Occupational and environmental exposure to pesticides has already been linked to lower semen quality, according to a new study in the Human Reproduction journal. But scientists from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health were curious to conduct what they're calling the first study to examine how sperm production and quality are affected by eating pesticide-heavy produce, a Harvard press release announced yesterday. Researchers looked at 155 men taking part in a Boston fertility-center study in which they gave a sperm sample and answered questions about whether the fruits and veggies they consumed were those generally known to have high pesticide residue or low residue. Results: If the men ate more produce usually steeped in residue (think spinach, strawberries), the result was a 49% lower sperm count and 32% lower quality of sperm—as well as a lower volume of ejaculate—than that of men who consumed the least fruits and veggies in that high-level category.
Meanwhile, the men who ate a plethora of produce from the low-residue group (think grapefruit, onions) churned out a higher sperm percentage than their counterparts who didn't chow down as much from the low-level group, indicating consumers shouldn't shy away from eating produce—just find the best kind to eat. "These findings should not discourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables in general," lead author Jorge Chavarro says, per the Harvard press release; instead, he suggests buying more organic fare. He warns more investigation is needed, as the study's subjects were men who already had fertility issues, LiveScience notes; the study's abstract also mentions that actual pesticide levels weren't measured—they were instead estimated based on subjects' survey answers and a comparison chart from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, Time reports. (A popular weed-killer could be cancerous.)