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    Khat Plant May Enhance Male Fertility

    <P>Leaves of Khat Plant May Stimulate Sperm</P>

    WebMD Health News

    June 29, 2004 -- Chemicals found in the leaves of the African khat plant may help enhance male fertility by revving up men's sperm.

    Researchers tested the effects of the chemicals on mouse and human sperm and found that they stimulate the final stage of sperm maturation when the sperm develops the ability to fertilize an egg.

    The khat plant has been cultivated in East Africa and the Arabian peninsula for centuries. Chewing the leaves of the plant releases cathinone, a stimulant that produces euphoria.

    Researchers say cathinone is an unstable substance that then is broken down into cathine and norephedrine in the body. Both of these chemicals belong to a group of chemicals known as PPAs, which are similar to the stimulants amphetamine and adrenaline.

    "This study has shown for the first time that PPAs have a direct effect on sperm," says researcher Lynn Fraser, professor of reproductive biology at King's College in London, in a news release. "These preliminary data suggest that PPAs, at appropriate doses, might provide a new approach for enhancing natural fertility."

    Khat Plant May Boost Sperm

    Although people who chew khat leaves say the plant can improve a man's sex drive and his ability to maintain an erection, researchers say that there has also been concern that the prolonged use of the plant may harm the male reproductive system.

    In this study, researchers examined the effects of cathine and norephedrine on mouse and human sperm in the laboratory. The results were presented this week at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Berlin.

    The study showed that these chemicals stimulated the final stage of sperm maturation as well as maintained the sperm at a potential fertilizing state for a longer period of time compared with untreated sperm.

    Researchers say these effects may enhance male fertility by giving the sperm more time to reach the egg as well as hastening the overall process.

    For example, the study showed that when treated mouse sperm were mixed with unfertilized eggs, the sperm were able to fertilize much more quickly than untreated sperm.

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