A recent study found that lupeol, a natural compound found in olives and other plants including mango, dandelion root and aloe vera acts as a “molecular condom,” preventing sperm from fertilizing eggs. The report concluded that lupeol has the potential to become a natural contraceptive that could be taken by women or men.
The olive-based contraceptive which is harmless to sperm and eggs could be commercially available within two years for women to take before or after sex. Lupeol could be used as a permanent contraceptive in the form of a skin patch or vaginal ring. It could also act as an emergency contraceptive taken either before or after sexual intercourse. The male version of a contraceptive made from lupeol is expected to be developed within four years.
Lupeol works by preventing sperm from having their final “power kick,” a whip-like action that occurs when a sperm approaches an egg. This movement propels the sperm towards the egg and enables the sperm to penetrate the protective cells surrounding it.
Polina Lishko, co-author of the report told the Daily Mail, “It [lupeol] is not toxic to sperm cells — they still can move. But they cannot develop this powerful stroke, because this whole activation pathway is shut down. This is a potentially safer morning after pill, regular Pill, and a future male contraceptive. Essentially it is a future version of a unisex contraceptive.”
The research team from the University of California discovered that human sperm takes five to six hours to mature after they enter the female, which would give lupeol time to take effect as a natural replacement for the morning-after pill if taken within five hours of unprotected sex.
Incredibly low concentrations of lupeol are effective in blocking fertilization. This makes it an attractive alternative to hormonal based contraceptives such as The Pill, which has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, blood clots and depression. Trials of a male pill have shown it to be effective but users have reported side effects including acne, muscle pain and emotional problems.
“If one can use a plant-derived, non-toxic, non-hormonal compound in lesser concentration to prevent fertilization in the first place, it could potentially be a better option.” Lishko told Laboratory Equipment.
Fertility expert Allan Pacey told the Daily Mail, “This is probably one of the most innovative approaches to male contraception, allowing men to take equal responsibility for family planning that we have seen in a long time.”
He added, “Scientists have been tinkering with different kinds of hormonal contraceptives for men for 30 years and they have not yet got them to the marketplace, so we really need a new kind of approach like this.”
The research team explored natural contraceptives, derived from anti-fertility plants and used by indigenous people. This led to the discovery of lupeol, which is also found in grapes, mangoes, aloe and dandelion root.
The scientists warned that eating vast amounts of olives will not prevent unwanted pregnancy.