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Pesticides Implicated in Infertility

Human fertility is declining, and recent studies suggest conventional food may be a significant contributor to this disturbing trend, seen in both men and women. Pesticides have repeatedly been implicated in worsening fertility, and one of the most recent studies adds further support to this hypothesis.

The study,1,2 published in JAMA Internal Medicine, evaluated the influence of factors known to affect reproduction on the reproductive success of 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 (mean age 35), who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF). As reported by Time,3 “The women in the study filled out detailed questionnaires about their diet, along with other factors that can affect IVF outcomes, like their age, weight and history of pregnancy and live births.”

High Pesticide Exposure Associated With Reduced IVF Success

Using a U.S. government database listing average pesticide residues on food, the researchers estimated each participant’s pesticide exposure based on their food questionnaires. On average, women with high pesticide exposure ate 2.3 servings per day of fruits, berries or vegetables known to have high amounts of pesticide residue. Those in the lowest quartile ate less than 1 serving of high-pesticide produce per day.

Compared to women with the lowest pesticide exposure, women with the highest amounts of pesticide exposure had an 18 percent lower IVF success rate. They were also 26 percent less likely to have a live birth if they did become pregnant. Using modeling, the researchers estimate that exchanging a single serving of high-pesticide produce per day for one with low pesticide load may increase the odds of pregnancy by 79 percent, and the odds of having a live birth by 88 percent.

Pesticide Regulations Fail to Protect Human Health

Senior investigator Dr. Jorge Chavarro, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health told Time:4

“I was always skeptical that pesticide residues in foods would have any impact on health whatsoever. So, when we started doing this work a couple of years ago, I thought we were not going to find anything. I was surprised to see anything as far as health outcomes are concerned. I am now more willing to buy organic apples than I was a few months ago.”

Coauthor Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, added:5

“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.”

As noted by Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health and professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in an accompanying commentary,6 "The observations made in this study send a warning that our current laissez-faire attitude toward the regulation of pesticides is failing us,” adding:

"We can no longer afford to assume that new pesticides are harmless until they are definitively proven to cause injury to human health. We need to overcome the strident objections of the pesticide manufacturing industry, recognize the hidden costs of deregulation, and strengthen requirements for both premarket testing of new pesticides, as well as postmarketing surveillance of exposed populations — exactly as we do for another class of potent, biologically active molecules — drugs."

Male Fertility Rates Have Also Plunged

Research also shows sperm concentration and quality has dramatically declined in recent decades, and the evidence suggests endocrine disrupting chemicals are largely to blame. While there are many sources, pesticides, including glyphosate,7 are known endocrine disruptors as well. According to the first of two recently published papers,8 a meta-analysis of 185 studies and the largest of its kind, sperm counts around the world declined by more than 50 percent between 1973 and 2013, and continue to dwindle.

The most significant declines were found in samples from men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. (Men suspected of infertility, such as those attending IVF clinics, were excluded from the study.) Overall, men in these countries had a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count (sperm concentration multiplied by the total volume of an ejaculate).

As it stands, half of the men in most developed nations are now near or at the point of being infertile. Lead author Dr. Hagai Levine, who called the results “profound” and “shocking,”9 worries that human extinction is a very real possibility, should the trend continue unabated.10

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