Chinese yam or Dioscorea opposita is an ornamental climbing plant originating from Asia. Although it grows in North America too, it has no relation to the sweet potatoes called yams, which are widely popular in this country. Another name for Chinese yam is cinnamon vine or Shan Yao.
The roots of Chinese yam contain diosgenin, which in laboratory conditions is used to produce steroids such as estrogen and progesterone. However, Chinese yam does not contain any human hormones in its original form.
A popular Chinese herbal medicine, it is traditionally used to treat stomach, spleen, lung and kidney disorders.
While both, the tuber and bulbs of Chinese yam are edible, generally only the tuber is consumed as food.
What are the benefits of Chinese yam?
As a herbal remedy, Chinese yam is used for treatment of stomach and spleen disorders. It’s also believed to have positive effects on the lungs and kidneys. Normally, it is used to target:
– poor appetite
– chronic diarrhea
– dry coughs
– frequent urination
Chinese yam contains a natural compound – allantoin, which speeds up the growth of healthy tissue and reduces healing time. When applied topically, Chinese yam is efficient in treating skin ulcers, boils and abscesses. Scorpion stings and snakebites can be treated with its juices extracted from the leaves.
As mentioned above, the roots of Chinese yam contain diosgenin, a natural compound which is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based estrogen. When processed in a laboratory, diosgenin can be used to produce progesterone.
Holistic medicine promotes Chinese Yam as a remedy used for many conditions, including:
– hot flashes associated with menopause
– postmenopausal vaginal dryness
– premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
– gallbladder problems
– rheumatoid arthritis
– menstrual disorders
– digestion disorders
– dry or chronic cough
Along with its powerful medicinal properties, Chinese yam is a nutritious food. It mainly consists of water and starch. It is also a rich source of vitamin B1, vitamin C, mucilage, amylase, amino acids, and glutamine.
What are the side effects of Chinese yam?
Chinese yam may be safe for most adults. People taking medication should speak to a health care provider before consuming it, to discuss the possibility of interactions or side effects. Due to the fact that Chinese yam may have mild estrogenic properties (although it does not contain estrogen!), it could interact with hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid Chinese yam. People with hormone-sensitize disorders including endometriosis, uterine fibrosis, and cancers of the breast, uterus, or ovaries, should also stay away from Chinese yam.
People with a protein S deficiency should avoid Chinese yam as well. This condition causes an increased risk for forming clots. The estrogen-like properties of Chinese yam may increase the likelihood of developing clots when a protein S deficiency exists.
When large doses of Chinese yam are consumed, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can result. Allergic reactions are rare, but can include rashes and asthma.
How Is Chinese Yam Administered?
In its original form, Chinese yam can be eaten fresh or baked, boiled, fried, or mashed. It is also added in soups.
Chinese yam is available as a liquid, in capsules, as a dried root, and as an extract, to be taken orally for therapeutic purposes. Tea can be made from the fluid extracts.
Chinese yam is also administered in creams or gels that are applied directly to the skin. In some cases, these ointments may contain synthetic progesterone, though they may be promoted as containing natural progesterone. Other additions to these compounds can include vitamins, minerals, and other herbs.