Neem oil is a traditional Ayurvedic plant medicine that has been used broadly for thousands of years. The evergreen neem tree grows primarily in India, but has also been spread to other parts of the world. Different components of the tree––such as the bark, leaves and seeds––offer a long list of benefits for various common maladies and ailments.
While neem oil is most commonly known for its use pertaining to the skin and hair, it has also been found in clinical research to possess powerful antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It turns out there’s one more thing neem oil is anti: sperm.
Although neem oil’s sperm-neutralizing effects have been known for centuries, a flurry of scientific research was conducted from 1985 to 1997 with results proving neem oil has great potential as a safe, effective and natural form of birth control.
For one reason or another, however, neem oil as birth control has not only failed to catch on, but seems to have been totally abandoned and forgotten.
So, is neem oil really a safe and effective form of natural, non-hormonal birth control? Let’s take a closer look at the scientific research.
A recent study published in January 2018 titled “Evaluation of Contraceptive Properties of Neem Oil - A Prospective Study” found neem oil to have a 96.2% rate of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy in women in India.
For comparative reference, although “the pill” is 99% effective in theory when used perfectly, the reality is in practice “the pill” is actually 91% effective and 9 in 100 women using the pill will become pregnant each year.
Of the 238 women who applied neem oil to their vaginal passage 5 minutes before sexual intercourse, only 9 became pregnant over the course of 12 to 36 menstrual cycles. No other birth control methods were used other than neem oil.
Study authors concluded “neem seed oil may be used as an external barrier as cost effective herbal contraceptive for its spermicidal property and safe for regular use.”
In addition to neem oil’s effectiveness as a natural birth control, it was also observed that trial subjects had far fewer incidence of leucorrhoea, urinary tract infections and other common sexually transmitted diseases during the treatment period.
In a 1985 study titled “Neem oil—an ideal contraceptive”, sperm was observed in vitro to become totally immotile within 30 seconds of contact with neem oil. In 10 human volunteers, neem oil applied intravaginally before sexual intercourse prevented pregnancy in all instances. This pregnancy-prevention effect also held true in testing conducted on monkeys, rabbits and rats.
Neem was also found to have “anti-implantation/abortifacient” effects in rats and rabbits if applied intravaginally on day 2 to day 7 of expected pregnancy. One month after stopping use of neem oil there was complete reversibility of fertility in the rats and rabbits with no adverse effects on subsequent pregnancies or their offspring.
This means neem oil could potentially act as a safer, non-toxic, non-hormonal alternative to the “morning after” pill to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg or clear an implanted embryo.
Histopathological studies on rats' vagina, cervix, and uterus showed no adverse effects from neem oil in these tissues. In contrast, commonly used over-the-counter vaginal contraceptive creams have been found to cause severe irritant reactions.
Natural, plant-based neem oil appears to be a better alternative to harsh, chemically-manufactured spermicides.
Further, radioisotope studies indicated that neem oil was not absorbed from the vagina into the body, meaning it wouldn’t have any potential systemic effects and only acts locally to the vagina as a sperm neutralizer.
A study published in Immunology and Cell Biology in 1997 titled “Plant immunomodulators for termination of unwanted pregnancy and for contraception and reproductive health” found that neem extracts given orally at early post-implantation stage terminated pregnancy.
Neem seed extracts were given to pregnant rats on days 8, 9 and 10 of pregnancy and then examined again on day 15. In 100% of cases, neem extract caused termination of pregnancy and resorption of embryos. The treatment left no residual permanent effect. The animals regained fertility and went on to deliver normal litters.
Study authors also noted neem’s “inhibitory action on a wide spectrum of microorganisms, including Candida albicans, C. tropicalis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and urinary tract Escherichia coli, Herpes simplex-2 and HIV-1.”
These vaginal pathologies and sexually transmitted infections might be more familiar to you by their commonly used names: yeast infection, candida, gonorrhea, MRSA superbug, UTIs from E. coli, genital herpes and HIV.
Neem oil inhibits the proliferation of all of these and even acts as a natural lubricant. These are the types of “side effects” someone would definitely want from their birth control, not the incredibly detrimental ones associated with conventional hormonal birth control.
In a 1990 study titled “Antifertility effects of neem oil by single intrauterine administration: a novel method for contraception”, researchers administered a single intrauterine dose of neem oil in female rats. This single dose of neem oil into the uterus resulted in an effective birth control lasting between 107 and 180 days, even after repeated matings with males of proven fertility.
By five months post-neem oil administration, these same female rats had completely restored fertility and were able to deliver normal litters with no adverse effects.
A 1993 study titled “Long-term contraceptive effects of intrauterine neem treatment (IUNT) in bonnet monkeys: An alternate to intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCD)” found a single intrauterine administration of neem oil in monkeys blocked pregnancy for 7 to 12 months.
The effect was reversible and all animals subsequently became pregnant and delivered normal babies. The neem oil had no adverse effect on menstrual cycle or ovarian function.
Study authors concluded “IUNT can be used for long-term, reversible contraception, without any apparent side effects, and that the method could provide an alternate to currently used intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCD).”
Imagine going to a gynecologist for a single application of organic, seed-extracted neem oil administered in the uterus twice a year, rather than having them implant a hormone-emitting, plastic IUD or a disruptive, inflammatory copper-covered plastic IUD, both of which have long lists of systemic side effects, hormone disruption and adverse implications for long-term fertility.
Neem oil on the other hand appears to be nearly as effective as IUDs against unwanted pregnancy, helps support vaginal health, is effective against sexually transmitted infections and even acts as a natural lubricant.
More research and study is needed to establish best practices for neem oil as a viable birth control option, but the established research is quite convincing. A combination of the Natural Cycles app to navigate fertility windows, plus intravaginal application of neem oil prior to sex could be an incredibly effective and safe method of birth control.