This anecdotal discussion is of general interest. It is not for diagnosing or treating a health condition. Please consult a Doctor or a health practitioner who is familiar with Natural or Integrated medicine should you wish to make any changes to your medical prescription or try chewing a piece of raw sweet potato. The author takes no responsibility for how you use or interpret the material. Hopefully you will find it interesting and entertaining. It is my very own, unique story.
The Mexican Yam is a mystery to me
Back at the turn of this century the Mexican Wild Yam cream had established itself on the market as a natural progesterone booster: a safer alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for alleviating menopausal symptoms. But the progesterone in many of the products may not always be an original extract of the Wild Yam. In structure, the Wild Yam molecule closely resembles progesterone so it is a precursor to progesterone. But bio identical progesterone cream is a hormone is only prescribed by a doctor.
If the Mexican Wild Yam is toxic and not suitable for ingesting, why would it be safe to rub the stuff on your skin? We are constantly warned by health experts not to put toxic substances on our skin. They say if you can’t eat something then don’t put it on your face. So why slather your breasts and thighs with Mexican Yam? What happens to the toxins and how could the yam convert to the miraculous progesterone everybody wanted? I do not understand why anybody recommends such a product or allows laymen to sell it if a toxic ingredient is present or a hormone that only a doctor can prescribe.
Serendipity and the red sweet potato discovery in 1998
I bought some “yams” at the supermarket. These vegetables are obviously not toxic and people eat them in some countries as a staple food. I decided to investigate their effects on progesterone. I used a simple strategy based on chewing a few pieces of it raw so that the juice could be absorbed by the bloodstream. This protocol is similar to the Homeopathic sublingual delivery system whereby the blood vessels near the surface under the tongue take up the active substance directly. This procedure bypasses the digestive system and prevents active components such as progesterone precursors from being broken down and excreted by the liver. This is why eating a plate of cooked yams with butter does not affect your progesterone!
Every day I diligently chewed a few pieces of my raw yam. (I was under the impression that it was.) I took my time and nibbled and chewed the flesh, enjoying the unique earthy flavour. It was almost sweet, nutty and rather dry. When my menstrual cycle did not arrive as it usually does like clockwork, I was curious. I was not afflicted by any menopausal symptoms, even at the age of 45 years . So I continued to nibble the yam every day for a few more months and did not have any menstrual cycles. I then stopped eating it and after a few weeks my menstruation was back to normal.
When I returned to the supermarket one day I saw the “yams” were actually red sweet potatoes! Somebody had mislabeled them by mistake. That was serendipity indeed. I took my red sweet potato to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens nearby. We live in Cape Town, South Africa and the Kirstenbosch research institute helped me find the mysterious red tuber's true identity. They kindly photocopied a few pages for me with information, including the molecular structure of the red sweet potato. it was: Ipomoea Batatis.
This creeper with tasty tubers is a member of the Morning Glory family. Before the year 2000 not many of us had access to the internet and this is how we used to do our research – directly. Evidently Chinese herbalists had once used the shoots of sweet potato plants long ago for the manufacture of cortisone. The molecular structure of the Ipomoea Batatis is a pretty close match to progesterone. The only difference is a small hydroxyl bond attached to one of the four carbon rings. Four carbon rings are part of the structure of all steroid hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone, cortisone and progesterone.
What did the Professor have to say?
After one of our lectures on micronutrients I told our Professor about my “yam” experience. He said that menstruation will stop as soon as the follicle stimulating hormone is suppressed. “Only progesterone can do that!” He declared. He was an expert on biochemistry, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. He had already convinced us that providing key elements for the production and maintenance of our hormones was a critical factor. Boron was important. I remember that, to this day.
It is in fact impossible to generate hormones like oestrogen and progesterone if you have a boron deficiency. I did include 3 mg of boron in my calcium and magnesium formulation that had been on the market for a few years and took it daily myself. So obviously I did not have a boron deficiency. But something had affected the endogenous increase of progesterone.
Could it have been as a result of something in the bloodstream: a little signal to the pituitary gland perhaps? Our pituitary gland that resides in the brain relies on a feedback loop from the hormones in the bloodstream. This gland controls hormonal activity by releasing signals to either produce hormones or break them down and excrete them. I was not going to argue with the professor. Progesterone had increased to the level that I had curtailed menstruation. They tell us to listen to the body, after all.
He was still under the impression that I was using a yam and he was keen to make a product out of it. But I had to tell him it was a sweet potato with the botanical name: Ipomoea Batatis. “This is a world first!” I said: “a hormone regulator from an edible, non-toxic sweet potato. Something in it seems to affect the pituitary gland and hence the levels of follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones.” He agreed to supervise six weeks of patient trials, providing I collected regular saliva samples and documented the reports.
