New Internationalist

Chinese Pills

Issue 089

Darling, did you take your Pill?’ is a question familiar to millions of women around the world. But if research by Chinese scientists is successful women may soon be asking it rather than answering it.

The Chinese have been testing Gossipol - a male contraceptive extracted from cotton seed oil - since its haphazard discovery in Henan Province ten years ago. According to Dr. Jiang Yu, the head of the Shanghai-based research team that developed the drug, Gossipol has proved 99.43 per cent effective among the over 8,000 men who have so far used it. Subjects are given between 15 and 20 milligrams a day for 75 to 80 days until they are completely infertile. After that weekly doses of 50 milligrams are needed to maintain infertility.

Like the female Pill, the male Pill has its flaws. They include slight nausea, stomach-ache, changes in appetite and some muscle weakness. Most of these occured during the first two weeks and were relieved by regular doses of vitamin B-6. Dr. Jiang also found decreased sexual activity in nearly five per cent of the men being tested, a sideeffect which will probably have to be ironed out in more detail before sexuallyinsecure Western men would consider its use.

One further drawback may be the time it takes to recover fertility. It varies depending on how long the drug is taken. For example a man who took Gossipol for two years might have to wait an additional two years before recovering fertility. But if the total dosage remains less than six grams fertility returns in two to three months.

The drug was discovered in 1971 after peasants in the cotton-growing area of Henan became upset that women were not gettingpregnant. Government doctors traced the problem to cotton seed oil, a key ingredient in local food, which had reduced male sperm count in the area to almost zero. Thankful for modern medicine’s solution to their problem, cotton-seed oil has now gone out of vogue in the region. They use peanut oil instead.

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