Fungicides on Your Fruit: Avoiding Harmful Exposures from Produce

IMG_5689Article Author: Brooke Linnehan, Biology Major, Class of 2021, POB Science Translator

It’s almost that time of year when the flowers start to bloom and the weather brings us all back to life. With the spring beginning and the summer approaching, it’s normal to crave all of the delicious fruits that will soon be in season again! However, the excitement of fresh produce and pretty flowers does not come without risk, as these crops are often treated with chemicals that may have harmful effects on our health. The fungicide Fenhexamid is used on products like grapes, berries, tomatoes, vegetables, and ornamental plants, such as flowers and shrubs. Although it prevents spores from growing on plants and produce, it can be harmful to ingest, as it can act as an endocrine-disrupting chemical. An endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) is a chemical that interferes with the body’s normal communication system- a precise network of hormones and chemical balances. Healthy cells rely on such communication to ensure the cell does not divide out of control and become cancerous. 

Hormones are the body’s main communicators, circulating the body to tell cells what to do and when. The hormone estrogen is a key player in breast development, as well as the entire female reproductive system. It must be carefully regulated to ensure the health of the reproductive organs. Estrogen communicates with cells that have a specific estrogen receptor- a structure that perfectly binds estrogen, like a lock and key. 

In a 2021 study by Go et al., researchers treated breast cancer cells that have an estrogen receptor with pure estrogen. This caused the cells to grow uncontrollably and override any signal to stop dividing. When they treated breast cancer cells with Fenhexamid, the researchers observed the same response. However, both estrogen and Fenhexamid had no significant effect on cells that do not have the estrogen receptor. 

This suggests that Fenhexamid mimics the function of estrogen, and cells with estrogen receptors do not know the difference between the two. Since healthy cells depend on proper hormone levels, this estrogen-mimicking fungicide may contribute to breast cancer, because it directs cells to grow and divide when the body does not call for it. Fenhexamid may lead to the development of breast cancer in cells with estrogen receptors, and it may worsen cells that are already cancerous. 

Since the 2021 study was conducted on cells and not live human beings, the results cannot confirm a strict cause-effect relationship between Fenhexamid and breast cancer. However, these findings are still an important warning to keep an eye out for chemicals like fungicides. 

The best way to limit exposure to Fenhexamid is by choosing organic fruits, vegetables, and plants. Certified organic products have not been contaminated with chemicals like synthetic pesticides and fungicides. Choosing a safer way to enjoy the fresh produce and plants that are coming into season is key to reducing exposure to EDCs and reducing the risk of a future breast cancer diagnosis. 


Go R.E., Kim C.W., Lee S.M., Lee H.K., & Choi K.C. (March 2021). “Fenhexamid induces cancer growth and survival via estrogen receptor-dependent and PI3K-dependent pathways in breast cancer models.” Food Chem Toxicology, 149:112000. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2021.112000.

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