Many people believe that supplements from the yucca plant could help control cholesterol levels. In fact, there are products being sold that tout this very claim. But are there any facts to back up this claim?
Yucca, which also goes by the names “manioc” or “cassava,” comprises a group of more than 30 different species of evergreen, perennial shrubs, or trees. The plant, native to parts of Mexico and the American Southwest, is also grown in Eastern/Central U.S. and in the West Indies.
Native Americans have long used all parts of the plant for many different purposes: to make baskets and clothing; for soap; and as food. The leaves, stalks, and roots have been traditionally used medicinally — especially to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
More recently, there’s been buzz about yucca’s potential as a cholesterol buster. Specifically, there’s a belief that taking a liquid extract of the yucca plant could prevent the absorption of cholesterol by the body and encourage its elimination. This opinion is based on the fact that yucca contains “saponins.”
Saponins are substances found in beans and many plants, including aloe and yucca. This stuff has a soapy texture that is evident when heated (you know, that foam you get when you boil beans). Because of this property, some of them are actually considered to be toxic. However, the saponins in yucca are not believed to be harmful to the body in controlled amounts.
It’s this component of yucca that has people talking about its promise in the area of cholesterol control. Basically, the saponins are thought to latch onto cholesterol in the blood, stopping it from being absorbed and carrying it out of the body. Furthermore, the saponins might also affect the bile process, thus decreasing the amount of cholesterol in the blood even further.
Sounds promising, right? Nevertheless, you need to know that there is very little scientific research to back up this claim about yucca. One Korean study conducted in 2003 did show that a mixture of partially purified “Yucca schidigera” and “Quillaja saponaria” extracts, taken once a day for four weeks, reduced the total and LDL cholesterol levels in subjects with high cholesterol.
But that’s just one study. Before we can rely on yucca as a weapon in our battle against high cholesterol, there need to be well-controlled studies of good quality done. So, for now, stick with the natural remedies that have stronger evidence to back them up, such as red rice yeast extract. We’ll keep you updated on any news about yucca that we come across.