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After reading Mahmoud's article (2012) I started wondering...

Does daily intake of hibiscus juice increase the risk of impotence in a human male? If so, what levels of hibiscus is beneficial and what levels would cause impotence? Please help me.

References

Mahmoud, Y. I. (2012). Effect of extract of Hibiscus on the ultrastructure of the testis in adult mice. Acta histochemica, 114(4), 342-348.
DOI: 10.1016/j.acthis.2011.07.002 PMID: 21798576

  • Where did you get this info, and what has your research showed you so far? – DoctorWhom Apr 9 '18 at 6:32
  • I have heard that hibiscus has a lot of health benefits. I wish to drink hibiscus tea/juice. – Unknown x Apr 9 '18 at 6:36
  • So, are you worried about the effect of impotence on male mice?? if so, this is off topic and belongs to biology.se – Graham Chiu Apr 9 '18 at 6:42
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    @GrahamChiu - I could stand corrected here but I think this is on-topic here. Many experiments are conducted on mice to test hypotheses and the study was based on the fact that there is little scientific evidence on potential adverse effects on humans using hibiscus extracts in tea or other beverages – Chris Rogers Apr 9 '18 at 7:19
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The tea preparation used in the study was described:

Cold Hibiscus extract was prepared by soaking 15 g of Hibiscus calyces in 500 ml of cold distilled water at 4°C for a whole day. The boiled extract was prepared by macerating 15 g of H. sabdariffa calyces with 500 ml boiling distilled water for 15 min and allowed to cool to room temperature. Both extracts were filtered through Whatman’s # 1 filter paper. Each mouse was given orally 0.2 ml of the prepared extract, which contains 6 mg of Hibiscus calyces. This represents a dose of 200 mg/kg body weight and is equivalent to 2 cups consumed by an average person.

In the results of the study, cold and boiled H. sabdariffa extract treated mice had 43.5% and 52.5% abnormal spermatozoa, respectively. How it would play out in humans is difficult to say.

The paper was concluded with the following:

The results also suggest that the apparent safety of this herb should be re-evaluated and precautions taken against heavy over-consumption as a beverage, although the sensitivity toward this herb may be different for man in relation to rodents and care must be taken in extrapolating animal experimental studies with humans.

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There is a very bold distinction in terminology to observe between impotence – or erectile dysfunction –, and fertility or changes to the testis and spermatozoa.

The study in question does not say anything about impotence but reported a

The results clearly demonstrate that aqueous extracts from dried calyx of H. sabdariffa, either cold or boiled, alter normal sperm morphology and testicular ultrastructure and adversely influence the male reproductive fertility in albino mice.

This cautionary tale is an interesting result and has to be followed up, just like the authors conclude, not in the least, because:

The results also suggest that the apparent safety of this herb should be re-evaluated and precautions taken against heavy over-consumption as a beverage, although the sensitivity toward this herb may be different for man in relation to rodents and care must be taken in extrapolating animal experimental studies with humans.

But

These results are not only new but solitary. Not only is this herb apparently used abundantly and already for a very long time, the traditional folk wisdom for this herb has no adverse effects recorded. While that may not count as much, it is a weak indicator not to be dismissed entirely.

Contrasting to Mahmoud's findings, a recent review found

Additionally, deleterious effects on the testis and spermatozoa and an adverse influence in the male reproductive fertility of albino mice were also reported after a cHs WE was administered daily for 4 weeks in a dose of 200 mg/kg (Y. I. Mahmoud, 2012). In contrast to these studies, long term administration of Hs WE for 10 weeks and hibiscus anthocyanins (50–200 mg/kg b.w.) for 5 days did not affect the male reproductive system in rats (Ali et al., 2012).[…]
Based on the data presented above, dosages up to 200 mg/kg should be safe and not show signs of toxicity, but further studies, most importantly with chemically well characterised extracts, are warranted.[…] Taken together, the data available today from preclinical and clinical studies does not provide substantiated evidence of any therapeutically relevant interaction potential of commonplace teas or beverages containing hibiscus and its preparations. This complements the evidence based on the complete absence of drug interaction case reports involving hibiscus in the scientific literature.
From: Inês Da-Costa-Rocha et al.: "Hibiscus sabdariffa L. – A phytochemical and pharmacological review", Food Chemistry 165 (2014) 424–443, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.05.002

Most of the available data indicates a large range of overall safety for this herb. Even the systematic review above bases its evaluation on the Mahmoud paper in concluding that 200mg/kg body weight per day should be of no concern.

But the Mahmoud paper has several grave weaknesses:

  • the whole shebang of scientific procedures is based on a single batch of herbs
  • this batch was procured on a local market
  • the batch was not tested for pesticides or similar adulterations
  • the batch was chemically not very well defined at all, but just used as is, phytochemicals in natural products vary in sometimes astounding amounts
  • no hint of a possible mechanism of action was given

Other studies on Hibiscus species come to almost diametrically opposed conclusions regarding infertility for sabdariffa:

Idris: Protective role of Hibiscus sabdariffa calyx extract against streptozotocin induced sperm damage in diabetic rats. 2012

Or regarding impotence, as one herb traditionally used against impotence in male was reported as Hibiscus mutabilis (Ethnomedicobotanical study of indigenous knowledge on medicinal plants used for the treatment of reproductive problems in Nalbari district, Assam, India, 2018)

Summary

There is no evidence presented for this hibiscus species (sabdariffa) as a cause for impotence. A single study came to the conclusion that Hibiscus sabdariffa extract might interfere with rodent fertility.

Even if rodents displayed detrimental effects, which are nowhere sure to be translatable into human effects, in this unreplicated, not followed-up, single study with its severe limitations, even rodents might rest assured until:

  • the effects are replicated
  • in human cells at least
  • the chemical makeup of samples is ascertained
  • possible adulterations are ruled out
  • (a mechanism of action is proposed)

Taking too large doses of anything is not recommended anyway. For this herb it seems as if two cups a day will not do much harm.

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