Mangoes May Be The Key To Gender-Neutral Birth Control

Meet the "molecular condom."
May 29, 2017, 8:00pm
Photo by Flickr user Cornelius Kibelka

Beyond the boundaries of sticky rice and body scrubs, mango has long been an underutilized and underestimated player in the produce world. But now, scientific evidence suggests that a compound hidden in the supple golden flesh of the fruit could solve a conundrum that researchers have been trying to pin down for years: an effective form of male birth control.

A new study out of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley has found that a unique function of a common compound found in mangoes and other plants could help to create a hormone-free birth control pill which could safely and effectively be taken by both men and women.

The research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, focuses on a compound called lupeol, which when combined with the plant compound pristimerin, has the ability to avert "sperm hyperactivation," blocking the potential fertilization of the egg. In addition to mangoes, lupeol can also be found in olives, grapes, and a number of other plants.

The Berkeley researchers discovered that this unique combination of compounds had the ability to block progesterone, a sex hormone with many roles in the human body. One of progesterone's roles is activating the calcium channel known as CatSper, which is key to fertilization: without CatSper, sperm's pathways are essentially blocked and they have no chance of making their way to the egg.

"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."

The scientists also note that, because the natural compounds simply act as a barrier between sperm and egg (and don't directly affect either), this form of birth control would have no long-term impact on male or female fertility. "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," study author and assistant professor of molecular and cell biology Polina Lishko tells The Independent.

Nicknaming their finding "molecular condoms," Lishko, along with her co-authors Melissa R. Miller and Nadja Mannowetz, found that this natural form of contraception could be used on an as-needed basis, much like Plan B pills. Unlike hormonal birth control pills, these would require no schedule and only need to be taken before sex by either person, or within six hours of intercourse by women.

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Though Lishko says more research is needed to confirm the compounds' contraceptive abilities, these findings could be a huge turning point in identifying a safe and successful form of male birth control beyond condoms. It's one small step for mango, one giant leap for mankind (literally).