Purple yam – proven health benefits, uses


The scientific name of the Yam is Dioscorea alata. It is also known as Greater yam, Purple yam, Ten-months yam, Water yam and  Winged yam.

Other names include

ASSAMESE: Kath alu.
BENGALI: Bengo nari, Chupri alu, Kham alu.
BURMESE: Myauk uu ni, Taw myauk uu.
CHINESE: Mao shu, Shen shu, Da shu.
FRENCH: Igname ailée, Grande igname, Igname franche, Igname blanche.
HINDI: Chupri alu, Khamalu.
INDIA: Ratalu.
JAPANESE: Beniimo, Daijo, Daiyo.
KANNDA: Tuna genasu.
MARATHI: Kondfal.
MEXICAN: Iñame, Ñame, Ñangate.
NEPALESE:Ghara tarul, Kukur tarul.
NIGERIA: Ji, Ji abana, Isu ewura.
PORTUGUESE: Inhame da India.
RUSSIAN: Dioskoreia alata, Dioscoreia krylataia, Iams belyi, Iams krylatyi.
SPANISH: Ñame comun, Ñame grande, Ñame alado, Ñame de agua, Ñame asiatico, Tabena.
TAMIL: Rasa vakku kilangu.
THAI: Man, Man bak hep, Man liam, Man sao, Noi.
VIETNAMESE: Khoai mo, Cam kenh, Co sa, Cu cai, Cu canh, Khoai trut, Khoai vac, Man ham.

Dioscorea alata is slender creeping vine reaching a length of several meters. The leaf-stalk slightly purple at both points of attachment. Tubers are usually bright lavender in color, occasionally white. Root is tumorous, often with small axillary tubers.


– Main component are complex carbohydrates.

– Tuber yields 1-4% protein, very low fat, and high fiber content.

– Yam tuber yields per 100 g:

calories 118 kcal (494 kJ), carbohydrates 27.89 g, protein 1.53 g, fat 0.17g, fiber 4.1g, vitamin C 17.1mg, thiamine (vitamin B1) 0.11 mg, riboflavin (vit B2) (0.03 mg), niacin (vit B3) 0.55 mg, pantothenic acid 0.31 mg, pyridoxine (vit B6) 0.29 mg, folate 23 mcg, calcium 17 mg, vitamin K 2.3 µg, magnesium 21 mg, phosphorus 55mg, sodium 9 mg, potassium 816, iron 0.54 mg, zinc 0.24 mg, copper 0.18, selenium 0.70 mcg, water 69.60 g.

– Study of 20 varieties of Dioscorea alata yielded total dietary fiber (TDF) ranging from 4.10 to 11.00%, dry matter composition 19.10 to 33.80%, amylose 27.90 to 32.30%. Mineral content in mg/kg(-1) showed zinc 10.10 to 17.60, potassium 10,550-20,000, Na 83-131, Ca 260-535, and Mg 390-595. (see study )

Medicinal properties of purple yam 

– Considered cholagogue, antispasmodic, diuretic.

– Studies have suggested antioxidant, estrogenic, cholesterol lowering, hypolipidemic, hepatoprotective (protects the liver), nephroprotective properties (protects the kidneys from harm).

Caution: High potassium content suggests caution in use by patients with renal disease.

Parts utilized


Nutrition / Edibility

– Tuber is eaten as vegetable.

– Tubers are rich in B vitamins, especially thiamine and niacin.

Folkloric traditional medicine remedies and uses of yam

– Powdered tubers used as a remedy for piles, gonorrhea, and applied externally to sores.

– In Assam, tuber paste applied on cancerous wounds; used for leprosy, gonorrhea, skin diseases and high blood pressure. (see study)

– Used to treat diarrhea, frequent urination, cough, diabetes mellitus, burns and scalds.

– In traditional Chinese medicine, used to treat diarrhea, fortify the spleen and kidneys.

– Used to relieve dysmenorrhea.

Scientific proven health benefits and uses of purple yam

Antioxidant Activity:

A 2006 study of commonly consumed roots crops in the Philippines (Kamote, Ipomoea batata; ubi, purple yam, Dioscorea alata; cassava, Manihot esculenta; taro or gabi, Colocasia esculenta; carrot, Daucus carota; yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) showed them to be rich sources of phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity, highest in sweet potato, followed by taro, potato, purple yam and lowest in the carrot.

Study showed hyperhomocysteinemia induced by methionine could be reversed by D alata feeding. D alata feeding showed antioxidative effects.

Anti-Fenton Reaction Activity / Copper-chelating and absorbing capability:

Study of three taxa of D alata showed significant anti-Fenton reaction activity, similar to EDTA. Study showed copper-chelating and absorbing capability of yam tuber pulp.

Bowel function benefits:

Study showed 25% to 59% yam diet increased fecal mass and SCFA (short-chain fatty acid) output, modulated fecal microflora and thickened caecal mucosal lining in mice.

