Some components of the human diets are believed to be promising male contraceptive agents. Now, fluted pumpkin seeds may be the next candidate for male contraceptives.
In a new study, scientists evaluated the anti-fertility activity of fluted pumpkin seeds and found that it may selectively act on the sperm-producing cells, leading to low sperm count, oxidative damage and androgen insufficiency.
They said the reversibility of these effects to near-normal levels after the withdrawal of treatment justifies further consideration of fluted pumpkin seed-supplemented diet as an effective and readily reversible agent that meets the required criteria of a male contraceptive agent.
Potent and safe forms of contraception suitable for different couples and diverse cultures are crucial for family planning. Obviously, numerous fertility control efforts are aimed at women, and men have been asked to share in this responsibility.
The call for men to be equal partners with women in fertility regulation has been slow due to limited acceptable contraceptive options. Although efforts to develop effective plant-derived male contraceptive agents have been undertaken, the progress on it has been minimal.
For instance, daily use ofTripterygium wilfordii extract elicited antifertility properties in animals and men by distorting sperm development and lowering sperm count but its use was associated with adverse side effects.
Furthermore, gossypol obtained from cotton seed oil provoked antifertility effects in human and animal models through a reduction in sperm quality and an increase in sperm mortality, degeneration of the testis and disruption of sperm and male hormone production.
The irreversibility of low sperm count, slow contraceptive effectiveness, and other undesired side effects associated with some plant-derived contraceptive agents have heightened the focus of most laboratories on the search for potential plant-based male contraceptives that satisfy the criteria of an effective male-contraceptive agent.
Telfairia occidentalis, commonly called fluted pumpkin, is an important dietary item and deep-rooted part of herbal medicine, especially in the eastern part of Nigeria.
As a food, the fleshy kernel obtained from deshelled and boiled seeds of fluted pumpkin is consumed as snacks while its fermented form is used as a seasoning to flavour soup.
Its leaves have been reported to promote blood formation in the body, protect the liver, and for its therapeutic efficacy on induced benign prostatic enlargement.
For the study, healthy male Wistar rats of average body weight 135 g rats were given fluted pumpkin seed-supplemented diet at 2.5, 5 and 10 per cent for 60 days.
This 2019 study in the journal, Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine, involved Rex-Clovis C. Njoku, Sunny O. Abarikwu, Augustine A. Uwakwe, Chidimma J. Mgbudom-Okah and Chioma Yvonne Ezirim at the University of Port Harcourt.
They were placed on observation for another 60 days after the withdrawal of treatment. The control animals received normal standard rat diet not supplemented with fluted pumpkin seeds.
The sperm quality variables, testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), oxidative status of the testis and other fertility parameters were determined to evaluate the anti-fertility activity of fluted pumpkin seeds.
Treatment of animals with fluted pumpkin seed-supplemented diet at five per cent and 10 per cent resulted in decreased serum and intra-testicular testosterone and FSH concentrations.
Furthermore, poor sperm motility, count, morphology and viability as well as a severe reduction in sperm production observed especially in the 10 per cent dietary fluted pumpkin seeds-treated animals reverted to nearly control values 60 days after withdrawal of treatment.
The researchers suggested that the observed low sperm count could be due to selective action of fluted pumpkin seeds on developing germ cells.
They declared that the available evidence shows that fluted pumpkin seeds-supplemented diet promotes the arrest of sperm production in adult rat’s testes through multiple mechanisms including the direct killing of Sertoli cells.
According to them, “The reversal of the antifertility effects of fluted pumpkin seeds on testicular functions makes it a potential male contraceptive candidate. However, further studies to confirm this view are therefore warranted.”
Previously, researchers in the 2018 Toxicology Reports warned that Telfairia occidentalis (Ugu) aqueous leaves extract in high doses over a period of time is toxic to sperm production. They said a moderate use and consumption of the extract should only be encouraged.
Fluted pumpkin leaves caused a dose-dependent significant decrease in testosterone levels. At high doses, it distorted seminiferous tubules cytoarchitecture when compared to the control group. Thus, bringing to the fore that the production of quality sperms is highly dependent on the integrity of the testis.