According to a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, women undergoing infertility treatment in the U.S. who consumed conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (and therefore covered in pesticides) had a lower chance of pregnancy and a higher risk of pregnancy loss. However, consuming low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables was associated with higher odds of pregnancy and giving birth.


Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, a research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and first author of the study said:
“Most Americans are exposed to pesticides daily by consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. 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.”1
The study looked at 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 who were undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers had them complete a diet assessment questionnaire, took their height and weight and measured their overall health (researchers made sure to account for factors that could influence the study such as supplements and residential history).
The team then “analyzed each woman’s pesticide exposure by determining whether the fruits and vegetables she consumed had high or low levels of pesticide residues, based on reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program, which monitors the presence of pesticides in foods sold throughout the United States.”2
What researchers found was that compared to women who ate less than one daily serving of high-pesticide-residue fruits and veggies, those who ate 2.3 servings or more had an 18% lower probability of getting pregnant and 26% lower probability of giving birth to a live baby.
Now, given that the women in the study were trying to become pregnant via infertility treatments and because they self-reported info about their diets (self-reporting can be inaccurate) more research is needed.
However, Dr. Philip Landrigan, the dean for global health and professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, wrote an editorial that accompanied the study and said:
“…the observations made in this study send a warning that our current laissez-faire attitude toward the regulation of pesticides is failing us. 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.”3
Yes, purchasing organic fruits and veggies can be more costly than conventional ones but staying away from the worst offenders on the list can alleviate some of that burden. And that begs the question; how is it fair that only the upper middle class and wealthy among us can afford to buy healthy food? Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor and director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study, said:
“This is more difficult for those already vulnerable due to their socioeconomic circumstances. Avoiding pesticides becomes an ‘environmental justice’ issue, making it all the more important to reduce use of pesticides throughout agriculture and adopt more sustainable and health-promoting methods for food production.”
We totally agree.

Sources and References

  1. CNN, October 30, 2017.
  2. CNN, October 30, 2017.
  3. CNN, October 30, 2017.