Our “guinea pigs” had no idea what this product was going to do for them. They were given the sweet potato tincture in a brown glass tincture bottle with a label stating only the daily dosage.
What did the Gynaecologist have to say?
I worked with a top Gynaecologist for many years and we shared and worked together on a number of projects. He was keen to find natural and kindly ways to help his patients solve their constant problems with hormonal upsets. As a researcher and product developer I really appreciated his interest, guidance and supervision. He was also a competent Homeopath and preferred to use these remedies. I was not his patient but we shared many cases and managed to find satisfactory solutions for his women in distress over the years.
He was also willing to supervise and control some more sweet potato trials for me. His patients were keen to take part. All I had to do was give him the products. He was desperate to make up a universal hormone balancing formulation for menopausal complaints. A number of the conventional HRT treatments that were available and had seen a few bad reactions. Some of the women were refusing to take them after even hearing or reading about possible dangerous side effects.
A number of women had responded well to Homeopathic remedies but excessive or prolonged hot flushes were still the greatest problem, especially after a hysterectomy. I asked him about the Mexican Wild Yam. He was not happy about what had happened to some of his patients a few months after using the cream. They would return to him with other complications even though they felt marvellous initially. He definitely did not want yam cream. He was adamant.
But, like the professor, he said it was not practical to have women walking around chewing a sweet potato! I agreed because the amount I had used was enough to halt menstruation in it tracks. That was not the dose we wanted for menopausal women, let alone the ones who needed to fall pregnant. So we decided to make a tincture and take it through its paces.
Tinctures versus creams
Homeopathy treats patients by mouth. The tiny blood vessels present in the oral mucosa, especially under the tongue take up the remedy within minutes. 14% alcohol in a suspension facilitates a rapid delivery. This method reduces the waiting time from the three months required by cream based applications to filter out of the fatty tissue beneath the skin down to as little as a few days, hours and in some cases, minutes.
For me it made no sense to treat adverse symptoms such as hot flushes, bloating, moodiness or vaginal discomfort with something that took many months. This is a "now" society. The tincture and even chewing the sweet potato delivered relief from hot flushes within a few minutes. The effect also seemed to be accumulative, needing less direct treatment once the progesterone levels were normal.
The Red Clover, Black Cohosh and Chasteberry tinctures were working very well as more personal hormone regulators for specific problems. The gynaecologist had now been convinced about single and specific remedies. Black Cohosh and Chasteberry do help to raise progesterone levels, but he had not seen such a dramatic effect as the Sweet Potato had demonstrated. He was looking for something to help women who had stopped taking HRT or had undergone surgery and were suffering from a severe progesterone deficit.
Six months on the sweet potato tincture
At the pharmaceutical laboratory I made the first batch of sweet potato tincture. We had to wait out the traditional 21 days for the active substances to infuse into the alcohol. Due to my understanding of the Homeopathic method, I was very strict about this. Then came the trials, on guess who? For six months I took the tincture at double of what I had calculated for an average dose for menopausal symptoms. Every day I took 10 drops of the tincture under my tongue, twice a day. As with the original potato chewing ritual, this was enough to shut down my menstrual cycle again.
After the six month’s break, I stopped taking the daily dose of red sweet potato tincture. My menstrual cycle returned and the doctor was well satisfied with my state of health. This was a great achievement for me. It had taken over a year to prove a simple point and my “boss” was delighted. Fortunately I was working with an open-minded, loving and caring doctor who worked tirelessly for his patients. We soon managed to calibrate the drops of tincture to correspond to the desired effect.
What did the patients have to say about sweet potato?
We found that 5 drops a day helped a woman athlete with amenorrhea to resume her normal cycle. Generally he recommended 10 drops a day for women who needed to restore their progesterone levels. He supervised these cases and noted the improvement that such a humble remedy could make. Symptoms such as hot flushes, fatigue and moodiness were self-evident even though none of the usual hormone replacements were used.
I added a warning to the product label stating that overdosing may stop menstruation. Muslim women who needed to do just that for certain reasons often took the 20 drops or more a day to skip a menstrual cycle for certain personal reasons, especially on a visit to Mecca during the Haj.
Most people can’t be bothered to try the sweet potato experiment
Since the internet and the way one now shares information, I have received reports from women who have tried the sweet potato chewing technique. They had read about it in some or other article of mine. According to a letter I received, one woman initially said: “what a load of crap!” Then she tried it and now takes the tincture for convenience. However, the tincture is alcohol based and some people object to the taste.
Medicine was never supposed to taste like candy. Adding he tincture to a little water allows the alcohol to evaporate. But according to Homeopathy, alcohol does enhance the direct efficacy of the sublingual delivery system. Alcohol is also used during manufacture to draw out the active substances and is an excellent preservative for the tincture. Tinctures can last for many years.
