Originally published November 10 2015
Is conventional pesticide-sprayed produce making you infertile?
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Produce high in pesticide residues may lower men's sperm count and quality, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and published in the journal Human Reproduction on March 31.
Men who ate food highest in herbicide, insecticide and fungicide residue had half the sperm count of men who ate food with the lowest residue, the study found. The effect did not come from the overall quantity of fruits and vegetables consumed, but from the amount of pesticide residue.
"These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables in general," researcher Jorge Chavarro said. "In fact, we found that total intake of fruit and vegetables was completely unrelated to semen quality. 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."
Dramatic effects on sperm count, qualityThe researchers analyzed 338 semen samples collected from 155 men who participated in the ongoing "Environment and Reproductive Health" (EARTH) Study between 2007 and 2012. All participants were between the ages of 18 and 55, had not had a vasectomy, and were part of a couple undergoing fertility treatment using their own sperm and eggs.
Using data from the annual United States Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program on pesticide residues detected on different forms of produce, the researchers categorized individual fruits and vegetables as either low, moderate or high in residue. This categorization was also based on typical preparation methods that might reduce residue, such as peeling or washing.
Based on food frequency questionnaires, the participants were divided into four groups, from those who ate the most foods from the high-residue category (1.5 or more servings a day; "highest intake") to those who ate the least (less than 0.5 servings per day; "lowest intake").
Even after accounting for other risk factors such as smoking or obesity, the participants with the highest intake of high-residue foods had a sperm count 49 percent lower than the men with the lowest intake, and had 32 percent less normally formed sperm. In fact, the men in the highest intake group were actually more active and had a healthier overall diet than the men in the lowest intake group.
Men who consumed the greatest amount of produce in the low residue group had 37 percent more normally formed sperm than men who consumed the least.
Mounting evidence of harmAlthough prior studies have linked occupational pesticide exposure to reduced semen quality, the new study is the first to extend that connection to pesticide residue on food.
"These findings suggest that exposure to pesticides used in agricultural production through diet may be sufficient to affect spermatogenesis in humans," the researchers write.
Hagai Levine of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, co-author of an accompanying editorial, noted that it's no surprise that pesticide residues can harm the human reproduction. After all, many of these chemicals are specifically designed to disrupt the reproduction of insects and other organisms.
In the editorial, he and Icahn colleague Shanna Swan note that low semen quality "is the leading cause of unsuccessful attempts to achieve pregnancy and one of the most common medical problems among young men ... it has been suggested as an important marker of male health, predicting both morbidity and mortality."
The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the dozen or so fruits and vegetables that are highest and lowest in pesticide residues. These lists, which function as an easy way to reduce pesticide exposure without eating a completely organic diet, can be found at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
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