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Do Yams Help Endometriosis?

I remember the scene from the movie Sex in the City 2. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are traveling to Abu Dhabi together. Samantha, who is approaching menopause, nearly loses her mind when her hormone replacement therapy (HRT) gets confiscated at customs. How can she live without her creams? Will this throw her into full-on menopause – hot flashes and all?

Her solution? Yams! According to the Suzanne Somers book she’s reading, yams – if consumed in high enough volume – can be a stand-in for her HRT supplements. She then proceeds to load up on yams and slathering them on her face throughout their trip.

How much truth is to this approach with yams? And how does it affect us endo sisters? First, let’s make sure we’re comparing potatoes to potatoes.

White potatoes versus sweet potatoes versus yams

White potatoes

These are what we tend to know best. They’ve gotten a bad rap over the years because they’re higher in sugar and more likely to spike blood sugar levels than their orange counterparts. While this is true, what’s actually most health concerning about them are the ways in which we consume them – french fries and potato chips. The oils used to fry the potatoes are more troublesome than the potatoes themselves. Outside of that, there’s little to report in terms of meaningful health benefits, in my opinion.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are naturally more nutrient dense and health support, and of course less likely to spike blood sugar levels. They’re powerhouses – especially in the fitness industry. They’re the “perfect” carbohydrate.

The claims continue with the idea that sweet potatoes improve the quality of sleep, support gut health, and may even remove endo-promoting estrogen from the body. So, they’re tasty, health supportive and perhaps offer a benefit to our hormone levels.

Wild yams

This is where things get interesting. The root of wild yams – of which there are more than 600 varieties – are suggested to be beneficial for many health ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue and yes, even menopause symptoms.

The idea is that wild yams contain a chemical called diosgenin. Much of the claims on yams are based on the idea that the diosgenin can be converted in the body into a “natural” progesterone. However, that’s simply not true.

That process can only take place in a lab – hence why the creams have more testimonials than yams themselves. The key constituent in the wild yam roots is quite bitter – not the yummy yams we know from Thanksgiving dinner.

Conclusions

It’s also important to recognize that no claims have been validated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That said, science has weighed in on it. According to a study, “Although the exact mechanism is not clear, replacing two thirds of staple food with yam for 30 days improves the status of sex hormones, lipids, and antioxidants. These effects might reduce the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases in postmenopausal women”.1 This is obviously more in the context of menopause more so than endometriosis. Even with that said, the idea that it was halt menopause is not accurate nor realistic.

What do I take from all of this in the context of endometriosis? I’m not rushing to load my grocery cart up with sweet potatoes or yams as my cure all. That said, I do believe sweet potatoes to in fact be a nutrient-dense food that has many health-promoting properties, so I will likely incorporate sweet potatoes more often into my dinners than nutrient-lacking white potatoes or grains.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Endometriosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Wu WH, Liu LY, Chung CJ, Jou HJ, Wang TA. Estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16093400. Published August 2005. Accessed January 21, 2019.

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