It is known that pesticides, just like industrial chemicals, plastics, alcohol, and smoking, may cause issues with fertility in men.
Organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or food processing. Conventional food (including vegetables, fruit, and milk products from cows eating pesticide residues in their food) may contain traces of pesticides. Pesticides (plant protection products that repel pests) have been shown to be toxic to the brain, causing potential problems for the body’s endocrine (hormone) system that can affect fertility and disrupt development of children (in addition to other effects).
Organic diet has been identified to result in decreased pesticides in the urine of children and adults. While it remains unclear whether there are substantial differences between organic and conventional foods in terms of taste, nutrition, or cancer risk, there may be an important difference for newborn males in terms of penile development (which requires the body’s hormonal system, including testosterone, to be normal).
A recent study in the Journal of Urology is the first of its kind to check the effect of a mother’s diet on hypospadias (birth defect in which the opening of the urethra, the tube draining urine from the body, is on the underside of the penis). Mothers from Denmark who chose high-fat dairy products (cheese, butter) without or infrequently choosing the organic alternative had double the risk of having sons with hypospadias. No difference was seen between organic versus conventional fruits/vegetables. In addition general healthy lifestyle among mothers choosing organic food may contribute to these findings. Additional larger studies from multiple centers checking possible confounding issues as well as molecular causes including proteins in blood and urine will clarify this issue.
For more information about avoiding pesticides and eating healthy for couples and children, see this informational booklet about pesticides and healthy eating from the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Enivironment.
–Matthew Wosnitzer, M.D.
February 15, 2014