Many factors can affect male and female fertility, any one of which may result in lack of conception. Now, a new study has reported that pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables may decrease a man’s sperm count by almost 50%. The findings were published online on March 30 in the journal Human Reproduction by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The study authors note that pesticide exposure can impact sperm quality; however, whether the same effect from diet is unknown. Therefore, they conducted a study of men enrolled in the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study, which is an ongoing prospective (forward-looking) study at an academic medical fertility center. From 2007 through 2012, male partners (155 men) of subfertile couples provided 338 semen samples.
After assessing the men’s diets, semen samples were collected over an 18-month period. Sperm concentration and motility (movement) were measured by computer-aided semen analysis (CASA). Based on statistics from the annual United States Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program, fruits and vegetables were classified as containing high or low-to-moderate pesticide residues. The data was subjected to statistical analysis to determine the association of fruit and vegetable intake with sperm parameters.
The investigators found that total fruit and vegetable intake was unrelated to semen quality parameters. However, high pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake was associated with poorer semen quality. On average, men with the highest 25% of pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake (more than 1.5 servings/day) had 49% lower total sperm count and 32% lower percentage of normal-shaped sperm than men in the lowest 25% of intake (less than 0.5 servings/day). Low-to-moderate pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake was related to a higher percentage of normal-shaped sperm. Sperm that are abnormally shaped (morphologically abnormal) are less likely to fertilize an egg and result in the development of a normal embryo.
The researchers noted that a limitation of the study was that it relied on surveillance data, rather than individual pesticide evaluation. They recommended that further studies should be done to determine more specific factors.
Take home message:
A semen analysis is a routine component of an infertility exam; thus, if a man’s analysis is normal, it is unlikely that sperm quality/number is a factor. However, it still would be prudent to avoid fruit and vegetables that may contain pesticides. Fruit and vegetables are components of a healthy diet—as long as they are pesticide free. This can be assured by purchasing organic produce.