The study determined that men who consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue had a 49 percent lower sperm count and a 32 percent lower of normally-formed sperm compared to men who consumed the least amount of produce with pesticides.
Study author Dr. Jorge Chavarro, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, admitted he was surprised to learn about the significant negative effect of pesticides consumption on sperm count.
“While previous work had linked occupational exposure to pesticides to impaired sperm production I was skeptical that pesticide residues in food could have a similar effect,” Chavarro said. “I think this study opened a lot more questions than I had anticipated.”
Researchers examined 338 semen samples from 155 men over a five year period while they attended a fertility center. With ages ranging between 18 and 55 years, participants completed surveys for food frequency. Using the annual United States Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program, researchers categorized the frutis and vegetables as being high, moderate, or low in pesticide residue. Additionally, scientists considered common food preparation practices such as peeling and washing.
Foods with high pesticide residue included peppers, spinach, strawberries, apples and pears, while low pesticides residue foods included beans, grapefruit, and onions.
Researchers said poor semen quality is the leading cause of unsuccessful attempts to achieve pregnancy and one of the most common medical problems among young men. Semen production is very sensitive to environmental exposures and lifestyle factors, leading scientists to believe it is an accurate marker for both morbidity and mortality.
The findings were published in journal Human Reproduction.