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Pesticides in Fruits, Vegetables May Affect Semen Quality

Mar 31, 2015 01:48 PM EDT
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In a curious new study, researchers have realized that pesticides in fruits and vegetables may affect the quality of men's semen.

The results, published in the journal Human Reproduction, show that men who ate the most fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue - such as strawberries, spinach and peppers - had a 49 percent lower sperm count. They also had a 32 percent lower percentage of normally-formed sperm compared to men who consumed the least amount of these pesticide-containing foods.

However, it should be pointed out that overall, the total amount of fruit and vegetables that these 155 men consumed was unrelated to changes in any measurements of semen quality in the group as a whole. So don't worry, just because you like to get your daily dose of fruits and veggies doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to lose your best swimmers.

"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," researcher Jorge Chavarro, at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement. "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."

Previous studies have shown that occupational exposure to pesticides might have an effect on semen quality, but until now scientists hadn't delved into the effects of pesticides found in our diet.

During the study, Chavarro and his colleagues analyzed 338 semen samples from 155 men - aged 18 to 55 - attending a fertility center from 2007-2012. Using a questionnaire, researchers assessed the men's diets by asking them, for example, how many daily portions of fruit and vegetables they consumed on average.

The fruit and vegetables were categorized as being high (e.g. apples, strawberries), moderate or low (e.g. beans, onions) in pesticide residues based on data from the annual United States Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program.

It turns out the group of men with the highest intake of pesticide-heavy fruit and vegetables had an average total sperm count of 86 million sperm per ejaculate - that's compared to men eating the least amount, who had an average of 171 million sperm per ejaculate. In addition, the percentage of normally formed sperm was an average of 7.5 percent in men in the group with the lowest intake, whereas it was reportedly 5.1 percent in the men with the highest intake.

There were no differences seen between men who consumed fruit and vegetables with low-to-moderate pesticide residues. In fact, it even seemed there was a higher percentage of normally-shaped sperm among men who consumed the most fruit and vegetables with low pesticide residues.

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

More research will need to be conducted in the future to prove this association definitively, but the findings carry important implications for human health. Semen quality is not only the main reason some women can't get pregnant, but also has been suggested as an important marker of male health, predicting both morbidity and mortality.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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