Eating Organic Fruit and Vegetables Can Boost Fertility, Study Shows

New study finds that women who don't eat organic fruit and vegetables suffer more assisted fertilization failures

A bucket of Elliot blueberries wait to be weighed during harvest at Hoffman Farms in Scholls, Oregon, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Blueberry prices are strengthening as domestic deals begin the transition to imports and costs could go even higher in September, depending on how fast Northwest volumes decline.
Meg Roussos/Bloomberg

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you may want to start eating organic produce, based on the findings of a new small-scale, but potentially important study, linking lower probability of getting pregnant and miscarriage for women receiving assisted reproductive treatments like in-vitro fertilization, with pesticide residues in the bloodstream.

The study was what is called an observational study, meaning it set out to find if there was a correlation between the outcome of fertility treatments and pesticide residues in the women's diet – the difference between an organic and non-organic diet. The researchers did not control what the women ate and did not aim to prove cause and effect.

But their observations were startling.

Eating organic fruits and vegetables significantly improved fertility and decreased the probability of pregnancy loss, compared with a conventional diet of pesticide-sprayed produce eaten by women undergoing assisted fertility treatments, the study found. It was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The study was conducted at a fertility center in Boston between 2007 and 2016 by Jorge E. Chavarro, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues.

In Israel, childbirth is encouraged as a national policy. The state even picks up most of the tab for IVF treatment for women through the age of 45 .

IVF in particular is expensive, onerous, and not for everybody – and now it turns out that the outcome is affected by subclinical poisoning from the very fruit and vegetables that made one feel virtuous. Subclinical means that one isn't poisoned enough to feel sick, but may already be suffering ill effects.

An advantage of studying how environmental poisons affect pregnancy rates through IVF is that in contrast to conventional conception, here the woman and her doctor know exactly when an embryo was created and implanted.

Herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and so on are bad for us: they were specifically designed to kill living beings, as pointed out in an editorial by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan in JAMA.

More than 90% of Americans tested for it have pesticides, or the molecules from their breakdown, in their blood or urine. Leaving agriculture workers out of it, their main source of pesticide is food, chiefly fresh fruit and vegetables.

In the Harvard study, the scientists tested 325 women undergoing IVF, between the ages of 18 to 45, some of whom wound up using their own eggs while others used to donated eggs. An "organic" diet meant, for the purposes of this study, that the women ate organic fresh fruit and vegetables at least three times a week

Consumers should know which fruit and vegetables tend to reach market with high pesticide levels: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and leafy greens are notorious, but so are peaches and other fruits whose peel can be eaten. Also, pesticides can enter the flesh of fruit and vegetables from the water they absorb. The scientists matched the women's answers on their dietary habits with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pesticide database.

The bottom line is that women who ate foods with the highest postulated pesticide amounts were 18 percent less likely, per IVF cycle, to even get pregnant from IVF, and once they did, they were 26% more likely to miscarry.

No association was found between the total consumption of fruit and vegetables, and IVF implantation rates and live birth – the divergences appeared when the type of produce eaten was factored in.

Yes, they discovered that when women undergoing IVF treatment replaced a daily serving of high-pesticide fruit and vegetables with low-pesticide species, their outcomes for pregnancy and live birth improved a lot.

Human fertility has been declining badly in recent decades, a decrease increasingly associated with pollution and more easily adjusted behaviors, like the low sperm count associated with men wearing tight underwear or keeping their cellphone in their pocket. Sperm counts in the West are down over 50% since 1973, scientists have found and incidents of testicular cancer are rising fast and.

If the world wants to preserve the proliferation of humankind, it had better stop being so sanguine about the damage done by pesticides, as  Dr. Landrigan concluded in his study.