Teenagers who are exposed to pesticides found in several foods are highly at risk of developing defective sperm linked to fertility problems, a recent study revealed.

Researchers found that substances in fatty foods called organochlorine pesticides may affect the maturation and growth of the testicles. Pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT and polychlorinated biphenyl or PCB are commonly used to control the presence of insects on agricultural crops.

In a study issued in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Melissa Perry from Milken Institute School of Public Health and her colleagues examined samples of sperm and blood from 90 men aged 22 to 40 years old who lived in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. Several blood samples taken at age 14 were also available for 40 of the participants.

People who live in the area consume a diet that consists of seafood such as blubber and pilot whale meat. This means that their exposure to pollutants such as DDTs and PCBs are higher than usual, the authors said.

The team found that participants, both at the age of 14 and in their adulthood, who had higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in their blood had increased levels in sperm cells with abnormal chromosomes. This could eventually develop to infertility, experts said.

To detect sperm disomy or abnormalities in the sperm, the team used a sperm imaging method developed by Perry's lab.

Perry said that their findings were consistent with an earlier study they conducted on several men in the United States who were part of a couple asking for help regarding infertility.

DDTs were first introduced in the 1940s to fight against insect-borne diseases such as malaria, but they were prohibited more than 30 years ago. In tropical countries, these substances are still used in agriculture. Perry said that even in some places where these substances are banned, there are still DDTs present in the soil and water.

"DDT and other pesticides like it continue to linger in our environment and contaminate our food," said Perry.

Experts suggest that consumers should reduce their consumption of fatty fish such as salmon and red meat. Pesticides and pollutants can accumulate in these fats, they said.

Perry added that consumers should choose their fish wisely and cut back on foods high in animal fats.

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