Can Pesticide Residues Present In Food Affect Semen Quality?

By (embryologist), (embryologist) and (invitra staff).
Last Update: 01/21/2021

Infertility is a problem that affects about 15% of couples of reproductive age, and 30% of infertility cases are due to a male factor.

Pesticides with all those substances any intended to control, kill, repel or attract a pest. The perception of these substances is usually negative, but this is not the case. Pesticides help to increase yields in agriculture at low cost for example.

Fertility and nutrition are closely linked to each other. The consumption of food containing traces of pesticides could cause alterations in the reproductive system. Strawberries, apples, and spinach are some of the foods with the highest concentration of pesticides. When a male takes large amounts of these foods, his sperm may be affected.

Definition of Pesticides

Pesticides are a group of chemicals that act against diseases and different pests. Depending on their function, pesticides will be given different names such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.

There are different studies that indicate that all pesticides affect male reproductive function at the endocrine level, but also cause negative effects on mitosis and meiosis. The latter effect would lead to lower production of spermatozoa.

Gonads are structures that are vulnerable to the effects of physical and chemical agents. Therefore, exposure to pesticides interferes with the functioning of the testicles and therefore the production and maturation of sperm are altered.

Pesticides and Semen Quality

Seminal quality is an important and essential aspect when trying to have offspring. The semen analysis is the basic test for analyzing the quality of the semen, where macroscopic parameters such as ejaculate volume and appearance are studied, as well as microscopic parameters such as concentration, motility, and morphology of the spermatozoa.

The reproductive capacity of men has been significantly reduced from about 50 years ago. The cause of this could be the continuous exposure to different toxins and environmental pollutants to which the population is currently exposed.

Fertility treatments, like any other medical treatment, require that you trust the fertility specialists that will be by your side during your journey. Logically, each clinic has a different work methodology. Our Fertility Report will offer you a selection of recommended clinics, that is, fertility centers that have passed our rigorous selection process. Moreover, our system is capable of comparing the costs and conditions of each one so that you can make a well-informed decision.

As mentioned above, most pesticides are considered to be reproductive toxicants and could have negative effects on the male reproductive system.

Effect of Pesticides on Male Fertility

Pesticides affect Leydig's cells causing a reduction in testosterone levels. In addition, these pesticides also damage the Sertoli cells and the seminiferous tubules, thus altering the quality of the semen.

Therefore, the appearance of pesticide residues in certain foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, can worsen semen quality. According to one study, men who eat foods with high amounts of pesticide residues have 49% fewer sperm and 32% fewer sperm with normal morphology compared to men who eat fruits and vegetables with lower levels of pesticide residues.

Finally, it should be noted that this study also found a lower volume of ejaculate (29% less) in men with a higher intake of pesticide residues.

Does Pesticide Exposure Affect the Fetus?

Exposure to high doses of pesticides during pregnancy may cause an effect on the reproductive function of the fetus when it reaches adulthood. For example, testicular dysgenesis syndrome could be a consequence of exposure to pesticides.

Apart from this, there are multiple studies whose conclusions are the presence of genital malformations in fetuses exposed to these toxic substances. In particular, prenatal exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased incidence of cryptorchidism and hypospadias.


Some tips to avoid any negative effects on people's health or fertility are as follows:

  • Choose organic food.
  • Limit consumption to one serving per day of foods with higher amounts of pesticide residues, such as apples, grapes, peppers and strawberries.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables properly before eating.

However, chemical and environmental agents surround us every day and it is difficult to eliminate them completely from our lives. Therefore, it is best to lead a healthy lifestyle, follow the tips and avoid long exposures to toxic substances.

FAQs from users

Do pesticides negatively affect sperm quality?

By Álvaro Martínez Moro B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Fifty percent of couples who come to assisted reproduction centers have a diagnosis of male infertility, which can be associated with different pathologies, but the most common is seminal quality.

The reasons that affect seminal quality are the age of the male, lifestyle and various pollutants. In the case of pollutants, where we could include pesticides, they involve a toxicity through which these compounds act as hormone disruptors, and can alter both the production of fertility hormones (testosterone, LH, FSH...) and the state of oxidation-reduction that could lead to affectations in terms of concentration, mobility or even DNA. It is important not to automatically associate the use of pesticides with infertility, since the effects would be due to continuous exposure to the appropriate toxicants.

Therefore, we should be aware of the importance of the male in reproductive processes and try to avoid exposure to contaminants that may alter sperm production.

Do pesticides cause infertility?

By Marta Barranquero Gómez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Yes, the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in different places such as parks, gardens, etc. is becoming more and more frequent and could have negative consequences on the reproductive capacity of new generations. In addition, many daily consumed food products contain high residual amounts of pesticides.

Which foods contain the highest amount of pesticide residues?

By Marta Barranquero Gómez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Pesticides are increasingly common chemicals used in agriculture. However, it is true that certain fruits and vegetables contain higher amounts of pesticides. For example, apples, grapes, peppers, spinach and other fruits and vegetables are foods with high pesticide residues.

Suggested for you

Nutrition is not only important for maintaining good semen quality but also influences a woman's fertility. If you are interested in this topic, we recommend you visit the following article: What are the types of foods that enhance female fertility?

Exposure to pesticides, on the other hand, can cause a decrease in the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate. This is known as oligospermia. If you wish to obtain more information about this sperm alteration, have a look at this post: What is oligospermia - Causes, types, and treatments.

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FAQs from users: 'Do pesticides negatively affect sperm quality?', 'Do pesticides cause infertility?' and 'Which foods contain the highest amount of pesticide residues?'.

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Authors and contributors

 Álvaro  Martínez Moro
Álvaro Martínez Moro
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Álvaro Martínez Moro has a degree in Biology from the University of Granada and a Masters in Advanced Biotechnology from the University of A Coruña. He also holds his own Masters in Human Reproduction from the Complutense University of Madrid and another in Medical Genetics from the University of Valencia. In addition, he is a postgraduate specialist in Clinical Genetics from the University of Alcalá de Henares. More information about Álvaro Martínez Moro
 Andrea Rodrigo
Andrea Rodrigo
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information about Andrea Rodrigo
Adapted into english by:
 Romina Packan
Romina Packan
inviTRA Staff
Editor and translator for the English and German edition of inviTRA. More information about Romina Packan

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