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How Does Eating Organic Food Affect Fertility?


If you are trying to conceive, there are some dietary changes you can make to improve your fertility, like switching to a Mediterranean diet and increasing your intake of key vitamins and supplements. But aside from the actual foods you consume, do the pesticides or other chemicals used in these foods affect your fertility? Is it worth it to invest in organic foods to avoid ingesting possibly harmful chemicals?


what are pesticides?


Pesticides are pest-killing substances that are used on fruit and vegetable crops to protect them from molds, fungi, rodents, noxious weeds, and insects. Although designed to prevent the loss of crops, pesticides can cause people to develop some side effects and health conditions, depending on the length of exposure and type of pesticide.  

Most Americans are frequently exposed to small amounts of pesticides through the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables they eat. But the amount of pesticide residue present on conventionally grown foods can vary. Some foods — like avocados, onions, dried plums or prunes, corn, and orange juice — have low amounts of pesticide residue. Foods with higher amounts of pesticide residue include fresh plums, peaches, strawberries, spinach and peppers. These pesticides, though evaluated and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, still concern researchers due to the possible health risks posed to susceptible populations, like pregnant women, fetuses, and children. 


how do pesticides affect fertility?


Harvard researchers have recently discovered an association between pesticide exposure and fertility treatment outcomes. Their study showed that women who consumed more fruits and vegetables with high amounts of pesticide residue had lower IVF success rates compared with women who consumed less of these foods. Meanwhile, women who consumed more fruits and vegetables with low amounts of pesticide residue had higher IVF success rates and were more likely to have a successful live birth. 

It is important to note that the research study only discovered an association, and not a direct link or causal relationship, between pesticide exposure and reproductive outcomes for women undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology. The study was also one of the first of its kind to establish this association, so further research and replications of the study will be required to more deeply explore the relationship. However, experts believe that since the study was well-executed, the results still provide strong evidence that pesticide exposure is associated with reproductive concerns.

Certain reproductive disorders have also been associated with pesticide exposure, such as sperm abnormalities, spontaneous abortion, birth defects, and adverse fetal development effects. Other studies have also shown clear damaging effects on male fertility and semen quality due to pesticide exposure.


impact of organic food on fertility


Organic foods, though not necessarily more nutritious than conventionally grown foods, must abide by certain standards determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These standards prohibit the use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as other substances such as growth hormones. Meanwhile, conventional agriculture does allow the use of these synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in the growth of crops.

Based on the findings of these research studies, experts reason that for women trying to conceive, it might be a good decision to opt for organic produce, especially for the fruits and vegetables that are known to be high in pesticide residue. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental activism organization, compiles a list of the produce items with the highest and lowest amounts of pesticide residue, known as the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15.” The fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticide residue include:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

The 15 items with the lowest pesticide residues are:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Eggplants
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupes
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Cabbage
  • Honeydew melon
  • Kiwi

Although going organic for your produce, especially for the items high in pesticide residues, can be beneficial for your reproductive health, the high cost of organic foods can be a financial barrier for many families. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrition regardless of whether they are organic, and the mere presence of pesticide residues do not make them a harmful addition to your diet, experts say. Thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before eating can also be an important safe handling measure to reduce your consumption of pesticide residues from conventionally grown produce.

However, for individuals and couples trying to conceive, it is important to understand the potentially harmful impact of pesticides on your fertility and reproductive health. Making the switch to organic foods, especially for the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, can be one way to further ensure the health and safety of you and your future child.

Srishti Tyagi
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