The topic has at times been a controversial one. Last year, it was revealed that a male contraceptive injection, almost as effective as the female pill, gave some of the men in a trial side effects including mood swings and acne – otherwise known as common side effects of female hormonal contraception.
Now, a group of researchers from the University of California – Berkeley, have found that two chemicals found in folk medicine can help block the fertilisation of an egg and could make effective alternatives to hormone-based contraceptives, they say in findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The calcium channel of sperm is called CatSper which is vital for male fertility, it is activated by the progesterone hormone. The researchers wanted to see if compounds could block the progesterone activating CatSper so looked in to natural steroid-like molecules including pristimerin, which comes from a plant, and lupeol – a compound which can be found in plants and fruits including mangoes.
They found both compounds affected sperm fertility concluding that “pristimerin and lupeol can act as contraceptive compounds by averting sperm hyperactivation, thus preventing fertilisation”.
The chemicals could work to make contraception which is unisex. This could be similar to emergency contraception but could be taken either before or after intercourse, according to the researchers or like a skin patch or vaginal ring.
The plant compounds blocked fertilisation at a very low level so they were deemed to have no other effects on the egg or sperm other than blocking the fusing of the two.
“Because these two plant compounds block fertilisation at very, very low concentrations, they could be a generation of emergency contraceptives we nicknamed ‘molecular condoms,’” assistant professor of molecular and cell biology Polina Lishko said. “If one can use a plant-derived, non-toxic, non-hormonal compound in lesser concentration to prevent fertilisation in the first place, it could potentially be a better option.”
The unisex element of the contraception would work as it could block progesterone activation in men too.
“If we think of sperm as a delivery man, it doesn’t matter if his truck breaks down when he is still at the post office or is en route – he still can’t deliver his package,” author Melissa Miller explained to Broadly. She added that more research was needed to see if the compounds could be used as a contraceptive.
The compounds could also potentially be effective in women as sperm takes about five to six hours to mature once entering the female reproductive system – giving the drug enough time to be effective and block the kick.