The Magic of Chinese Yam for Treatment of Menopausal Syndrome
A research team in HKU School of Chinese Medicine has isolated a novel bioactive protein from Chinese Yam for treating conditions resulting from low serum estrogen and progesterone levels including osteoporosis, menopausal syndrome and the accompanying cognitive function deterioration.
Menopause, a normal part of the ageing process, is the period during which the levels of estrogen and progesterone secreted by the ovaries gradually decline. Approximately 80% of women experience some menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, severe night sweating, anxiety, panic, depression, drying and wrinkling of skin, vaginal dryness and discomfort, urinary stress incontinence, cystitis, insomnia, and irritability.
The loss of ovarian hormones (estrogen and progesterone) during menopause is also one of the major risk factors for osteoporosis, which leads to an increased risk of fractures. Besides osteoporosis, menopausal women also face a higher risk of cognitive decline.
The current conventional medical treatment to relieve menopausal syndrome is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, some studies found that such treatment might cause side effects, including increase in the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and stroke.
Chinese yam (the tuber of Dioscorea opposita Thunb.) is an edible and medicinal herb that is well-known for nourishing Yin and invigorating spleen/lung/kidney, and commonly used for regulating menstruation and vaginal discharge in Chinese medicine. It has been reported in scientific literature that Chinese yam extract improves the status of sex hormones, lipids, and antioxidants in menopausal women. However, the estrogen-stimulating effect of proteins in Chinese yam had not yet been reported.
A bioactive protein, designated DOI, that increases estrogen and progesterone biosynthesis, has been isolated from Chinese Yam by the research team led by Dr Stephen Cho Wing Sze, Assistant Professor in the School of Chinese Medicine. Their research findings have shown that the DOI protein is effective in treating conditions resulting from low serum estrogen and progesterone levels including osteoporosis, menopausal syndrome and the accompanying cognitive function deterioration. A US Patent has been obtained [Novel Bioactive Protein Isolated from Chinese Yam (U.S. Patent No.: US9273105B2; 1st Mar 2016)]. Clinical trials are expected to be launched in the near future.
The DOI protein stimulates estrogen and progesterone release but does not stimulate the proliferation of breast and ovarian cancer cells. DOI could be a more efficacious and safer alternative to HRT for the treatment of menopausal syndrome. It has good potential for development into the first protein drug for the treatment of menopausal syndrome in the future. Our research findings provide a new approach to develop a better treatment plan in dealing with the medical conditions of menopausal syndrome.