Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic

4 min


Infertility affects an estimated 14% of all couples, and in 20-30% of infertility cases, the sole cause is attributed to male factor infertility. Research has revealed an association between pesticide exposures, whether occupational or environmental, and decreased semen quality parameters.

Despite conventionally grown fruits and vegetables being a major source of non-occupational pesticide exposure, few studies have examined the effect of this on male reproductive health.


To investigate the association of dietary pesticide exposure with semen quality.


This is a sub-study of the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study. Men were eligible if they were aged 18-55 years, without history of vasectomy, and in a couple planning to use their own gametes for fertility treatment.

For this sub-study, men were included if they completed the food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) component of the main study and if they provided semen samples up to 10 months after this. The 131-item FFQ is a validated measure of self-reported food, beverage and supplement consumption.

Fruits and vegetables were categorised into pesticide levels using data from the annual United States Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program. Sperm concentration and motility were evaluated by computer-aided semen analysis (CASA).

Sperm motility was classified using WHO criteria and sperm morphology was determined using Kruger’s strict criteria. Linear mixed models were used to analyse associations between dietary pesticide exposure and sperm parameters


Included in the analysis were 155 men who contributed 338 semen samples; 57 (37%) men included one sample and the remainder two or more. The median age was 36 years and most men were Caucasian (83%) and non-smokers (63%); 52% were overweight and 18% were obese.

Forty-six percent of men had at least one semen analysis with a parameter below the WHO lower reference limits. Men had an average of 0.9 servings/day of high pesticide produce and 2.3 servings/day of low-moderate pesticide produce.

Men who consumed more high pesticide produce tended to be older, and have high caloric intake and physical activity.

Total fruit and vegetable intake was not associated with semen quality. However, there was an inverse relationship between intake of high pesticide produce and semen quality.

On average, men in the highest quartile of high pesticide produce consumption had 49% lower total sperm count, 32% fewer morphologically normal sperm and 29% less ejaculate volume.

High pesticide produce consumption was also significantly associated with lower total motile count and lower total normal count.


This study evaluated the association between dietary pesticide exposure and semen quality. The authors found that consumption of high pesticide fruit and vegetables was inversely associated with total sperm count, ejaculate volume and percentage of morphologically normal sperm.

These findings suggest that dietary exposure to pesticides may impact semen quality in men. This is consistent with a moderate body of research that has consistently demonstrated occupational and environmental pesticide exposure is associated with reduced semen quality.

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