Scientists have identified natural chemicals in plants that “block fertilization” in sexual reproduction, reports BBC.
The compounds, lupeol and pristimerin, were found to block progesterone, the hormone that a sperm detects in an egg to “generate swimming force” towards it. It has been suggested that a chemical that could block progesterone could be used as a male contraceptive.
Lupeol is in plants like mango, dandelion root and aloe vera, while primisterin is in a plant called the “thunder god vine” or tripterygium wilfordii. However, finding a source for the compounds is a problem: these plants have them at such low levels that extraction is expensive.
Scientists are still pursuing their research on the discovery given that the chemicals are effective at low doses and do not have side effects. They also believe that these could “be used as an emergency contraceptive, before or after intercourse, or as a permanent contraceptive via a skin patch or vaginal ring.”
According to Polina Lishko, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, the chemicals are “not toxic to sperm cells; they still can move. But they cannot develop this powerful stroke, because this whole activation pathway is shut down.”
The chemicals will be tested on primates, given that their physiology is similar to that of humans. It would take years before this could be proven effective on people.
“It seems a good bet that this could be a novel contraceptive target that might lead to a male contraceptive pill without any of the side-effects so far seen in trials with hormone-jab contraceptives,” said Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield
Scientists have been struggling to produce male contraceptives without side effects for over 20 years, according to BBC.
Dr. Kirsten Vogelsong, a contributor to contraceptive research for the World Health Organization, has presented that production of male contraceptives would answer an “unmet need” and could level the playing field for both genders in family planning: “Giving men increased options and roles in contraceptive use might lead to more gender equitable and gender-transformative services for women.”
Vogelsong also cited a 2000 study on men’s attitudes to potential hormonal methods, where researchers found that 44 to 83 percent of men would “definitely or probably use a male pill.” Niña V. Guno/JB