GI function / Antioxidant:

Rhizome extract of DA has been shown to possess radical scavenging activity. Study showed both Chinese yam and Japanese yam were beneficial for intestinal health and oxidation prevention.

Estrogenic activity:

Extract study isolated new and known compounds and showed activation of estrogen receptors alpha and beta. Results suggest beneficial effect of yam for menopausal women.

Dioscorin / Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibition / Antihypertensive:

Dioscorin, the tuber storage protein of yam and its hydrolysates presents potential use for hypertension control.

Cholesterol lowering:

Study showed reducing effects of 50% yam diet on plasma and hepatic cholesterol levels probably through inflated fecal fat and steroid excretion.

Cytokine-Mimetic property:

Study that from extracts of yam roots and leaves( D alata), taro roots (Colocasia esculenta), buyo leaf (Piper betle) showed strongly stimulated proliferation of both bone marrow cells and splenocytes, significantly increasing cell concentrations.

Disocorin / Cytokine Expression / TLR4-Signaling Pathway:

TLR4 is a promising target for immunomodulating drugs and TLR4 agonists have therapeutic potential for treating immune diseases and cancer. Study shows dioscorin is a novel TLR4 activator and induces macrophage activation via TLR4-signaliing pathways.

Estrogenic effect in menopausal women :

In a study of menopausal women with rice staple diet replaced by yam (D alata) for 30 days showed improvement in status of sex hormones (estrone, sex hormone binding globulin, estradiol), blood lipids and antioxidants suggesting possible benefits in reducing breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.

Bone-Protective Effect:

Yam prevented loss of BMD (bone mineral density) and improved calcium status without stimulating uterine hypertrophy in ovariectomized mice. TNG yam may be beneficial for postmenopausal women for preventing bone loss.

Hypo-Triglyceridemic Effect:

Yam may inhibit the acute induction of hypertriglyceridemia and liver enlargement in rats fed a high cholesterol diet.

Renal Protective / Hepatoprotective:

Pharmacologic and biochemical studies showed yam have both renal protective and hepatic fortification effects in acetaminophen rats. Results provide basis for the use of yam in traditional Chinese medicine for deficiencies of liver-yin and kidney-yin.

Potential Health and Nutritional Benefits:

Study showed the potential use of D. alata as a functional food to supplement the fiber and mineral needs of consumers, and underlines the need to exploit its used in food fortifications and formulations.

Attenuation of Renal Interstitial Cellular Fibrosis:

Renal interstitial fibrosis is characterized by extracellular matrix (ECM) synthesis. Study evaluated the fibrosis regulatory effect of Dioscorea alata. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in kidneys is driven by regulated expression of fibrogenic cytokines such as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-ß). Study suggests Dioscorea alata might act as a novel fibrosis antagonist, which acts partly by down regulating the TGF-ß/smad signaling pathway and modulation EMT expression.

Antioxidant / Flavonoid Content:

Study of methanol extract for total phenolics and flavonoid content yielded 0.68 g/100g and 1.21 g/100g, respectively. An ethanol extract showed strong DPPH radical scavenging activity. The maximum inhibitory concentration (IC50) in all models viz., DPPH, hydroxyl, superoxide, and ABTs radical cation scavenging activity of tuber were 27.16, 26.12, 30.65, and 25.53 µg/mL respectively at 1 µg/mL concentration.


Study evaluated the antidiabetic effect of an ethanolic extract of D. alata in glucose loaded and alloxan induced diabetic rats. Results showed showed significant antidiabetic activity evidenced by a highly significant reduction (p<0.001) in blood glucose levels at doses of 100 and 200 mg/kg, respectively.


Study evaluated the effects of ethanol extract of tuber of D. alata on allergic models of mice induced by Ovalbumin using measurements of IgE, IL-4, and TNF-α level. EEDA dose of 0.62 and 1.24 g/kg was able to decrease the IgE level and EEDA dose of 1.24 g/kg was able to increase TNF-α levels.

Immunostimulatory / Mucilages:

Study evaluated purified mucilages from three Taiwanese yam cultivars to evaluated the immunostimulatory effects on murine innate and adaptive immunity. Results showed all three mucilages could elevate the number of T. helper cells in peripheral blood and enhance the phagocytic activity of granulocyte, monocytes, and macrophages, both ex vivo and in vitro tests. The production of specific anti-ovalbumin (OVA) antibody and OVA-stimulated splenic proliferation were all enhanced by all mucilage groups. Results suggested the tuber mucilage might function as an immunostimulatory substance.

Protective Effect in Aniline-Induced Splenic Toxicity: Study evaluated the protective effects of ethanolic extract of D. alata on hematological and biochemical changes in aniline-induced spleen toxicity in rats. Results suggest the involvement of oxidative and nitrosative stress in aniline-induced splenic toxicity and DA protects the rats from toxicity, which may be due to its antioxidant property and the presence of different phytochemicals.

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