Gossypol is a pigment that is most commonly produced by the stem, seeds, and roots of the cotton plant. Gossypol was first identified as an infertility agent when studies were conducted in China to explain extremely low birth rates in a particular geographic region. The phenomenon was attributed to the use of crude cottonseed oil for cooking; further investigation revealed that the antifertility agent was gossypol.
Gossypol may cause infertility in men, potentially making it a promising alternative to surgical vasectomy. In early research, gossypol shows some evidence of benefit as a treatment for endometriosis and certain cancers, but further research is necessary.
At low doses and for short durations, gossypol is well tolerated. However, its use is limited by the fact that it may cause potassium depletion and infertility.
In traditional medicine practices, gossypol has been used to treat nasal polyps, uterine fibroids, and other types of cancer. A tea of fresh or roasted seeds has been used to treat bronchitis, diarrhea, dysentery, and hemorrhage. Cottonseed oil was used by early American slaves for abortion.
Further research is needed to determine if lower doses, possibly in combination with other therapies, may be effective and safe.

Related Terms

Apogossypol, apogossypol 1b, apogossypol hexaacetate, chiral gossypol, cottonseed, cottonseed flour, cottonseed oil, cottonseed protein, DDG, DDGA, deoxyhemigossypol, DHG, DHGA, GAA, GIL, GOS, gossylic iminolactone, gossylic lactone, gossylic nitrile, gossypium, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum, gossypium oil, gossypol 1a, gossypol 1c, gossypol acetic acid, gossypol dimethyl ether, gossypol ethylamine, gossypol formic acid, gossypol hexamethyl ether, gossypol Schiff's base, gossypol tetramethyl ether, gossypolone, GP, naphthaldehyde, O-hydroxylnaphthaldehyde, polyphenolic bianphthyl gossypol, racemic gossypol.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Contraceptive (males) (Grade: A)
According to human studies, gossypol has been found to suppress fertility in Chinese men. Gossypol may be an effective method of birth control for men and women, although some individuals have experienced irreversible infertility after using gossypol for more than two years.
Cancer (Grade: C)
Limited research suggests that gossypol may slow the growth of cancer in humans. However, gossypol may also promote cancer formation and may not be effective against all types of cancer. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
Endometriosis (Grade: C)
Limited research suggests that gossypol may prevent the growth of endometrial cells (those that line the inside of the uterus) and prevent ovulation. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
Vaginal contraceptive (Grade: C)
Limited research suggests that, when applied to the vagina, gossypol may prevent the movement of spermatozoa. This may make it useful in preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.