Finding an oral herbal contraceptive would allow couples control their fertility without consulting a health worker, which in turn would likely markedly increase the number of couples practicing family planning. Other advantages of such a contraceptive would include the familiarity rural people in Africa have with herbal medicines, the fewer side effects associated with herbal preparations, their ready availability from local sources, and protection of privacy.
Africa is a continent endowed with an enormous wealth of plant resources. These plants have been used for several generations in traditional medicine for the treatment of different ailments. Although a few research publications are available on the constituents and biological activity of some of these medicinal plants, the development of therapeutic agents from these medicinal plants has remained a somewhat neglected subject. The study of medicinal plants in Africa has not been taken as seriously or documented as fully as in other traditional societies, such as the Indian and Chinese. Our knowledge of African medicinal plants used for reproductive purposes is rather limited and the little available information is often fragmented. Very few studies in Africa and other developing countries have focused on herbal male contraceptives. Most of the studies done are on aphrodisiacs which aim at improving the male fertility (Kamchouing et al., 2002
; Watcho et al., 2004
; Lampiao et al., 2008
). These studies have reported the efficacy of herbal aphrodisiacs such as Mondia whitei
on improving the male reproductive function. Most of the literature on herbal male contraceptives is coming from the Chinese. Zheng et al., (1995)
reported the antifertility actions of an extract from Tripterygium wilfordii
both in male rats and in men. This plant's functional mechanism was by inhibiting the basic nuclear protein turnover of late spermatids, delayed spermiation, sperm head-tail separation and microfilament and membrane damage.
Even though traditional medicines used as contraceptives have a long history in Africa, very few studies have been conducted to confirm their efficacy as well as establish their mechanisms of action. Some few studies in animal models have shown that herbs such as Balanites roxburghii
(Rao et al., 1997a
), Phyllanthus amarus
(Rao et al., 1997b
) and Carica papaya
seeds (Chinoy et al., 1995
) have antispermatogenic effects in male animal models. summarizes some of the plants that have been reported to exert antifertility effects in different animal models. Some selected plants with proven antifertility effect are discussed below.
Summary of plants with antifertility effects in different animal models.