Yucca Root Can Help Digestion and Arthritis Pain

A helpful root vegetable for your dog

Yucca root possesses chemistries that add powerful medicinal activities to the veterinary herbalist’s goodie bag. Among these chemistries are sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, and various other compounds that are loosely known by the herbal/scientist community as “phytosterols.”

Herbalists theorize that phytosterols serve the body by stimulating and assisting the body in the use and production of natural corticosteroids and corticosteroid-related hormones. Unlike corticosteroid drugs such as prednisone, yucca is thought to work in concert with natural autoimmune functions of the body – actually supporting immune system functions as opposed to shutting them down.

It can be reasonably hypothesized that the natural, corticosteroid-like actions of yucca may play a role in the body’s natural production of growth hormones, which in turn may contribute significantly to the accelerated growth and production we see in animals that receive it in their food. And although this theory has not been established as “fact” by the scientific community, we know that yucca is very safe in the diet when fed in moderation and in a sensible manner.

What all of this means is that yucca can be a very useful natural remedy in the treatment of arthritis.

In a study conducted at the beginning of the twentieth century, yucca was found to bring about safe and effective relief (from pain and inflammation) to human arthritis patients when taken four times daily over a period of time. Although this study has been repeatedly discredited by the American Arthritis Foundation because of the controversial manner by which the study was conducted, the beneficial effects of yucca in humans and animals remain clearly validated in the minds of holistic practitioners who have repeatedly used it and witnessed positive results.

In my experiences with monitoring the therapeutic effects of yucca root in arthritic dogs, yucca can be very useful toward reducing inflammation of the knees and hips, especially when the herb is used concurrently with liquid extracts of licorice root (Glycyrrhizza spp.), alfalfa, and a liquid glucosamine supplement. Part of this may be attributable to the improved assimilation of glucosamine, another possible attribute of yucca’s amazing saponin constituents.

Undiscovered values Although scientists largely remain focused on the saponin constituents of yucca, it is obvious that there is much to discover about several other compounds within this plant. Native Americans used the roots, leaves, and flowers in a wide variety of applications, ranging from burns and digestive disorders to contraceptive applications.

A water extract (tea) of Yucca glauca (“small yucca” or “soapweed”) has been shown to have anti-tumor activity against a certain type of melanoma in mice. Its mechanism in this context is believed to stem from its polysaccharide constituents, not necessarily its steroidal saponins.

Perhaps most famously, yucca’s high saponin content has been widely exploited to make soap and shampoos.

A few words of caution Yucca root is classified by FDA and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS) for use in animal feeds and supplements. Yucca root powders, extracts, and other preparations can be used very safely in dogs and other mammals. Nevertheless, several controversies have been raised over the years concerning the safety of yucca’s saponin constituents.

Many of these concerns stem from cases of intestinal bloating or photosensitivity in livestock. Most of these events were triggered when too much saponin-rich, fresh alfalfa was fed while the plants were in bloom (alfalfa should only be harvested and fed prior to blooming).

There have also been reports of bloating and other digestive problems that have been attributed, at least in part, to cheap, fibrous, saponin-rich vegetable by-products (such as beet pulp) that are used in lieu of whole vegetables in commercial dog foods.

Then there are the numerous scientific studies in which animal subjects suffered digestive distress when they ingested (or were force-fed) isolated saponin compounds in chemical concentrations far exceeding than those naturally found in yucca root, or for that matter, any other herb. Such an experiment, in my mind, only proves that animals (and humans) shouldn’t eat soap.

Saponin is found in many of the vegetables we eat and frequently feed to our dogs (including yams, beets, and alfalfa sprouts), yet a few outspoken individuals insist that anything that contains saponin must be harmful. This is simply not true. Virtually anything will produce a toxic reaction if ingested in too much abundance, including herbs and vegetables.


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