Researchers examined data on eating habits and pregnancy outcomes
for 325 women who went through a total of 541 cycles of fertility
treatments at a clinic in Boston. Overall, 228 of the fertility
treatment cycles resulted in a live birth.
Based on women’s responses to dietary questionnaires, researchers
ranked their pesticide residue exposure from fruits and veggies into
five groups, from lowest to highest.
Compared with women who ate the lowest amounts of fruits and
vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue – less than one
serving a day – women who ate the highest amounts of these foods –
more than two servings a day – were 18 percent less likely to have a
“We already knew that women occupationally exposed to pesticides and
women exposed to pesticides used in agriculture by virtue of living
in or near agricultural production areas experience greater risk of
infertility, pregnancy loss and other adverse reproductive
outcomes,” said senior study author Dr. Jorge Chavarro, of the
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s
Hospital in Boston.
“Our study is the first to show that exposure to low doses of
pesticide residues, such as those achieved by consuming
conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, may also have adverse
health effects,” Chavarro said by email. “This was actually very
surprising to me.”
Women in the study were 35 years old on average. Most were white and
had at least a college education. They all underwent fertility
treatments between 2007 and 2016.
There didn’t appear to be a problem with fertilization or embryos
implanting in the uterus based on what women ate, but eating more
fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue was
associated with an increased risk of miscarriages early in
Replacing one serving day of fruits and veggies with high levels of
pesticide residue with different, lower-pesticide options could
boost the odds of pregnancy by 79 percent and the chances of a live
birth by 88 percent, researchers estimated.
Foods with high levels of pesticide residue can include apples,
kale, strawberries and raw spinach. Low-pesticide produce includes
avocados, corn and bananas.
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Washing produce won’t reduce pesticide exposure, Chavarro said. But
buying organic fruits and vegetables makes sense for foods that
typically have high levels of pesticide residue, he said.
One limitation of the study is it only included women undergoing
fertility treatment, so the results might be different for a broader
population of couples trying to conceive, the authors note.
Researchers also relied on women to accurately recall and report on
what they ate.
More research is needed to confirm the study results in larger
groups of women, and also to understand how exposure to pesticide
residue on foods impacts fertility and pregnancy, said Tracey
Woodruff, a reproductive health researcher at the University of
California, San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“This is a very important study, because there is a portion of
infertility that is ‘unexplained,’ but that just means we don’t know
what are the risk factors, and the contribution of environmental
pollutants, including pesticides, has not been sufficiently
studied,” Woodruff said by email. “And pollutants, like pesticides,
could be contributing to these ‘unexplained’ fertility problems.”
In the meantime, women can take steps to avoid pesticide exposure,
said Dr. Philip Landrigan, author of an accompanying editorial and a
researcher at the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at the Icahn
School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
This includes eating organic as much as possible, and washing fruits
and vegetables, he said by email.
“Avoid using pesticides within homes or on lawns and gardens,”
Landrigan added. “Join with friends and neighbors to urge reduction
in pesticide use in schools, parks, playing fields an other areas
used by children and pregnant women.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2hs6vvd JAMA Internal Medicine, online October
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