Some women still tell me they are just going to eat more sweet potatoes for supper but as we now know, this has no effect on hormones. Others say it is too much effort and they could not be bothered. In other words it is too much bother to try something that may help one alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
Sweet potatoes are cheap, non-toxic and have no harmful side effects. It certainly is not about money. We can find red sweet potatoes at most of the markets and grocery stores around the world. I have found them in places as far afield as Singapore, Indonesia, Scandinavia, New Zealand and especially Africa and India. Bothered about what – hot flushes or a little effort?
A typical example was a lady shopkeeper who was huffing and fanning her red face behind the till. I pulled a sweet potato out of my shopping bag and gave it to her. I explained in great detail how to take it. The look on her face was classic – one of horror and disbelief. I wished her well and when I saw her a week later she said she felt so much better and was not having to fan herself every once in a while. We were both bordering on menopausal at the time and had the same symptoms.
One day she started complaining again of hot flushes, fatigue and a feeling of lassitude. I asked her if she was still eating sweet potato as per my suggestion. The penny dropped. She had stopped for a few weeks. What can I say? I just laughed and went and bought her another sweet potato.
Trying to have a baby for ten years and then she chewed sweet potato
I checked my mail box one morning to find some exciting news. A therapist had tried to conceive for over seven years. She had consulted the top gynaecologists, doctors and therapists to no avail. She had tried many products and treatments during this time and was no stranger to healthy diets and supplementation. As a pharmacist she had a scientific background. She became a SCIO practitioner and had done plenty of research on her inability to fall pregnant. She was very sceptical about the sweet potato but felt she had nothing to lose. What the heck.
She chewed a finger sized piece of sweet potato daily for a month or two and fell pregnant. In her wisdom she kept on chewing it the same way throughout her pregnancy so as not to cause a sudden drop in the progesterone levels. She sent me a beautiful picture of her baby son. The baby's nickname is “Patat” which is Afrikaans for a sweet potato. A few years later she produced a baby sister for him. Not bad for a 40-year-old lady who had given up on the idea of becoming a mother. Such a wonderful story continuously fills my heart with gratitude.
It is not about money. It is about faith, the size of a chunk of sweet potato.
Sweet potato and the monkeys of Indonesia
I always look for sweet potatoes when we travel to different countries. I feel more secure knowing that the places we visit have access to relief from the occasional or even persistent hot flush. The most sweet potatoes I ever saw being consumed raw, in fact chewed on a constant basis was in Bali. We visited a sanctuary for monkeys in a small forest. The troop of monkeys sitting on the path in front of us was feasting on raw sweet potatoes exclusively. I tried a piece and it was definitely the real thing – my beloved sweet potato from way back then.
The effects of eating too much of the sweet potato, what we would call an overdose could clearly be seen with these monkeys. The generous breast tissue on one female monkey was pretty obvious. She needed a D-cup sized bra! The other thing that caught my eye was the effect it had on a male monkey. His huge, red testicles were very swollen. Perhaps these monkeys were overdoing the sweet potato chewing! Progesterone will displace excess oestrogen, but excess progesterone can also convert into more oestrogen. These monkeys should read disclaimers about sweet potato research and consult a health practitioner before you undertake any form of experimentation with common foods. So should we!
Summary and conclusion
Volunteering as a human guinea pig I took up the challenge to suppress the follicle stimulating hormone. I would thus stop ovulating and not menstruate. This was the challenge. A qualified health professional said that this would be proof enough that I had made a unique discovery. I stopped menstruating for six months by simply chewing (mouth absorbing) the active components from a piece of raw red sweet potato every day. I then reverted to my normal cycle and hence an uncomplicated menstruation by not eating it for a few weeks.
After that I did another 6 months of testing a Sweet Potato tincture for a hormone regulator I produced. The different doses could help women to restore menstruation, skip a cycle or fall pregnant, depending on the amount taken. The protocol is still being used today to good effect, especially during the menopause. We found it could also help women with PCOS, the polycystic ovarian syndrome where oestrogen dominance is a big problem.
How much sweet potato did the women chew?
For PCOS or trying to fall pregnant 15 grams (or a middle finger's worth) seemed to help most of the ladies.
For hot flushes, the ideal dose is somewhere between – about 20 grams as you do not want to stop menstruation until ovulation ceases.
To skip a period temporarily, 40 grams (or overdosing at a fist full) does the trick with most ladies. But it needs a few months of trial and error beforehand. We are not the same and often people have nutrient deficiencies or dietary problems that can affect the outcome. For many years ladies skipped the odd period with this method when they need to for a special event.
Can we use it for birth control? We decided not to rely on it for birth control. I am personally opposed to taking any form of hormonal intervention and especially manipulating them at the best of times. Peppermints work well. Just keep them between your knees!