Birth Control for Men: Pesticide!

A diet with pesticide treated produce (especially spinach and strawberries) is linked to a lower sperm count.

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It turns out there has been birth control for men around the whole time, it’s called pesticide.  Pesticide exposure for people who work with it have been known to have lower fertility rates, but the majority of us not working with the chemicals are exposed mostly through diet.  Assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, Jorge Chavarro, MD has put out a new  study published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Chavarro and his team wanted to find out if pesticide residues left on fruits and vegetables may have any similar effects on sperm.  Their findings show that there is something going on with that.  They found that men who ate fruits and vegetables with a lot of pesticides do in fact have a lower sperm count and more odd-shaped sperm than those who have lower levels of exposure to pesticide in their diets.

In a period of eighteen months, researchers used data from the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, including semen samples from 155 men being treated at a fertility clinic in Boston and a food frequency questionnaire they filled out.  Those researchers determined the pesticide exposure by comparing the answers on the questionnaire with the government data about pesticide levels in the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program.

While not specifying individual foods, the researchers classified produce according to high to low levels of pesticides.  Men who ate fruits with the high pesticide classification had 49% lower sperm count and 32% fewer normally shaped sperm.  That is, when compared to men who ate the least amount of high pesticide classed produce.

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Each piece of produce was scored on its level pesticides detected, the level of pesticides which exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance level, and if the produce had three or more types of pesticides detected.  Here is the top list of produce ranked from highest to lowest, (the bigger the score, the more it hit all three criteria):

  • Green, yellow and red peppers (6)
  • Spinach (6)
  • Strawberries (6)
  • Celery (6)
  • Blueberries (5)
  • Potatoes (5)
  • Peaches and plums (5)
  • Apples or pears (5)
  • Winter squash (4)
  • Kale, mustard greens and chard greens (4)
  • Grapes and raisins (4)

The team didn’t completely rip open a can of worms onto the pesticide companies by teasing out any associations with specific pesticides.  They did, however, put out a statement that they believe a mixture of pesticides rather than any particular one is responsible for the link.  The greatest variable in the analysis concerns the proportion of fruits and vegetables consumed which use three or more pesticides.  “The more pesticides are applied on any particular crop, that seems to be having a bigger impact,” Chavarro said.

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Chavarro claims to remain skeptical since this is the first study into pesticide fertility effects on non-workers.  “As far as we are aware, this is the first time that something like this has been reported,” he says.  “It will be very important to replicate these results in other studies.”  Those who would rather be concerned about exposure to pesticides in their diets are able to lower it by eating organic, choosing produce that isn’t on the Environmental Working Group’s  dirty dozen list.

 

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