Eating lots of fruits and veg with high amounts of residual pesticide on them could have negative effects on sperm health, a new study has found. According to the results, in men who are already seeking fertility treatment, consuming such produce is associated with not only lower sperm counts, but also fewer normal sperm.
But before you chuck that apple, the researchers found that total fruit and veg intake was completely unrelated to semen quality, and the study only investigated men who were attending fertility clinics. However, if the same holds true for the general population, the findings could have both clinical and public health implications. The study has been published in Human Reproduction, alongside a discussion article.
It has been known for some time that certain pesticides are capable of disrupting the human endocrine system, which is our network of glands and hormones that regulates various bodily functions. It’s therefore no surprise that a wealth of studies have shown how some of these chemicals could negatively impact our reproductive function. Back in the ‘70s, for example, a number of infertility cases, including men with a complete absence of sperm, were reported in a pesticide factory that were convincingly linked to occupational exposure of the chemical DBCP.
But while numerous studies have looked into how environmental or occupational exposure to pesticides could be adversely affecting reproductive function, few have looked into the potential impacts of exposure through diet. To address this gap, scientists from Harvard School of Public Health decided to investigate the relationship between consumption of fruits and vegetables and their pesticide residues with semen quality.
For their study, the researchers enrolled 155 men aged 18-55 who had been attending a fertility center between 2007-2012. Alongside analyzing a total of 338 semen samples, they also obtained data about the participants’ diets through a questionnaire that was designed to find out their average intake of fruit and veg. Using information from the annual U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program, the researchers classed the produce consumed as being either high, moderate or low in pesticide residues. Peas and onions, for example, fell into the low category, whereas apples and strawberries fell into the high category.
Next, they divided the men into groups depending on how much fruit and vegetables they ate of the three different pesticide residue categories. After adjusting for things like BMI, smoking and abstinence time, the researchers found that although total fruit and veg intake was not related to measures of semen quality, intake of high-pesticide produce was linked to poorer semen health.
Those who ate the highest amount of pesticide-laden fruit and veg had close to 50% fewer total sperm in their samples than men who consumed the least. Furthermore, pesticide consumption was also associated with a reduction in normally formed sperm as those who consumed the most had 32% fewer morphologically normal sperm than those in the lowest consumption groups.
While the findings are interesting, it’s necessary to highlight the fact that only men who were already seeking fertility treatment were examined, half of whom had at least one issue with sperm quality, meaning it’s difficult to generalize the findings. More studies are therefore required to examine the effects on different populations, especially since genetics could also play a role.