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Wild Yams - The Natural Choice for Female Hormones
by: Jeffrey T. Maehr, D.C.
Many of you are probably aware that "female" hormones are frequently prescribed for women with menstrual problems, including PMS, osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms. It is hard to talk about one endocrine hormone without describing its relationship with the endocrine system as a whole. The history of the discovery, isolation, and eventual mass production of modern-day hormones reads more like a Sidney Sheldon novel rather than a scientific treatise. Espionage, bribery, thievery, price-fixing, cross-licensing, control of raw materials, diplomatic pressures, high finance, trickery, and the heat goes on. People's lives are being controlled through fear and misinformation. At stake is the control of the most prescribed category of prescription medicine, female hormones. Many of you may not know that you have a choice between natural or synthetic hormones.
The practice of western medicine centers on using specific chemical entities to obtain specific reactions within the human body. The principle of augmenting the body's ability to function, or correct dysfunction through the use of drugs or drug-like substances dates back thousands of years. The empirical study of ancient medicines reveals thousands of natural, safe compounds that the human body can handle with far fewer side effects than synthetics, which are chemicals isolated from a compound.
Wild yams contain a multitude of hormone-like compounds that have been used to treat a variety of female medical problems. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion concerning medicinal yams, all with different phytochemical makeup and with different activities and uses. Not all yams are alike, as is the case with other botanical phytomedicine extractions and standardization methods.
The history of yams and their entrance into the world of pharmacology is quite interesting. Just before World War II, Russell P. Marker, a brilliant but erratic scientist, was doing research at what is now Penn State University. Marker was commissioned by Park Davis, an American pharmaceutical company, to try and find botanical sources of sapogenin and steroids that included the basic steroid framework with an easily replaceable side chain. Marker was aware of the Japanese interest in phytosterols and focused on sources in Central and South America. Marker became aware of a rich source in the plentiful Cabeza de Negro. He devised an economical process for extracting the plant phytogenins and assigned the patents to Park Davis.
Later another brilliant Cuban scientist by the name of Rozenkrantz elaborated on the Marker techniques. By using the newly discovered Barbasco Yam, his own refined technique yielded a higher percentage of intermediate genins. This added to production capabilities, molecule manipulation, and the search for additional natural sources of raw material.
Nature, with billions of years of biodiversification, contains potential no scientist can envision. One prime example of this is the discovery, identification, and finally, the mass production of the various endocrine hormones. Probably no class of natural or synthetic substances have had such a profound impact on the practice of medicine. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recognizes wild yam root as a spasmolytic, mild diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and listed for use in the treatment of the following:
Wild yams are a primary source for the production of semi-synthetic progesterone, (progesterone U.S.P.), DHEA and other hormones. The use of wild yams in safely recommended amounts offers the user relief with very few side effects, unlike the prescription counterparts. Rosemary Gladstar, author of "Herbal Healing for Women," states, "Wild yam has been the most widely used herb in the world today and provides 50% of the raw materials for manufacturing steroids. More than two hundred million prescriptions are produced annually and sold where wild yam diosgenin is utilized."
Diosgenin is one of the many phytogenins contained in various species of wild yam. The diosgenin molecule is very similar to progesterone produced by the body. Many companies have standardized wild yam extracts to specific diosgenin levels to try and equal or mimic prescription hormone's activity. In theory this makes sense; in reality the body is much more sophisticated than this and utilizes many other substances in the wild yam to fulfill its needs. This is why extraction methods of wild yams are so critical to the efficacy of a product. If you destroy some of the plant's natural enzymes, peptides, or other phytosterols, you risk leaving many of the natural substances behind. These are important phytochemicals the body needs to nurture itself.
When choosing a starter material, it is extremely important to know the origin of a species. Many yam-based products sold today are extracted from harvested species of yams treated with fertilizer and pesticides, which may end up in the final extracts. Pesticides will mimic pseudoestrogens and definitely destroy the endocrine balance. That's why the selection, cleaning and processing of the raw materials is of the utmost importance. The body is probably the most brilliantly effective and powerful chemical manufacturing plant known to mankind. The food sources we ingest, both good and bad, are used by the body in many different ways. Our bodies use them for starter chemicals which can have positive or negative effects. Many of the chemicals we ingest ultimately end up as carcinogens. For a number of years there was an explosion of end products manufactured, and a number of needed breakthrough therapies were developed such as cortisone, tetracycline, and penicillin. These were all natural substances in the beginning, a lot of these phytochemicals and phytosterols are very similar to the end result pharmaceuticals.
We are going to see some profound findings in "precursor" chemistry in the near future. This is the missing link between the effectiveness lost when going from natural remedies to pure pharmaceutical drugs. There are natural co-factor enzymes and co-enzymes which work with the so-called active components. When these are lost in synthesizing the pure pharmaceutical, the active component in the end product is less effective. In addition, side effects occur which were not occurring with the original remedy in natural form. If the body can be encouraged to help itself, it is far better. To achieve balance is the goal, but with synthetic dosages, you can achieve an imbalance. Farida Sharan, M.D., M.A., N.D., informs us that, "Hormone imbalances can be treated with natural herbal sources containing estrogen and progesterone, and amphoteric hormonal balancing herbs. The earlier the natural hormones are integrated into nutrition, the better. Indigenous women regularly ingest herbs to ease the changes of the midlife passage. In our culture wild yam root is made into a drug; why is it not grown in our gardens and included in our diet along with other natural sources of hormones, as it is in other countries..."
Women facing choices regarding hormone supplementation need to educate themselves. They need to research these areas of alternative choices on their own, as well as consult their physicians. However, most physicians are hesitant to prescribe natural substances to their patients due to their own lack of knowledge regarding the subject. There is a great need in this country for public awareness of the natural choices available to us. Health professionals making recommendations to us on a daily basis need to explore and educate themselves in these more synergistic areas of medicine in order to help the consumer to make the right choices. It's your body and no one can make definitive recommendations without input from the individual whose life will be most affected by these decisions. It is up to the individual to take responsibility for his or her own body and decisions. Don't believe what someone tells you, find out for yourself... In short, make sure you know what's in YOUR ounce of prevention
Health & Natural Journal, Vol.2, Issue 5. Reprinted from Health & Natural Journal, Vol.2, Issue 5.