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Feel Good Report: Study Finds Pesticide Residue on Produce May Affect Men's Reproductive Health

BY April 2, 2015


Pesticide residue found on produce could be affecting men’s reproductive health.

Harvard University researchers this week released a study showing that men who eat produce with higher concentrations of pesticides had a lower sperm count and lower percentage of normal sperm than those who ate produce with lower residue levels.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report to link consumption of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, a primary exposure route for most people, to an adverse reproductive health outcome in humans,” said Jorge Chavarro, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology and the study’s senior author.

Prior research has shown that eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables results in measurable pesticide levels in the urine. This is the first study of pesticide’s effect on semen quality.

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 percent lower sperm count and 32 percent lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate the least amounts (less than 0.5 serving per day), according to the university. They also had a lower sperm count, lower ejaculate volume and lower percentage of normal sperm.

Don’t stop eating produce, researchers urge.

“These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables in general,” Chavarro said.

Consumers can lower their pesticide exposure by choosing organic produce or conventionally grown crops that don’t harbor as much pesticide.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists these “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables as containing the highest levels of pesticide residue:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet bell peppers, hot peppers
  • Kale/collard greens

These “Clean 15” contain the least amount of pesticide residue, according to EWG:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet potatoes

The National Pesticide Information Center suggests these strategies to remove some chemical residue:

  • First, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize the potential of increased exposure to a single pesticide.
  • Thoroughly wash all produce, even that which is labeled organic and that which you plan to peel.
  • Wash your produce under running water rather than soaking or dunking it.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel when possible.
  • Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, like melons and root vegetables.
  • Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage.
  • Peel fruits and vegetables when possible.
  • Trim fat and skin from meat, poultry and fish to minimize pesticide residue that may accumulate in the fat.


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