While fruits and vegetables are essential foods for women trying to become pregnant, there is a little known issue with many fruits and vegetables that are harmful to fertility – pesticide residues.
A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine states that among women undergoing infertility treatment in the United States, consuming more fruits and vegetables with high amounts of pesticide residue was associated with a lower chance of pregnancy and a higher risk of pregnancy loss.
“Most Americans are exposed to pesticides daily by consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, a research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of the new study. “There have been concerns for some time that exposure to low doses of pesticides through diet, such as those that we observed in this study, may have adverse health effects, especially in susceptible populations such as pregnant women and their fetus, and on children. Our study provides evidence that this concern is not unwarranted.”
An executive for CropLife International, a trade association representing pesticide manufacturers, disputes the studies findings. Janet Collins stated, “The JAMA research publication does not show a direct link between pesticide residue intake and pregnancy outcome, as the authors state. This is a hypothesis generating study, and as the authors recommend, we agree that before a definitive outcome can be established the issues require further study.”
The study involved 325 women between 18 and 45, all of whom were undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. The women completed a diet assessment questionnaire and the researchers accounted for factors that could influence the study results, including their intake of supplements and residential history. The researchers analyzed each woman’s pesticide exposure by determining whether the fruits and vegetables she consumed had high or low levels of pesticide residues, based on reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program, which monitors the presence of pesticides in foods sold throughout the United States.
Some fruits and vegetables with a low amount of pesticide residue reportedly include avocados, onions, dried plums or prunes, corn and orange juice. Fruits and vegetables with a high amount of pesticide residue reportedly include fresh plums, peaches, strawberries, spinach and peppers.
The researchers found that, compared with women who ate less than one daily serving of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, those who ate 2.3 servings or more had 18% lower probability of getting pregnant and 26% lower probability of giving birth to a live baby.
Consuming fruits and vegetables with a high amount of pesticide residue was positively associated with the probability of losing a pregnancy, the researchers found. However, consuming low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables in lieu of high-pesticide-residue foods was associated with higher odds of pregnancy and giving birth, the researchers found.
“Although we did find that intake of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables were associated to lower reproductive success, intake of low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables had the opposite association,” Chiu said.
“A reasonable choice based on these findings is to consume low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables instead of high-pesticide-residue ones. Another option is to go organic for the fruits and vegetables known to contain high pesticide residues.”
Chiu cautioned that as this association with high pesticide residue foods and infertility is a new phenomenon, it is too soon to rely on this study alone. “It is very important to keep in mind that, as far as we are aware, this is the first time that this association is reported, so it is extremely important that our findings are replicated in other studies,” Chiu said.