women were using wild yam to treat the pain of menstrual cramps and problems relating to childbirth. Others were using it for upset stomachs. Today, herbalists still recommend a wild yam supplement for cramping, nausea, morning sickness, vaginal dryness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms, and beyond.

Early Americans also used wild yam to treat ailments such as colic, and wild yam actually earned the name “colic root.”

Remember that active-ingredient called diosgenin? The plant saponin that fights the loss of collagen?

It’s actually a plant-based estrogen, or a phytoestrogen. Chemically speaking, diosgenin can be converted into the hormone progesterone, though this conversion does need to happen in a lab, as the human body cannot perform this itself. Diosgenin was actually used in the very first birth control pills in the 1960s. 21 Pretty neat, right?

There is not enough scientific evidence, thus far, to support all of the claims, diosgenin does seem to offer some significant hormonal activity, and many swear by its effects. It’s often promoted as a natural alternative to estrogen therapy.

wild yam extract | Gundry

The Wild Yam Plant

The wild yam root and bulb are used as a primary source of diosgenin when preparing wild yam root extract.

The dioscorea villosa wild yam resembles a spiralling, tuberous vine and is sometimes also called a Mexican wild yam (or a wild Mexican yam), as some species are native to Mexico. There are estimated to be upward of 600 species of yam in the Dioscorea family alone, but not all of them contain diosgenin. The Chinese yam is also famed for its diosgenin content.

Wild yam is a perennial, so it lives a nice long life. It has a heart-shaped leaf and blooms with small, greenish-white or greenish-yellow flowers. The creeping stems can grow up to 30-feet in length (!) and are mostly found in damp woodlands. It is native to the central southeastern US and can also be found in the Appalachian region.

How is Wild Yam Root Extract Used?

Wild yam is most commonly found as a wild yam supplement (dried as a herb in a capsule or tablet form) or as a 12% wild yam cream. It can also be bought as a liquid extract, which some people use to make into a tea. Some women believe that applying a wild yam cream to their skin helps to reduce the symptoms of a hot flash.

Wild yam is sometimes combined with other herbs said to have similar estrogen-like effects, such as black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, or the chaste tree berry. Wild yam treatments may also contain synthetic hormones, so always check the ingredients carefully or speak to your doctor first – especially if you’re already taking an estradiol supplement. Estradiol can be found in some birth control pills and as part of certain hormone replacement therapies.

Conclusion

Who knew that the wild yam was such a fascinating plant that could benefit us in so many ways?

Though more scientific research needs to be done to support the great myriad of health assistance that people have claimed to derive from the plant over centuries, we do know that clinical research has started to support the amazing skin benefits of using wild yam root extract. And, that is incredibly exciting!

Next time you’re using your anti-aging cream or serum, check the ingredients.

If Dioscorea villosa extract isn’t in the line-up, you might want to do some research into products that have it, including Dr. Gundry’s Polyphenol Reparative Serum. Your newly-radiant skin will thank you for it!

Article updated on August 17th, 2017

Sources

1 What’s the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes? — Word of Mouth. The Kitchn. 2014. Accessed November 29, 2016.
2 Dong S, Cai G, Napolitano J et al. Lipidated steroid saponins from Dioscorea villosa (wild yam). 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
3 Moses T, Papadopoulou K, Osbourn A. Metabolic and functional diversity of saponins, biosynthetic intermediates and semi-synthetic derivatives. 2014. Accessed November 29, 2016.
4 Moses T, Papadopoulou K, Osbourn A. Metabolic and functional diversity of saponins, biosynthetic intermediates and semi-synthetic derivatives. 2014.
5 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
6 Tada Y e. Novel effects of diosgenin on skin aging. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2009. Accessed November 29, 2016.
7 Lee J e. Diosgenin inhibits melanogenesis through the activation of phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase pathway (PI3K) signaling. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2007. Accessed November 29, 2016.
8  Binic I, Lazarevic V, Ljubenovic M, Mojsa J, Sokolovic D. Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies. 2013.
9  Binic I, Lazarevic V, Ljubenovic M, Mojsa J, Sokolovic D. Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies. 2013.
10 Lee J e. Diosgenin inhibits melanogenesis through the activation of phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase pathway (PI3K) signaling. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2007. Accessed November 29, 2016.
11 Binic I, Lazarevic V, Ljubenovic M, Mojsa J, Sokolovic D. Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies. 2013.
12 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
13 Patent US20050031654 – Composition based on diosgenin ester for topical use. Google Books. 2016. Accessed November 29, 2016.
14 Geller Studee L. Botanical and Dietary Supplements for Menopausal Symptoms: What Works, What Does Not. 2005.
15 Wu WH e. Estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2005. Accessed November 29, 2016.
16 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
17 Geller Studee L. Botanical and Dietary Supplements for Menopausal Symptoms: What Works, What Does Not. 2007.
18 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
19 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.
20 Manda VK e. Characterization of in vitro ADME properties of diosgenin and dioscin from Dioscorea villosa. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2013. Accessed November 29, 2016.

21. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/wild-yam

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