At every turn in the produce section of your local supermarket, you'll see boatloads of beautiful fruits and vegetables. Rosy red apples, radiant Florida oranges, resplendent giant pineapples and robust heads of lettuce are routine fare. But at what price does this produce cost? Could the pesticides used to cultivate these edible treasures be compromising our fertility?

According to the National Survey for Family Growth, in the United States between 1976 and 1998, the number of 35- to 39-year-old women without children nearly doubled to 20 percent. Additionally, between 1968 and 1990, the number of office visits women made because of infertility more than tripled to 2 million, and, between 1991 and 2001, the number of teen pregnancies declined by 26 percent. This decrease in fertility is also seen in Western Europe and is unattributable to changes in the number of sexually transmitted infections, therapeutic abortions or rates of contraceptive use. Furthermore, in an oft-cited study conducted by Carlsen and colleagues, between 1942 and 1992, sperm counts among American males decreased by 50 percent.

Swan and colleagues further analyzed Carlsen's data and stratified these results by geographic region. They found that men who lived near agricultural hubs in states like Iowa and Missouri had the lowest sperm counts. The researchers associated these low sperm counts with pesticide use. In a follow-up study, the researchers found that pregnant women who were exposed to phthalate--which, among its myriad uses, is also used as an industrial solvent for pesticides--were at greater risk of having children with shorter anogenital distances. (Anogential distance is the distance between the anus and genitals, also known as the perineum, taint, aintcha--"'cuz it ain't your genitalia and it ain't your butt"--and so forth.) In males, shorter anogenital distance is thought to be associated with impaired fertility.

It's important that these results be put in perspective. (In other words, don't rush to the fridge and trash all your fruits and vegetables.) Some of these studies have limited power and are merely suggestive; they hint at the possibility that pesticides may play a role in decreased fecundity (fancy word for fertility). Furthermore, fruits are much healthier than candy bars and chips. Fresh fruits and vegetables are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and more (even if some of them do taste like cardboard).

Ultimately, we must remember that everything comes at a price. All the chemicals that we pump into the ground may come back to haunt us and the fruit of our loins--or lack thereof. The results of these studies make me think that it's worth plunking down an extra few bucks for pesticide-free produce.

What do you think?

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