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  • Dr Peter Chew

Pesticides and fertility

I am trying to conceive and understand that eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and fruits will help improve my chances of conception. But I am worried about the food safety especially with so many scandals in the media recently. Can pesticides affect my fertility and that of my husband? How can I reduce exposure to these chemicals?


A. Your concern regarding the food safety of pesticide residues on the vegetables and fruits is important. Indeed, pesticides do affect human fertility.


In our present world, pesticides are ubiquitous. They are used to protect crops against insects, weeds, fungi and other pests. They are present on the vegetables and fruits we eat. Animal studies have shown adverse effects of pesticides on fertility. Researches in human have also linked pesticide exposure to the deleterious effects on reproductive health. In males, total sperm count, volume of semen ejaculated and percentage of morphologically normal sperm are all reduced. In females, pregnancy outcomes have also been shown to be adversely affected. The numbers of stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, foetal abnormalities and mothers suffering from hypertension during pregnancy(preeclampsia) are increased.



In Singapore, thanks to the strict standards imposed by our food safety authorities, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the amount of contaminants that actually reaches our grocery baskets is extremely small. Vegetables and fruits on sales have to comply with the maximum pesticide residue limits allowed to protect consumers from the toxic effects of the chemicals


Despite the strict enforcement by the government, people like you who are trying to conceive are still anxious to know whether taking these foods is safe to the mother and the foetus. Until now, there has been no safety data to indicate whether long term consumption of the small amount of pesticide contaminants will affect the reproductive system.

Be that as it may, it is prudent for people to take steps to minimise exposure to these chemicals, however small the amount.


Below are some of the suggestions:


· Thoroughly wash all produce with running water, even when it is labelled “organic”. Generally, a 30-second rinse followed by a 15-minute soak, and a final rinse will help to remove a significant portion of the pesticide residue.


· Dry the fruits with a clean cloth or paper towel when possible. Gently rubbing the surface of your fruits and vegetables while rinsing can also help in removing residue.


· Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, like melons and root vegetables.


· Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage.


· Peel fruits and vegetables when possible. For fruits, peeling is effective for eliminating pesticide residue.


· Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Different pests attack different crops which, in turn, require the use of different pesticides. By eating a variety of food, the exposure to one specific pesticide is reduced.


· Blanching, cooking and frying the food will also lower the amount of the pesticide residue.


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