Pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables damage sperm development
It goes without saying that nutrients are important for fertility and regularly eating fresh fruit and vegetables forms an essential part of a healthy diet. However, the findings of new research from Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA has found a link between pesticides on the fruits and vegetables we consume and unhealthy sperm.
Published in the journal Human Reproduction, scientists found that men who ate fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residues had a higher incidence of abnormal sperm compared with those that ate food with low pesticide residues.
This is the first study that has investigated how pesticides on foods we consume can interfere with male fertility and sperm quality. The focus of previous research has been on environmental and occupational pesticide exposure and how this affects semen quality.
Jorge Chavarro, senior author of this latest study and assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology said: “To our knowledge, this is the first report to link consumption of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, a primary exposure route for most people, to an adverse reproductive health outcome in humans.”
The EARTH project
Chavarro and colleagues collated and analysed data from participants in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study. A total of 155 men aged between 18 and 55 participated in the research. Their diet was assessed in a validated survey, and a total of 338 semen samples were collected and assessed.
Data from U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program was used to categorise fruits and vegetables as containing either high or low concentrations of pesticide residues.
Spinach, peppers, apples, strawberries, and pear had high amounts of pesticides; while grapefruit, beans, peas, and onions were classified as having low or moderate concentrations of pesticide residue.
Consuming pesticide residues may decrease sperm count by almost 50%
Researchers found that men who consumed over 1.5 servings every day of vegetables and fruits considered high in pesticide residue had 32% lower percentage of normal sperm and 49% lower sperm count compared with men who consumed less than 0.5 servings of the same foods daily.
However, this study also highlighted the importance of fruits and vegetables for semen health. Men had a higher percentage of normal sperm if they ate more of these foods with low to moderate levels of pesticide residue compared with those men who consumed less vegetables and fruits with similar levels of residue.
For this reason, Chavarro points out that the results of their study should not put men off eating fruits and vegetables:
“In fact, we found that consuming more fruits and vegetables with low pesticide residues was beneficial. This suggests that implementing strategies specifically targeted at avoiding pesticide residues, such as consuming organically grown produce or avoiding produce known to have large amounts of residues, may be the way to go.”
More studies are necessary
Although during this study researchers took into consideration other factors known to influence sperm quality, such as smoking and weight, the results need to be interpreted with caution. Diet was only assessed once throughout the study, leaving room for error.
Also, there was no information available on whether the foods consumed were conventionally or organically grown. It’s also possible that there were some miscalculations when determining the level of pesticide exposure as estimated were determined by what foods were consumed rather than individual measurements.
Choose organic produce
Eating organic produce wherever possible may help men struggling with poor fertility. Avoiding pesticide residues will help to support better health and may improve sperm count and mobility. Certified organic fruits and vegetables will provide much needed nutrition, without harmful chemical residues.
“Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic,” Y.H. Chiu, M.C. Afeiche, A.J. Gaskins, P.L. Williams, J.C. Petrozza, C. Tanrikut, R. Hauser, and J.E. Chavarro, Human Reproduction, March 30, 2015, doi:10.1093/humrep/dev064