This is a question that often comes up and certainly yam cream is found helpful by women, but it is not the hormone progesterone. At its simplest definition, yam creams can be sold over the counter as they have no active hormone content, where actual hormone creams are not available in that way as hormones are regulated.
Bioidentical hormone creams can be obtained on prescription from your doctor, depending on their practice guidelines, or can legally be imported for your own use.
Since the 1940’s scientists have been using wild yams, soya beans and other plants from the tuber family to extract the plant sterols that are then converted in the laboratory to make USP progesterone. This stands for United States Pharmacopeia and they are a non–governmental, official public standards-setting authority for prescription and over–the–counter medicines and other healthcare products manufactured in the United States.
USP progesterone is bioidentical and fully recognised by the body in the same way as its own natural hormone.
We know that wild yam creams containing diosgenin appear to have an oestrogenic effect on the body, not a progesterone-like effect, but there is no scientific proof that these creams when applied to the skin (or ingested in tablet or powder form) can be converted by the body into the hormone progesterone.
What’s the difference?
Why is yam not able to be provide progesterone to the body? It is because the active ingredient (diosgenin) is not bioidentical to the progesterone molecule found in the body so wild yam extract creams, or yams themselves, cannot do the work of progesterone.
There has been a long-running confusion about taking yam cream instead of progesterone and many women do get benefit, but this is more from its oestrogen properties. Many women believe that it is a good substitute, but nothing could be further from the truth as yam simply does not convert in the body to progesterone as studies have shown.
What’s the process?
The confusion seems to arise over the procedure used to make bioidentical natural progesterone. The procedure to extract the active ingredients in the Wild Yam means it has to be synthesized in a laboratory with the aid of an enzyme, thus turning it into a hormone. Unlike synthetic oestrogen and progestins (synthetic forms of progesterone used in the Pill/Coil and HRT), synthesized natural progesterone is not a drug and it does not have any side effects or withdrawal symptoms associated with it.
Scientific studies have shown time and time again that for any natural progesterone cream to really be effective and increase the progesterone levels in your blood stream, then it must contain synthesized natural progesterone, not wild yam extract.
Women need hormone balance throughout their lives, and at menopause the majority need help with excess oestrogen (oestrogen dominance) which leads to symptoms such as weight gain and flushes. These can be rebalanced with bioidentical progesterone and you may also find it helpful to also have herbal supplements which can all add to the effectiveness of the progesterone for women with severe symptoms.