Who would have thought that there were so many things that could affect your fertility?! We know that smoking and drinking aren’t great for egg and sperm health, but pesticides? Are they really going to lower your chances of conception? We turned to Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy) and asked her to explain.
Firstly, let’s start by looking at what is meant by ‘organic’ food…
Organic foods are those that have been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, irradiation, or GMOs (GMOs). Organic produce is cultivated with natural fertilisers such as compost and manure, and weeds are controlled with natural methods such as hand weeding and crop rotation, keeping it as close to its natural state as possible.
This knowledge is vital for our health since we are exposed to everything the item has been exposed to before we eat it when we eat fruits, vegetables, and animal products. In practise, this implies that if you buy onions or carrots grown in soil that has been treated with synthetic chemical pesticides, they will be contaminated with some amount of pesticide residue.
Consuming organic food reduces the toxic load in the body helping to slow the ageing process and helping to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
So, to the question, can pesticides affect fertility?
According to a recent study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, consuming fruits and vegetables with high pesticide residue—such as strawberries, spinach, peppers, or grapes—may impair women’s chances of conceiving and having children. The study looked at 325 women who were undergoing ART (assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF) at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Clinic as part of the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, which was published on October 30, 2017. Researchers compared data from questionnaires filled out by the women with official data on average pesticide residues on fresh fruits and vegetables in order to assess the women’s pesticide exposure from their diet.
The study found that women who ate more than two servings of high-pesticide fruits or vegetables each day, compared with women who ate an average of one each day, were 18% less likely to become pregnant and 26% less likely to have a live birth than women with the lowest exposure.
The women in the low pesticide group ate less than one serving a day of conventionally grown (high pesticide) fruits and vegetables. The women in the high pesticide group were eating more than 2.3 servings per day of conventional fruits and vegetables.
According to a recent study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, men who ate fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residues—such as strawberries, spinach, and peppers—had lower sperm count and a lower percentage of normal sperm than those who ate produce with lower residue levels.
t’s the first study to investigate the link between pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables and sperm quality. The researchers examined data from 155 men who participated in the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, which was being conducted at a fertility centre in Boston and is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Data included 338 semen samples provided during 2007–2012 and validated survey information about participants’ diets.
Based on data from the US Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program, the researchers classified fruits and vegetables as having high pesticide residues (such as peppers, spinach, strawberries, apples, and pears) or low-to-moderate pesticide residues (such as peas, beans, grapefruit, and onions). They then accounted for characteristics like smoking and BMI, both of which are known to impair sperm quality, and searched for links between the men’s consumption of pesticide-contaminated vegetables and the quality of their sperm.
The results showed that men who ate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residue—more than 1.5 servings per day—had 49% lower sperm count and 32% lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate the least amounts (less than 0.5 serving per day).
They also had a lower sperm count, lower ejaculate volume, and lower percentage of normal sperm. The men who ate the most fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate levels of pesticide residue had a higher percentage of normal sperm compared with those who ate fewer fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate levels.
These research findings should not be used to discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables, but rather to consider which food contains the fewest pesticide residues, even those that are not organic.
Are all non-organically farmed crops as contaminated as each other?
The clean 15 and the dirty dozen list helps out on this…..
There are numerous advantages to eating organic food, but if you are unable to go completely organic at this time, the dirty dozen and clean 15 lists can assist you in making good decisions and prioritising what to purchase organically. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organisation, updates the dirty dozen and clean 15 lists. It assigns a ranking to pesticide contamination on fruits and vegetables that have been processed for consumption. This indicates that the product has been carefully washed and, if needed, peeled. The EWG’s list is based on produce samples from the United States, however the Pesticide Action Network UK compiles a list based on UK data collected by the UK Government’s Pesticide Residue in Food (PRiF) committee.
The Clean Fifteen:
- Frozen Peas
- Honeydew Melon
- Cantaloupe Melon
The Dirty Dozen:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
Although the Dirty Dozen list focuses on fruits and vegetables, pesticide residues can be discovered in a variety of foods, including grains like barley, oats, and wheat (and subsequently bread).
How to incorporate more organic foods into your fertility diet:
- Grow your own vegetables, fruits, and herbs (if you don’t have a garden grow on window- sills or use balcony containers)
- Buy seasonal, direct from local farmers or trusted suppliers
- Shop in local farm shops and at farmers’ markets
- Try out an organic box scheme