Want to Get Pregnant? Try Eating Yams, an Unlikely Fertility Superfood

yam for fertility

You spend the bulk of your sexually-active youth trying not to get pregnant. Then, when you do want to get pregnant, you realize it isn’t going to be so fast nor easy. No wonder women turn to some many fertility superfoods.  One of the lesser-known fertility foods is yams.


Yams as a Fertility Food

Going back hundreds of years, Africans have believed that eating yams can increase fertility. A lot of websites are quick to say that this is just a wife’s tale, and that there aren’t any proven fertility benefits of yams.  However, don’t dismiss them so quickly.


It Started in Nigeria…

yams in nigeria increase fertility

In a renown study, a gynecologist named Patrick Nylander found that the town of Igbo-Ora in Nigeria had an amazingly high rate of twins.

The town has 158 twins per 1,000 births.

By comparison, there are just 5 twins per 1,000 births in Europe.

As talked about in this BBC article about the “Twin City,” locals believe that the reason for the high fertility and twin rate is their staple diet of yams.


How Yams Increase Fertility

Yams contain a type of phytoestrogen called diosgenin.  It is similar in chemical structure to progesterone. (1, 2)

The theory is that diosgenin acts as an anti-estrogen.  Because the body thinks that there is less estrogen, it increases levels of a hormone called gonadotropin.  You might know it better as HCG – the hormone that pregnancy tests look for.

Thus, it is believed that consuming lots of yams could increase fertility by causing more frequent ovulation and also causing multiple eggs to be released at once (hence the high twin birth rate in Western Africa).


Scientific Evidence for Yams as a Fertility Food

Unfortunately, there have been very few scientific studies which look at how eating yams could affect fertility.

However, there was this very recent study published in the American Journal of Biomedical Sciences.

The study looked at asthmatic women and how eating yams affected various hormone levels (asthma is assocatiated with infertility).  Amazingly, it was found that after just 2 weeks of eating yams, the women had increased levels of lutenizing hormone.

Luteinizing hormone is what causes women to release an egg during ovulation.  So, increased levels of LH could mean higher fertility and increased chances of twins.


Yams Are Not the Same as Sweet Potatoes!

Before you rush to your supermarket to buy yams, be warned that most supermarkets don’t actually carry yams.

What they call a “yam” is actually just an orange sweet potato.

types of sweet potatoes
These are BOTH types of sweet potatoes, not yams!

Real yams have blackish-brown skin and are white and sometimes with purple hues inside.  They are not at all sweet and much starchier than the so-called yams you have for Thanksgiving.

Dried yams for sale in Western Africa
real yams
Some yams are purple inside, like this yam from Malaysia.


Where to Buy Real Yams?

You might be able to find real yams in specialty, international markets.  However, if it is the fertility-boosting benefits of yams that you are after, you are probably better off taking a yam supplement (unless you really want to eat tons of tubers every day).

In Nigeria, yam powder is called Elubo.  You can buy it online at Amazon.  This is a good brand worth trying. If you don’t feel like making mashed yams, just add some of the yam powder to a smoothie in the morning.

yam powder supplement for fertility
Yam powder supplement. You can buy it here.

You can also take wild yam supplements.  Before you get confused, know that there are at least 16 different species of yams.  Wild yams are from the Americas.  They also contain diosgenin, but potentially not as much as the Nigerian yam powder.

yam fertility supplement
Yam supplement capsules with diosgenin. Buy it here.


Which yam supplement to use?

The Nigerian yams might be more effective in boosting fertility, but consuming yam powder is much more tedious than just taking a yam supplement.  So, it’s your call whether you think yam powder or yam capsules are the better choice.


Image credits:
Selling dried yam as ”elubo isu”” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by IITA Image Library
Big tubers of yam” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by IITA Image Library
Yam vs. sweet potato” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Radagast – both sweet potatoes


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