Pesticide residues linked to reduced sperm quality

Wednesday, 08 April, 2015

Pesticide residues in food have been linked with lower sperm counts and reduced sperm morphology in men’s semen in a new study published in the journal Human Reproduction.

The study found that men who ate fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue had a 49% lower sperm count and a 32% lower percentage of normally formed sperm than men who consumed a smaller amount of fruit and vegetables with high pesticide residue.

Interestingly, however, the study found that the total amount of fruit and vegetables consumed was unrelated to changes in any measurements of semen quality in the study group as a whole.

“These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables in general. 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,” said Jorge Chavarro, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Produce that was categorised as low in pesticide residue included peas, beans, grapefruit and onions; fruit and vegetables classified as having high residue levels included capsicum, spinach, strawberries, apples and pears. The researchers took into account food preparation practices such as peeling and washing.

There was a significant trend towards having a higher percentage of normally shaped sperm among men who consumed the most fruit and vegetables with low pesticide residues - an increase from 5.7 to 7.8%.

“These findings suggest that exposure to pesticides used in agricultural production through diet may be sufficient to affect spermatogenesis in humans,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

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