Pesticide Residue in Produce and Male Fertility


Eating Fruits and Vegetables with More Pesticide Residue Linked to Lowered Fertility: Harvard Study

Something for men to take note of: a new Harvard study has found a connection between consumption of fruits and vegetables with high pesticide residue and lower sperm counts, a lower percentage of normal sperm and less ejaculate, compared to men who ate produce with lower residue, and even men who ate almost no produce at all.

Researchers at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health examined data from 155 men enrolled in the Environment and Reproductive Health Study, an ongoing study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences being conducted at a fertility center in Boston. The researchers used 338 semen samples supplied between 2007 and 2012, as well as survey information about participants’ diets.

Fruits and vegetables were classified according to whether they had high amounts of pesticide residue, or low-to-moderate amounts.

In conventionally grown produce, fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residue are generally those which are not peeled or taken out of a shell before they’re eaten. Examples: apples, grapes, strawberries, peppers, spinach, apricots, radishes. Fruits and vegetables with lower pesticide residue tend to be those that are peeled or taken out of a shell before being eaten. Examples: oranges, bananas, beans, onions, peanuts.

Researchers used data from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program, which collects and reports pesticide residue data for the nation’s food supply. The research team then adjusted for such factors as smoking and body mass index, which are known to affect sperm quality. Connections were then examined between how much and what type of produce the men ate, and the quality of their sperm.

The study found that men who ate more fruits and vegetables with higher pesticide residue — more than 1.5 servings a day — had 49 percent lower sperm count and a 32 percent lower count of normal sperm than men who ate the least amount of produce (less than half a serving a day).

The men who ate the most fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate pesticide residue had a higher percentage of normal sperm than men who ate less fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate pesticide residue.

This is the first study to examine the link between exposure to pesticide residues from fruits and vegetables, and semen quality. The study was published online recently in the journal Human Reproduction.

Previous studies had shown that eating non-organic fruits and vegetables causes people to have measurable levels of pesticides in their urine. Studies have also found a link between occupational and environmental exposure to pesticides, and lower semen quality.

Study senior author Jorge Chavarro, MD, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at T. H. Chan School of Public Health, cautioned that the study’s findings should not discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables in general, and he pointed out that eating more produce with lower pesticide residues was beneficial.

The solution, then, is to buy organic produce for those fruits and vegetables that are not protected by a tough shell that’s discarded before eating, or those whose tough peels may be eaten, as in the case of potatoes.

Eating Fruits and Vegetables Is Important for Many Reasons

It really is a wise investment of time and money to look for healthy produce you can eat (assuming that you can’t grow your own organic fruits and vegetables), as fruits and vegetables have been found in many studies to provide an almost countless number of nutrients, including antioxidants that actively fight disease and aging, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

Consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is known to help fight excess weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (and stroke), type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Fruits and vegetables also make far superior snacks to most things you’ll find in vending machines. Grabbing a banana or some baby carrots is a much better way to go than heading for the vending machine. Drinking a glass of all-natural fruit juice is infinitely better for you than reaching for a soda.

Health experts recommend including produce that comes in different, bright colors as part of your daily diet. According to the USDA, you should fill about half your plate with fruits and vegetables, as they are filling but low in calories, compared to other foods of similar weight.

By Jamell Andrews