Are yams good for infertility?

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Yams have long been part of fertility folklore. Do they help with infertility and what’s the basis of all the talk?

It started with a fertile tribe in Africa

The Yoruba people of Nigeria have the highest rate of fraternal twins. When the population was studied to try and understand why so many were being born, the researchers began to focus on diet. The tribe has a diet high in locally grown yams. The research at that time (in 1996) hypothesized that the yams acted as anti-estrogens. “Anti-estrogens fool the brain into thinking there is insufficient estrogen, causing it to release more of a hormone called gonadotropin and increase the ovulation rate,” explain Obinwanne Ugwonali, MD who led the study.

But the connection cannot be proved

While the yam does have diosgenins, kwhich may impact hormonal patterns, a causal relationship between the yam and fertility has not been proved; an anti-estrogen has not been uncovered in the yam. It may be that the yam is behind all the twins being born, but according to Dr. Samuel Pang, MD, Reproductive Science Center of New England, it simply hasn’t been proven. “We don’t know whether or not he diet is playing a role in the high rate of spontaneous twins in Nigeria. Other studies have demonstrated that the spontaneous twinning rate appears to very among different races, highest in Africans and lowest in Chinese. The assumption has been that this is due to genetic predisposition.”

Yams are not sweet potatoes; look for the real deal

One more thing on yams: the variety eaten in Nigeria are light yellow, almost white. The orange-fleshed yams eaten in the United States are usually sweet potatoes and come from an entirely different plant family than the white or wild yams. If you want to try increasing yam in your diet, be sure to look for wild yams, which are “hairy” and brown or black on the outside and can be found frequently at Caribbean markets.

Source: Reproductive Science Center of New England, NIH


 
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