Cleveland's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Cleveland, Oh | WKYC.com

VERIFY: Can wild yams be used as a form of birth control?

The plant-based estrogen chemical has reportedly been used as a 'natural alternative' to estrogen therapy.
Credit: AP Photo/Pat Roque
Kudi Molok slices a wild yam locally known as kayos in a village in Upi town in southern Mindanao, Philippines.

Some people have turned to an unlikely source for what they're calling a more "natural" form of birth control - wild yams.

Wild yams have the chemical diosgenin in the root of the plant and bulb, which has been used as a “natural alternative” to estrogen therapy, according to Web MD

The online medical resource adds yams have been used for "estrogen replacement therapy, vaginal dryness in older women, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), menstrual cramps, weak bones (osteoporosis), increasing energy and sexual drive in men and women, and breast enlargement."

Native American women reportedly used wild yams at a "toxic level" for three to four days in order to become sterile, Garden Collage Magazine reports. The magazine which explores natural beauty trends and outdoor travel adventures also reports Native American women would "steep a tea of the root" to ease labor pains for women experiencing contractions in the process of giving birth.

While Web MD and Garden Collage Magazine both list the potential benefits of the chemical and use of wild yams, both also report its limitations.

"Wild yam does seem to have some estrogen-like activity, but it is not actually converted into estrogen in the body," Web MD wrote in an online article. "It takes a laboratory to do that."

The magazine reports wild yams can't take the place of the birth control pill since the chemical conversion doesn't happen naturally in the human body. Instead, the outlet says wild yams and the plant-based estrogen chemical diosgenin have provided the foundation for the birth control we use today.

10News reached out to Dr. David Gandell, a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester, N.Y., for his take on the use of wild yams for birth control and/or estrogen therapy.

"The simple answer is no," Gandell said. "If someone is thinking they can use it as contraception, they're going to end up with an unplanned pregnancy."

He adds that drug companies are able to use wild yams, but only with the use of sophisticated pharmaceutical procedures. 

"First off, wild yams are inedible," Gandell said. "Even with using edible yams, trying to extract materials or crushing it onto the skin, it's ineffective. The body can not take [yams] orally or through the skin with the same effect [as a laboratory]."

Gandell added that he has heard of people using wild yams as a sort of "homemade" estrogen therapy.  

"It will not work, and the person is risking an increased chance of endometrial or uterine cancer by doing so," Gandell said.

He did add that some people may have experienced a "placebo" effect while attempting to use wild yams for certain medical effects. 

"A certain percentage of people have shown a physiological response -- someone may have used [wild yams] and felt like their symptom is better," Gandell said. "Using it can be relatively harmless for other conditions, but it may not have any true effect. It certainly can't prevent cancer or prevent pregnancy -- you can't rely on a placebo for that." 

To clarify, a placebo is any type of fake medication with no real active ingredient, Gandell said. 

What other people are reading right now:

Have a news tip? Email desk@wtsp.com, or visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.