Aflatoxins: Poisons Hiding in Plain Sight
Posted on: Saturday, September 3rd 2016 at 11:45 am
Written By: Dr. B.J. Hardick, D.C.
This article is copyrighted by GreenMedInfo LLC, 2016
There’s a good chance these toxins are lurking in your child’s lunchbox—and they are some of the most poisonous natural compounds known to humankind. Find out how to eliminate them from your home and from your body.
Many of us who have studied whole-food and holistic nutrition have heard of aflatoxins in peanut butter. They’re one of the prime reasons many of us have kicked peanut butter to the curb and starting started using almond butter instead (or, peanut butters from climates where aflatoxins are not present.) All this said, the conversation over aflatoxins is far too often cut short – and the hazards of these toxins are grossly underestimated.
Think about it -- If you noticed mold growing on your bread, you would toss it out, right? What if the mold on that bread was invisible? Further, what if that invisible mold was one of the most carcinogenic, toxic naturally occurring substances known to humankind? This scenario is not far from the truth. The deadly mycotoxin called aflatoxin is disturbingly common in our foods today.
As alarming as it sounds, even apparently healthy foods can kill you. Aflatoxins are among the most poisonous natural compounds on the planet, and aflatoxicosis is what happens if you ingest enough. Aflatoxin B1 (the most common aflatoxin) is the most potent naturally occurring liver carcinogen known to humankind.
That’s right – multiple sources now refer to Aflatoxins as the MOST deadly naturally occurring toxin.
It’s estimated that about 4.5 billion people are exposed to aflatoxins each year in developing countries, although the numbers are largely unmonitored and on the rise. People consuming normal-appearing corn, peanuts, or grain have become critically ill and even died from acute aflatoxin poisoning, which can cause life-threatening hemorrhage, liver damage, pulmonary edema, convulsions and brain damage.
The strength of the aflatoxin blow depends on factors such usage, level and duration of exposure, immune status and overall health.
Acute aflatoxicosis in humans is relatively rare, but the more chronic, lower-level exposure is probably more prevalent than reports would suggest because the symptoms are difficult to recognize. Chronic exposure is a significant concern due to its insidious nature and potential long-term effects, which include immunosuppression, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. There are at least 13 different species of mold that produce 20 different aflatoxins, with aflatoxin B1 considered the most toxic. Aflatoxins affect nearly every system of the body, as the following list shows:
- Respiratory: Pulmonary edema, cancer
- Cardiovascular: Heart inflammation
- Neurological: Reduced oxygen flow, headache, neuron death, encephalopathy, impaired memory, insomnia, disorientation, loss of coordination; tumors in both central and peripheral nervous system
- Gastrointestinal: Liver damage, liver cancer, vital hepatitis, parasite infestation
- Urinary: Kidney damage and tumors
- Reproductive and Developmental: infertility, teratogenic, abnormal growth and development in children
- Endocrine: Tumors and cancer
- Blood: Blood and bone cancers
- Immune: Immunosuppression, autoimmune reactions and allergies
- Other: Mitochondrial malfunction, interference with protein and RNA synthesis, apoptosis (cell death)
Aflatoxins Are Everywhere
Aflatoxins are poisonous compounds produced by certain strains of the fungi Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, which grow when temperature and humidity conditions are favorable. The highest levels are typically found in foods from warmer regions with greater climatic variation. However, aflatoxin-producing molds show an affinity for multiple types of crops and can grow under a broad-range of moisture and temperature conditions.
Although aflatoxicosis is a greater problem in developing nations, it nevertheless remains a significant concern in North America. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 25 percent of the world's crops are affected by mycotoxins — including aflatoxins — and scientists warn that extreme weather and drought cycles are increasing their prevalence. Fortunately, scientists are developing innovative ways to reduce aflatoxins, such as UC Davis researchers who are using benign fungi to displace Aspergillus from pistachio trees.
Aflatoxins can be found in variety of foods you may already have in your pantry. According to the US Food and Drug Administration’s 2012 Bad Bug Book:
"In the United States, aflatoxins have been identified in corn and corn products, peanuts and peanut products, cottonseed, milk, and tree nuts such as Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, and walnuts. Other grains and nuts are susceptible but less prone to contamination."
Contamination is most common in the southeastern US in peanuts and corn products, but it shows up in other grains and legumes as well, including quinoa,coffee beans, cocoa beans, soybeans, spices, dairy, dried fruit and wine. Aspergillus typically gains a foothold during harvest and increases in storage. Improper food drying is a major factor in its growth.
Unfortunately, aflatoxins are very stable and can survive relatively high temperatures without degradation — which means they can’t always be destroyed by cooking or processing. For example, one study found that roasting green coffee at 180 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes reduced aflatoxin levels only by 50 %. The one exception may be that corn processed using traditional methods (such as corn tortillas) may significantly reduce aflatoxin levels due to the alkaline conditions.
Therefore, these toxic agents not only present a problem in raw foods but in processed foods as well — the most notable example being peanut butter – but you can also ingest aflatoxins by consuming the meat or dairy of animals who consumed aflatoxin-contaminated feed.
The aflatoxin levels in many of these foods is extremely small. However, it’s important to realize that ALL toxins add to your overall detox load. International Food Policy Research Institute cautions that consuming even tiny amounts of aflatoxin may have a cumulative effect.
Sadly, even our house pets are at risk for aflatoxin poisoning. Contamination is more common in processed dog food than cat food because commercial dog foods contain more corn products. A recent survey of premium pet food in Brazil found 22 percent to contain aflatoxin B1, and a full 93 percent contained other dangerous mycotoxins. In dogs and cats, acute aflatoxicosis is a medical emergency with clinical signs such as severe vomiting with bloody diarrhea, anorexia, fever, sluggishness, discolored urine, and jaundice.
Regulators Do NOT Require Foods to Be Aflatoxin-Free
While there is some governmental inspection, the food industry is largely responsible for doing its own monitoring for aflatoxin contamination. Government regulators acknowledge aflatoxin exposure is a public health concern, but they do allow it to be present at low levels. FDA allows aflatoxin up to 20 parts per billion, whereas only 15 parts per billion is tolerated by Canada and Australia. However, FDA’s restrictions do not apply to foods produced and sold in the same state, only to those crossing state lines.
FDA allows much higher levels of aflatoxin in animal feed — up to 300 parts per billion. And with the lack of any federal inspection requirement, actual levels in animal feed may be much higher, which increases the chances some of these toxins will pass through to your meat and dairy products.
Dr. B.J. Hardick is the co-author of the best-selling Maximized Living Nutrition Plans, used in natural health clinics worldwide, and is a contributing author of The Cancer Killers: The Cause is the Cure. His health centre in London, Ontario is one of the largest clinics of its kind. In Dr. Hardick's seminars and care for patients, he teaches and implements the principles of Maximized Living which he has championed his entire life. www.DrHardick.com
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
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