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What Price Perfect Fruit?

Jun. 9, 2015|781 views
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Couples seeking to conceive a child may want to carefully examine their food consumption habits. That’s because new research reveals that men who eat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables laced with pesticide residues may suffer from poor sperm quality and quantity. In fact, men with the highest levels of pesticides in their bloodstreams had almost half as many sperm as men with little or no pesticide residues. Sperm quality also suffered, making it considerably less likely that these men would be able to fertilize an egg.

"These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruit(s) and vegetables in general,” said Jorge Chavarro, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “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.”

High-pesticide-residue conventional produce includes strawberries, spinach, apples, pears, and peppers. Buying organic versions of these foods may help reduce one’s exposure to these problematic pesticides. Conversely, eating more fruits and vegetables in general—provided they did not contain pesticides—actually boosted sperm health and quality. In a report published recently in Human Reproduction, the study’s authors wrote: "To our knowledge, this is the first report on the consumption of fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue in relation to semen quality…These findings suggest that exposure to pesticides used in agricultural production through diet may be sufficient to affect spermatogenesis in humans.”

In other words, men who eat lots of conventionally grown produce—especially items that traditionally feature high levels of pesticide residues—are likely to experience less-than-ideal sperm quality. This is another example of why it makes sense to invest in organic produce, especially when it comes to food items that tend to be high in pesticides when grown conventionally.

Other problematic food items items designated as among the “Dirty Dozen” by the consumer advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), include: Celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, and snap peas.

Environmental Working Group website. Available at:

Y.H. Chiu et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction, 2015 DOI: 10.1093/humrep/dev064

Hagai Levine and Shanna H. Swan. Is dietary pesticide exposure related to semen quality? Positive evidence from men attending a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction, DOI: 10.1093/humrep/dev065

Oxford University Press website. Press release. Available at:


Tags:  mediterranean diet, organic, pregnancy, prevention