19 January 2018

Kenya: African Arrow Poison Could Become Male Contraceptive

Photo: Nation Media Group
A man holds a bow and arrows. Ouabain, a compound traditionally used by African hunters as poison on their arrows, could be the key to male contraception.

A compound traditionally used by African hunters as poison on their arrows could be the key to male contraception.

After conducting a study on rats, a report published in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Journal of Medicinal Chemistry has highlighted the contraceptive benefits of ouabain, traditionally used as arrow poison by African hunters.


A research team drawn from the ACS have found that a particular plant extract could be the key to curbing male fertility.

Despite the wide range of oral contraceptives currently available for women on the market, no pharmaceutical type birth control exists for men, who can only be sterilised through vasectomy, a surgical procedure.

Although there is ongoing research into male contraceptive pills, it has not yet been made commercially available.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that a contraceptive injection could be 96 per cent effective in curbing male fertility.

The report warned that the procedure was not likely to be entirely safe for men, warning that side effects were expected to be a common occurrence.


The discovery means that men could also finally be presented with the option of preventing conception through ouabain.

Ouabain is naturally produced in the human body at a low level. It is a cardiac glycoside, meaning it belongs to a class of organic compounds that increase the output force of the heart and decrease its rate of contractions.

The compound is beneficial when used as treatment for congestive heart failure but its high level of toxicity prevents it from being widely used.

Scientists believe the hormone can help maintain blood pressure levels and physicians sometimes prescribe it to treat patients who have suffered from a heart attack.

Ouabain is most commonly obtained from the seeds of the Strophanthus gratus plant.


According to the report, ouabain disrupts the movement of sodium and calcium ions and locks on to a protein that is critical in fertility.

Previous research had shown that ouabain can reduce fertility in men. Experts have however warned that it could cause heart damage if taken alone at a high dosage and therefore could not be a viable contraceptive on its own.

The potential threat of heart damage drove the research team to design mild ouabain doses that would pose a reduced threat to the heart and then focused primarily on binding it to a particular protein found in sperm.

Using that approach, scientists developed a safe and effective contraceptive method.

After a successful series of tests on the laboratory rodents, the team published the results in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

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