Published on Irish Times, by DÓNAL O’MATHÚNA, September 8, 2009.
DOES IT WORK: Gossypol could be used as a male contraceptive pill.
THE WORLD’S population continues to grow, especially in developing countries. Various approaches to family planning and contraception are being pursued.
One of the challenges has been finding ways to encourage men to take greater responsibility in this area. A herbal remedy called gossypol has attracted much interest as a male contraceptive pill.
While the ethical, social and political implications of contraception are significant, ongoing research has clarified some of the strengths and weaknesses of gossypol.
Gossypol is found in the roots, seeds and stems of the cotton plant. It is a natural insecticide which causes infertility in insects that feed on cotton plants.
After cotton is harvested, the seeds and other plant parts can be pressed into cottonseed cake. However, farmers noted that when this was fed to livestock, it sometimes causes infertility.
Chinese researchers found that in areas where crude cottonseed oil was commonly used, family sizes were much smaller. By the 1970s, gossypol had been identified as the active ingredient.
The Chinese government was hoping that gossypol would become a non-steroidal contraceptive that could be widely used to limit family sizes. Gossypol is now removed from commercial cottonseed oil and put in tablets.
In laboratory studies, gossypol has been shown to damage sperm and interfere with their mobility. In animals, gossypol has numerous effects that reduce the production of sperm … (full text).