Pesticides in fruit and vegetables could damage sperm

Eating fruits and vegetables that have been exposed to a high level of pesticides could reduce both the quantity and quality of a man's sperm, according to research from Harvard University's School of Public Health. The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, revealed that men who regularly ate such fruits and vegetables had about half the amount of sperm and one-third fewer normal sperm compared to men who did not eat pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables.

For the study, 338 semen samples from 155 men who visited a fertility clinic in Boston between 2007 and 2012 were analyzed. The men completed surveys about their diets, including how frequently they ate different types of fruits and vegetables. These foods were separated into high, moderate or low pesticide residues, based on annual pesticide data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Three factors were considered while looking at the sperm: sperm count (number of cells), sperm morphology (shape) and sperm motility (swimming ability). The results showed men who ate high levels of pesticide-laden fruit and vegetables produced an average sperm count of 86 billion sperm per ejaculate, compared to 171 million sperm produced by the men with the lowest pesticide intake. This gap is almost a 50 percent difference. In addition, men who ate high levels of pesticide-laden fruit and vegetables had 5.7 percent normal sperm, whereas men who did not eat much pesticide-laden produce had 7.8 percent normal sperm.

The total amount of fruits and vegetables consumed did not affect the results, but rather the exposure level of those items to pesticides. One researcher noted these results do not mean men should stop consuming fruits and vegetables, but rather to consume organic or low-level pesticide ones.

The study did have some limitations, however. The men who participated in the study were already seeking fertility treatment, where almost half the men had encountered problems with their sperm. So these results may not reflect the wider population. More research is needed to determine a possible correlation.

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