When trying to get pregnant, many women adopt a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. But according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, women who ate 2.3 servings or more of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables had an 18 percent lower probability of getting pregnant and a 26 percent lower probability of giving birth to a live baby.
325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 participated in the study. CNN reports that they were already undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers gave the women diet questionnaires and recorded their height, weight, overall health, intake of supplements, and residential history. They then analyzed each woman’s pesticide exposure by determining whether the fruits and vegetables she consumed were treated with high or low levels of pesticides — chemical concoctions that are sprayed on fruit to protect plants (and humans) from mold, fungi, rodents, insects, and weeds.
The scientists analyzed the pesticide levels based on reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program. Strawberries typically top the list as the #1 sprayed fruit, whereas avocados, onions, dried plums, corn and orange juice are typically low in pesticide residue. The results were disturbing: compared to women who ate less than one daily serving of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, those who ate more than 2 servings were 26 percent more likely to have a miscarriage.
“Most Americans are exposed to pesticides daily by consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, first author of the study and research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “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.”
The researchers also determined that consuming low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables was associated with increased odds of pregnancy and giving birth. “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.
The researcher concluded: “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. 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.”