Sperm Abnormalities In Youth Exposed To Pesticides

sperm abnormalities due to pesticide exposure

Earlier this year research confirmed that men who regularly consumed vegetables and fruits with high pesticide residues had elevated sperm abnormalities1.

Now a new study suggests that adolescent exposure to a group of pesticides known as organochlorins may have lasting adverse effects on male fertility.

Specifically, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been identified as contributing to sperm abnormalities later in life.

The historical use of DDT and PCBs

In the 1950s through to the 1970s in the United States chemical such as DDT and PCBs were widely used. These pesticides where applied in agricultural practices, as well as in insect control.

However, due to overwhelming evidence that these chemicals posed serious risks to human and animal health, the United States banned their use in the late 1970s. These pesticides have been found to cause endocrine disruption, developmental delays and elevated susceptibility to cancer. Now there is evidence that this chemicals can also increase sperm abnormalities.

Present day risk

Despite the significant body of research confirming the dangers of these organochlorins, many countries continue to use these pesticides. Furthermore, these chemicals contaminate soils and waterways for many years. Thus, even countries that have banned DDT and PCBs are still at risk of exposure to these chemicals in their foods.

In the United States high consumption of dairy products, meat, and fatty fish may lead to elevated levels of organochlorines in the body.

New research identifies sperm abnormalities

The new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is based on research carried out in the United States. This study was conducted at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, DC2.

Believed to be the first of its kind, this study aimed to determine if exposure to organochlorines during adolescence could affect sperm quality later in life. Specifically, researchers were interested in the prevalence of sperm abnormalities as a direct response to pesticide exposure.

High organochlorine exposure coincides with sperm disomy

Researchers assessed sperm and blood samples of 90 men who lived in The Faroe Islands when aged between 22 and 44. These men are exposed to much higher levels of organochlorines due to their diet enriched with fish, including pilot whale blubber and meat.

Blood samples were also obtained at the age of 14 for 33 of the study participants. This provided a measurement of organochlorine concentrations and exposure levels during adolescence and adulthood.

Using imaging techniques, researchers were able to assess sperm samples for chromosomal sperm abnormalities. Known as ‘sperm disomy’, this condition is associated with infertility.

It was found that men with high levels of PCBs and DDT in their blood during adolescence and adulthood had elevated incidences of sperm disomy. Men with lower volumes of pesticides in their blood samples did not exhibit the same high levels of sperm disomy.

Teenagers exposed to pesticides may have reproductive problems as adults

Researchers believe that the findings of this study re-enforce the dangers of pesticide exposure to human health. While further investigative studies are necessary, caution is advised.

Eat organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. It’s also important to pay attention when selecting fish and foods high in animal fats. Knowing where your food comes from and how it is produced is a very valuable step in reducing pesticide exposure. This can help to preserve fertility, as well as good overall health and vitality.


  1. “Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic,” Y.H. Chiu, M.C. Afeiche, A.J. Gaskins, P.L. Williams, J.C. Petrozza, C. Tanrikut, R. Hauser, and J.E. Chavarro, Human Reproduction, March 30, 2015, doi:10.1093/humrep/dev064.”
  2. “Sperm aneuploidy in Faroese men with lifetime exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pollutants, Melissa Perry et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, doi: 10.1289/ehp.1509779, published online 4 November 2015.”
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