That apple a day? Consider choosing it wisely: If it's laden with pesticide residues, it could mess with your sperm.
That's the analysis from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in a study published online this week in the journal Human Reproduction.
The study found that men who ate a range of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, peppers, spinach and apples, with higher levels of pesticide residues had a lower sperm count and a lower percentage of normally-shaped sperm compared to men who ate produce with less pesticide residue. (This finding was true even after fruit was washed before eating.) Researchers said it's the first study to examine exposure to pesticides and semen quality.
Senior study author Jorge Chavarro, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the research doesn't mean people should eliminate fruits and vegetables from their diet — on the contrary; rather consumers should simply choose more carefully. In an email, he wrote:
I think there are two main takeaways from this work. The first one is that, as interesting and potentially alarming these findings may be, this is the first time that pesticide residues in foods have been linked to an adverse reproductive health outcome in humans. It is therefore very important that these results are replicated in other studies, and ideally in randomized trials, before firm conclusions can be made one way or the other.
On the more practical end, the other important point is that our results point to a very specific role of high pesticide residue produce, rather than to intake of fruits and vegetables in general which means that strategies specifically aimed at avoiding high residue produces, such as consuming organic produce if budget allows or selecting fruits and vegetables known to have low levels of pesticide residues may be the preferred way to address this issue...
Chavarro said the easiest way to determine produce safety is to check the dirty dozen/clean fifteen list that the Environmental Working Group releases each year.
Their list is based on the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program which keeps track of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables across the country, he said.
Here's more from the Harvard news release:
Multiple studies have shown that consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables results in measurable pesticide levels in urine. Other studies have uncovered associations between occupational and environmental exposure to pesticides and lower semen quality. But only a few studies have linked consumption of pesticide residues in food to health effects, and none had looked at the effects on semen quality.
The researchers used data from 155 men enrolled in the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, an ongoing National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded study at a fertility center in Boston. Data included 338 semen samples provided during 2007–2012 and validated survey information about participants’ diets. The researchers classified fruits and vegetables according to whether they contained high amounts of pesticide residues (such as peppers, spinach, strawberries, apples, and pears) or low-to-moderate amounts (such as peas, beans, grapefruit, and onions), based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program. They then adjusted for factors such as smoking and body mass index—both known to affect sperm quality—and looked for connections between the men’s intake of produce with pesticide residue and the quality of their sperm.
The results showed that men who ate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residue—more than 1.5 servings per day—had 49% lower sperm count and 32% lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate the least amounts (less than 0.5 serving per day). They also had a lower sperm count, lower ejaculate volume, and lower percentage of normal sperm.
The men who ate the most fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate levels of pesticide residue had a higher percentage of normal sperm compared with those who ate less fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate levels.