Can extracts of the tubers and leaves of some species of yam be used to beat cancer, diabetes, pain, arthritis, bone loss, and premenopausal syndrome?
Researchers say the tuber of yam (Dioscorea esculenta) may provide a possible source for the discovery of anti-inflammatory agents (painkillers) without the adverse effects associated with the use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs.
The study published in African Journal of Biotechnology is titled “Anti-inflammatory studies of yam (Dioscorea esculenta) extract on wistar rats.”
The researchers from the Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State, led by J. O. Olayemi and E. O. Ajaiyeoba, evaluated the defatted methanol extract of Dioscorea esculenta tuber for anti-inflammatory properties in animal model using Wistar rats.
The study was done using the cotton thread method in measuring the right hind paw oedema and granuloma tissue formation in rats. The extract was tested at doses between 100 – 200 mg/kg body weight of rats.
Preliminary phytochemical screening confirmed the presence of saponins, disgenin, -sistosterol, stigmasterol, cardiac glycosides, fat and starch.
The extract exhibited significant inhibition of the carrageenan-induced oedema that was dose-dependent with a good initial effect in one hour and two hour at doses of 100 mg/kg and 150 mg/kg, respectively.
The observed activity was comparable to that of 150 mg/kg acetylsalicylic acid that was used as a reference drug in the study. Dioscorea esculenta tuber methanol extract supports the folkloric use for management of inflammation.
The researchers concluded: “This result indicated that the yam species has anti- inflammatory activity. It seems the anti inflammatory property is short lived and one may suggest this action is quickly metabolized and removed from the system after reaching its peak in two h. This activity is optimally active at doses between 100 mg/kg and 150 mg/kg in the present study.
“A number of adverse effects have been associated with the use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs. This necessitates the need to source newer compounds from natural products with less or no adverse effects. The tuber of D. esculenta may provide a possible source for the discovery of anti-inflammatory agents.”
Commonly called English lesser yam, Chinese yam, Lagos yam and Hausa potato, Dioscorea esculenta belongs to the plant family Dioscoreaceae.
The Yorubas call it igu àlùbọ́sà and odunkun.
Dioscorea esculenta is an edible tuber found in Nigeria, China, Mexico and some other parts of the world. The tuber is a staple food in most parts of West Africa including Nigeria.
Externally, the tuber has been applied to ulcers, boils and abscesses. It contains allantoin, a cell-proliferant that speeds up the healing processes. It has been used traditionally as a contraceptive, in the treatment of menopausal symptoms and various disorders of the genital organs.
It has been suggested for ethno-medicinal uses as an anti-fatigue, anti- inflammatory, anti-stress, anti-spasmodic and immune deficiency remedies in various ethno-medicines. The peel has been reported to possess anticancer and antifungal properties.
The main constituent of Dioscorea species is the well-known saponin, dioscin. The aglycone, diosgenin, is the major starting material used in the industrial production of steroidal hormones. Diosgenin has also been utilized for hundreds of years to treat rheumatism and arthritis-like ailments.
In addition, it is used for spasmodic cough, diarrhea and nausea of pregnant women. Dioscoretine has been shown to be the hypoglycemic agent of Dioscorea dumetorum.
Also, Dioscorea alata has been shown to prevent bone loss in premenopausal women.
Chinese researchers have demonstrated that yam (Dioscorea alata) prevented loss of Bone Mineral Density (BMD) and improved bone calcium status without stimulating uterine hypertrophy in in ovariectomised female BALB/C mice. They concluded that Dioscorea alata might be beneficial for postmenopausal women for preventing bone loss.
The study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture is titled “The bone‐protective effect of a Taiwanese yam (Dioscorea alata L. cv. Tainung No. 2) in ovariectomised female BALB/C mice.”
Commonly called English winged yam; water yam; white yam; ten-months yam; greater yam; greater asiatic yam; large leaf yam, Dioscorea alata belongs to the plant family Dioscoreaceae.
In Nigeria, it is called ígìorùa and udin in Edo; èbìgè in Efik; baк̉ar dóóya (a wild form) and jikin mutun (man’s body) in Hausa; àbìrè in Ibibio; jí àbàlà in Ibo; wùrà in Nupe; agbo in Tiv; akẹnẹdo in Urhobo; ewura in Yoruba.
It is widely grown for consumption after peeling and boiling or baking. It is not mashed nor made into fufu. The uncooked tuber is toxic, and is said to produce narcosis. Saponin is present and cooking renders the tubers safe to eat.
Though it is an exotic plant it has gained and maintains a position of considerable importance in the W African food economy, and it has been pointed out that in the Delta area of Nigeria where traditionally subsistence hinged on fishing, agriculture has been made entirely and only possible on the arrival of exotic food plants amongst them the water-yam.
The other important species are the cocoyam and the plantain. The tuber is high in carbohydrates, 88 per cent. Protein is about seven per cent in Ivorean material.
According to the new study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, yam products have been marketed for treating postmenopausal syndromes.
The study investigated the effects of Dioscorea alata L. cv. Tainung No. 2 (TNG yam) on the bone density of ovariectomised (OVX) female BALB/c mice and the mechanism whereby TNG yam exerted this effect.
Sham and OVX control groups were fed a control diet while remaining OVX mice were randomly allocated into experimental diets, that is yam (630 g TNG powder kg-1), E2 (20 mg 17β‐oestradiol kg-1), or genistein (2 g genistein kg-1) diet. After 12 weeks of feeding, the uterine weight, indices of bone mass and caecal short chain fatty acids were determined.
The results of the study showed neither a yam nor genistein diet restored the OVX‐induced uterine atrophy, as did the E2 diet.
The femoral and lumbar bone mineral density (BMD) of mice fed the yam diet was greater than those of the sham group, respectively (P < 0.05 vs OVX control), while the lumbar BMD of yam and sham groups were similar (P > 0.05 vs sham).
According to the study, the femoral ash and calcium content in the yam group was significantly greater than that in the OVX control group, respectively (P < 0.05 vs OVX control).
The total short chain fatty acid content in the caecum, only enhanced in the yam group, was not correlated with the calcium content of either bone or the plasma calcium level.
Another study has examined the estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women.
The study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded: “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.”
Twenty-four apparently healthy postmenopausal women were recruited to replace their staple food (rice for the most part) with 390 g of yam (Dioscorea alata) in two of three meals per day for 30 days and 22 completed the study.
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