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How nutrition, contraceptives affect reproductive health

By Tare Youdeowei

AT the Inaugural Lecture Series of University of Lagos, Professor of Biochemistry, Mrs Olubunmi Abiola Magbagbeola, presented to the Vice-Chancellor, the university and the society at large, her findings in the focus areas of; Nutrition and Nutritional Status, FertilityRegulation/ Family Planning/ Contraceptive Technology, Infertility prevention and treatment, and Cervical and Breast Cancers, management and treatment, in a compendium;Reproductive Health of Women and Men: A Biochemist’s perspective which seeks to highlight the role biochemists play in human nutrition, female and male reproductive health.

Here are excerpts of her and her team of researchers’findings, contributions to knowledge and recommendations.

Nigerian medicinal plants

Plants, in addition to providing the animal kingdom with food, fuel and shelter also synthesize a large variety of chemical substances. These substances include basic metabolites as well as secondary metabolites which includes; phenolic compounds such as alkaloids, glycosides, terpenoids, sterols etc. Of great significance is the fact that many of the secondary metabolites have prominent effects on the animal system while others possess important therapeutic properties which can and have been used in the breast cancer pix 22treatment and cure of human and other diseases since time immemorial.

There is the claim that the stipular bud sheath of Musangacecropioides(Agbawo), contains substances that impede pregnancy. Based on this claim our laboratory designed a research to investigate the scientific basis of the claim.

A preliminary study was set up to: carry out the phytochemical screening of the plant; extract, isolate, identify and characterise any contraceptive agent(s) present in the stipular bud sheath plant; investigate the contraceptive efficacy of the solvent extracts of the bud sheath using rat model; determine the effect of the extracts on the contractility of the rat uterus and to determine if it has abortifacient properties; to determine the biological effects of the plant in comparison with a synthetic oral contraceptive in animal models.

Throughout the course of experiment, the rats on orthodox low dose oral contraceptive showed a very sharp or pronounced increase in the levels of all the metabolic parameters analysed in the serum compared with those of M.cecropioides.

M.ceceropioides /Agbawo will therefore be preferred as a contraceptive due to its production of lesser changes in the nutrients.

It can be concluded that the contraceptive effect of the extracts of Agbawo manifested at both levels of ovulation and gestation in female rats and this action is dose dependent with all extracts and in all experimental rats.

It is also implied from all the results of our study that aqueous, ethanolic, petroleum ether and acetylated ethanolic extracts of the plant bud sheath contained substances that were anti-oestrus cycles, ovulation, implantation and pregnancy. This suggests a mimicking of the stage of pseudo-pregnancy associated with contraceptive drugs.

There is therefore scientific evidence that the stipular bud sheath of Musanga cecropioides contains substances which impede pregnancy with little or no metabolic effects in animal models and can therefore be a safe, efficacious and affordable source of contraceptive for our Nigerian women.

Infertility: Serum auto-antibodies and immunological correlates were identified for the first time in my laboratory as primary markers of unexplained infertility in some euthyroid Nigerian women attending infertility clinic in Lagos. Also, in men, it was established that Nigerian men with hyperprolactineamia and low serum testosterone level, had low sperm count which contributed to their infertility problem.

Possible treatment or management of infertility using Mistletoe (viscum album) was also investigated. Our results showed that 40mg/kg body weight reverted infertility in infertility induced rats between 3 to 5 days whereas clomiphene citrate (the orthodox fertility enhancing drug) took 5 to 10 days indicating that mistletoe is more potent and non-toxic for management of infertility.

Cervical and breast cancers

Molecular biology has evolved as a versatile tool with applications in areas such as cancer research, endocrinology and biotechnology. High incidence of reproductive cancers, socioeconomic problems associated with cannabis use disorder prompted my laboratory to begin researches in these two compounds namely coclaurine and coreximine from Nigeria medical plants as new compounds for the first time that inhibit topoisomerasel enzyme in cervical cancer, hence inhibiting proliferation of the cells.

Also we found that some polymorphisms of some dopaminergic genes predispose to cannabis use disorders.

In an effort to combat climate change, my laboratory developed mutant strains of Aspergillus niger and penicillum citrium that help in bioconversion of lignocellulosic materials for industrial enzymes and feed production.


Our research findings have shown that biochemists have a lot to do as regards the reproductive health of our populace; therefore, there should be more interactions and collaborations between our health care providers and basic research scientists to improve the health of our people.

The need to build capacity and interest in basic science research by our colleagues in the clinical sciences cannot be overemphasised. Drugs prescribed by our clinicians should take cognisance of their side effects, biochemical effects, on our people. We should not assume that the side effects noticed in other populace should be the same for our people.

Integrating indigenous medicine:

Our standard organisations should join hands with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration to control and rid our markets of already banned drugs and substandard products from other developed countries being imported into Nigeria.

In industrialised countries, conventional drugs are being gradually relegated because they are becoming more ineffective owing to multiple drug resistance, adverse side effects and high cost of production. The use of medicinal plant remedies are gaining prominence, for example, Chinese traditional medicines have almost taken over our own divinely indigenous medicine in form of packaged medicinal products imported into the country.

In our laboratories and others in Nigerian universities, we have found out that we can produce cheap efficacious and non-toxic medicinal plants products which can be packaged. This will reduce economic loss by importation. Our government should put in place policies that will encourage production and packaging of these products and discourage the importation of such products.

We should do what china is doing. China’s traditional and orthodox practices have integrated their health care position to the populace within the frame work of official services.

Our orthodox medical practitioners should cooperate with the government in this regard.

Interdisciplinary research

In my opinion, a good scientific research cannot be done by one individual alone, the more the contributions from different and relevant disciplines come together to publish a paper, the wider the scope and quality of the output for the benefit of our people and humanity at large.

The university therefore should be more generous with the assessment of scientific papers involving interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collaboration more than is being done now.


The university management and regulators should recognise the relative divergence which exists between our relatively younger academics and their older counterparts. Changing the rules and regulations intermittently will make them feel that the older ones, having reached the top of the ladder for those behind not to get to the top.

I feel the university should put in place, room for accelerated promotion for those who are high flyers and review policies and regulations which may be counterproductive so that our new generation of academics will see the management as sufficiently responsive and minimise the high trend of hopping and shopping around for higher positions (i.e. brain drain internally and externally or local and offshore) among them.


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