Pesticides: Does Eating Organic Really Matter to Fertility?
As the RMACT Nutritionist, I am often asked, “Is it really better to buy organic?” and “Is washing fresh fruit and vegetables good enough to remove pesticides?” The US Department of Agriculture and National Academy of Sciences have been analyzing pesticide use for many years and there is research that does suggest an association between higher pesticide consumption and higher risk for infertility and miscarriage.
Recent pesticide research related to the Environment and Reproductive Health Study (EARTH) was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Oct 30, 2017. Scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Yu-Han Chiu and Jorge Chavarro, MD) evaluated pesticide exposure from the dietary fruit and vegetable intake of 325 women in fertility treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Study results found that men and women who ate more than two servings daily of fruits or vegetables with high pesticide content were 26% less likely to have a live birth than those with the lowest pesticide exposure. The data did not show any pesticide association with fertilization or embryo implantation concerns but did associate with an increased risk of miscarriages early in pregnancy.
This data reinforces that choosing organic fruits and vegetables, or at a minimum choosing organic from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Dirty Dozen list, may be one factor that could affect whether a woman is able to get pregnant and carry the pregnancy to term.
The 2018 EWG Dirty Dozen list includes twelve of the forty-eight fruits and vegetables that were tested with the highest level of pesticides after being washed and peeled. The dirty 12 from highest to lowest pesticide level are:
The Harvard fertility study also considered the following items to have a high or dirty pesticide residue score: applesauce, blueberries, green beans, leafy greens, kale, plums, raisins, and winter squashes.
The fruits and vegetables on the EWG’s 2018 Clean 15 produce list contain very few pesticides: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Women and men can make lifestyle changes to reduce their pesticide exposure and in turn improve their reproductive outcome. Here are a few tips:
- Organic fruit and vegetables can be purchased as often as realistically possible especially from the dirty listings above.
- Choose organic milk to eliminate pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones.
- Do not use pesticides on your lawn. Never use Round Up to remove weeds on your property as it is highly carcinogenic.
- Do not use insecticides in your home.
- Consider a “No Shoes” Policy in your home. Chemicals from shoes will stay in carpets for years.
- Never rinse fruits and vegetables with soap. Running water and a scrub brush (or friction from your hands) is best.
- To learn about non-toxic pest control methods for your home, see Natural Insect Pest Control.
- For natural and non-toxic methods for your garden, see Natural Garden Pest Control.
- To learn how to avoid using lawn care chemicals, see Natural Lawn Care.
- To purchase non-toxic pest control products, see Shop/Natural pest Control.
About Carolyn Gundell, M.S.
Carolyn Gundell, M.S. is a nutritionist, specializing in PCOS and fertility. With over 20 years of nutrition experience, Carolyn has a special interest in helping women with conditions that affect fertility, including insulin resistance, diabetes Type1/Type 2, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), lipid disorders, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, underweight and overweight concerns. Carolyn earned her M.S. in Nutrition from Columbia University and completed her undergraduate studies in Biology/Nutrition at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. She is trained as a Research Associate in Clinical Skills Training, and is certified in HIPAA, CPR, First Aid and Food Safety & Sanitation. Previously, Carolyn worked at Pediatric Endocrine & Diabetes Specialists, The Center for Advanced Pediatrics, both in Norwalk and at Yale University Medical Center’s Obesity, Diabetes, PCOS Clinic and The Yale Fertility Center.