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Does African Star Apple Fruit Cause Infertility in Men?

Photo Credit: The Guardian Nigeria 3 mins read

A news article suggested that the African star apple fruit may damage fertility in men.

Our findings show a disconnect in the news article and one of the research evidence-base used. The former suggests the fruit causes infertility; the latter based its investigations on the root extract of the plant. This argument does not hold as the phytochemistry of roots and fruits are different. More so, other research suggests that root extracts of the African star apple do treat infertility.

Full Text

Early 2020, January 17, to be exact, a Nigerian newspaper published a report titled African star apple may damage fertility in men.

The report based its content on two pieces of research carried out by Nigerian researchers titled:

Star Apple

Star apple, commonly called “agbalumo”, is a non-climacteric fruit, i.e. it ripens after harvest. It is also high in antioxidants and highly nutritional.

However, commercial production for this fruit is minimal in a few regions. It is a lowland rainforest tree specie which can reach 25 to 37 m in height at maturity, with a circumference varying from 1.5 to 2 m. However, the report saying it may damage fertility in men has kept many in a state of quandary.

Verification

Firstly, personal checks by Dubawa revealed that one of the research pieces utilised by the report has nothing to do with the fruits of star apple. Instead, the research referred to the root bark and leaves extracts from the plant of ‘Agbalumo’.

Expert Opinion

Next, Dubawa reached out to Adeniyi Sanyaolu, a doctor of botany from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.   

“Based on the scientific content of that reportage in question, it will be inaccurate to hint at or suggest that the consumption of African Star Apple can in anyways adversely affect fertility in male humans. That report lacks sufficient scientific clout to suggest so…”

Adeniyi Sanyaolu

Furthermore, he questioned what the structural elucidation of their extract was. Doctor Adeniyi also brought to our attention the insufficiency in clinical trials backing up this hypothesis; further concluding the research was rushed and ill-informed.

Excess ethanol is harmful to fertility

It is also worth noting that the consumption of ethanol (alcohol) at specific doses is capable of adversely affecting productivity in men. This revelation begs the question, should one expect less from the ethanolic extract of a plant? Is this finding (which is not novel) sufficient enough to base a postulation? The answer is no.  

Fruits not roots

Phytochemistry differs for each plant part, i.e. the leaves, stem & root. The research evidence-base for the report utilises root extracts; however, the article suggests the whole fruit as the cause for infertility. This disconnect yet again questions the integrity of the claim.

Also, this disconnect would not exist if the research focused on the extraction of the phytochemical aqueous constituents of the fruits. It instead, dealt with root extracts. 

Lets also not forget that while the crude extract (either aqueous or ethanolic) of any plant may produce a particular effect, it is still grossly INADEQUATE to postulate the observation as “law”. This finding is only a probability. 

Clarity in research

Furthermore, the role of doses in tests like these is very crucial. The authors did not expressly state the dose, frequency of administration and the bodyweight of the test rats. If the authors said this, one could have had a basis for extrapolation to the adult human male body weight.

Besides, all the tests (using the different plant parts) producing similar results is suggestive of the fact that the common denominator (ethanol) is more likely than not responsible for the end observation. 

Conflicting findings

Interestingly, another research shows that Agbalumo’s roots are used in traditional gynaecology to treat sterility and sexual weakness. This revelation is in contradiction to claims it causes infertility.

Conclusion

From the available knowledge gathered so far, it has been established that the purported report asserting African star apple fruits may instigate infertility in men is not true of the fruit from the plant. However, various reports attest to star apple’s multipurpose character, with plant parts widely used as food, medicines and firewood.

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