A new contraceptive, which is harmless to both eggs and sperm, could be available to both women and men within the next four years – and it is made from olives.
A recent study by researchers at the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California found that lupeol – a natural compound found in olives and plants such as mango, dandelion and aloe vera – acts as what the scientists called a “molecular condom”, wrote Olive Oil Times on 22 May.
According to the research team, lupeol could be processed into a contraceptive that could be taken by members of either sex.
The female version that could be taken before or after intercourse could be commercially available in two years’ time, but men would have to wait four years to be able reap the discovery’s benefits.
Lupeol could act as an emergency contraceptive and a “potentially safer morning after pill, regular Pill, and a future male contraceptive,” the study’s co-author Polina Lishko told the Daily Mail.
The compound prevented sperm from performing their final “power kick”, which ultimately propels them to the egg, allowing them to penetrate the protective shell surrounding it.
“Lupeol is not toxic to sperm cells, they can still move. But they cannot develop this powerful stroke, because this whole activation pathway is shut down,” said Lishko. “Essentially, it is a future unisex contraceptive.”
The team found that the human sperm cell took five to six hours to mature after entering the female and, if taken within this period, lupeol would have sufficient time to get to work on the sperm.
Another benefit of lupeol was its effectiveness at “incredibly low concentrations”, which would make it a viable alternative to the Pill, which has been linked to negative health effects, such as increased risk of cancer, heart disease and depression, Olive Oil Times reported.
The male pill had undergone trials that had showed it to be effective, but users had reported side effects including acne, muscle pain and emotional instability.
“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,” fertility expert Allan Pacey told the Daily Mail.
The research team felt it necessary to warn that while lupeol can be extracted from olives, eating an excessive amount of olives will not prevent unwanted pregnancy.