July 2nd, 2015
Infertility is one of the most common problems facing couples worldwide. According to statistics, 35% to 40% of all infertility cases can be attributed to men. And in men, the two prime reasons of infertility are either low number of sperms or sperms of poor quality.
Several studies done in the past have found that environmental exposure to pesticides can affect the quality of semen. Similarly, men who are in regular contact with pesticides are at a risk of infertility as an occupational hazard. However, a new study published recently in the journal Human Reproduction has found that pesticides present in the fruits and vegetables that we consume can also have an adverse effect on the quality of semen.
The study, which was led by Jorge Chavarro from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was carried out on 155 men who went to an infertility clinic between 2007 and 2012 because of problems in conceiving. They were asked to fill up a questionnaire of 138 questions pertaining to 38 fruits and vegetables. The men were asked about how often they ate these food items and in what quantities. These fruits and vegetables contain low to high amounts of pesticide residue as per the statistics obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Examples of low pesticide residue containing fruits and vegetables include grapefruit, onions, peas and beans. High pesticide residue is found in fruits and vegetables like strawberries, apples, pears and spinach.
The researchers noticed that half of the participants consumed at least 3.5 servings of these fruits and vegetables per day.
It was seen that the total sperm count per ejaculate was around 171 million in men who consumed fruits and vegetables with low to medium amount of pesticide residue. On the other hand, men consuming fruits and vegetables with high pesticide residue had a total sperm count per ejaculate was around 86 million. It was also seen that there were 7.5% sperms that were normal in the former group compared to 5.1% in the latter group. This shows that high pesticide residue affects not only the total sperm count but also the quality of sperms in the semen.
The total amount of fruits and vegetables consumed by the day had no bearing on the semen quality. But the quality of semen got affected when at least 1.5 servings of high pesticide residue produce was eaten every day.
High pesticide fruit may result in poor quality semen even when other confounding factors are taken into consideration
Not only did the researchers took into account the men’s weight in relation to their height, and their smoking habits- factors which can influence the quality of semen; they also took into consideration other confounding factors like the age, race, physical activity and urogenital conditions of the participants. However, the end result remained the same- high pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables has a direct bearing on spermatogenesis.
Researchers do not yet know the name of specific pesticides that affect the quality of semen. They are trying to find out whether any specific pesticide or a concoction of pesticides affects the quality and quantity of sperms. They also do not at present know whether pesticides also affect the factors responsible for infertility in females. However, this study definitely acts as a wakeup call for all the people to switch to organic food if possible. If not, at least wash the fruits and vegetables as thoroughly as you can to limit the amount of pesticide residue on their surface.
“Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic,” by Chiu YH, Afeiche MC, Chavarro JE, et al. Published in the June 2015 issue of the journal Human Reproduction, accessed on June 11, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023
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