Alfatoxin: How to test for, and treat, this mycotoxin

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After writing the master blog called The Ultimate Guide To Mycotoxins I thought I would write smaller blogs on each of the main mycotoxins. Let’s start this series with Alfatoxin – the most common mycotoxin I find in testing.

What Is Alfatoxin?

The World Health Organisation describe alfaAflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain kinds of fungi (moulds) that are found naturally all over the world; they can contaminate food crops and pose a serious health threat to humans and livestock.
Aflatoxins also pose a significant economic burden, causing an estimated 25% or more of the world’s food crops to be destroyed annually.

What Produces Alfatoxin?

Two closely related species of fungi are mainly responsible for producing the aflatoxins of public health significance: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus. parasiticus.

From Aflatoxins: A Global Concern for Food Safety, Human Health and Their Management, Front Microbiol. 2016; 7: 2170

What Foods Contain Alfatoxin?

There are more than 20 known aflatoxins, but four – aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2 are particularly dangerous to humans and animals as they have been found in all major food crops. Most human exposure comes from:

  • Contaminated nuts
  • Grains and their derived products
  • Liver and meat of animals which are fed with contaminated feed

Additionally, aflatoxin M1 (AFM1), a product of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) metabolism, can be found in milk in areas of high aflatoxin exposure. Subsequently humans may be exposed to this aflatoxin through milk and milk products, including breast milk, especially in areas where the poorest quality grain is used for animal feed

What Does Alfatoxin Do To The Body?

Long-term or chronic exposure to aflatoxins has several health consequences including:

  • Aflatoxins are potent carcinogens and may affect all organ systems, especially the liver and kidneys; they cause liver cancer, and have been linked to other types of cancer.
  • Aflatoxins are mutagenic in bacteria (affect the DNA), genotoxic, and have the potential to cause birth defects in children.
  • Children may become stunted, although these data have yet to be confirmed because other factors also contribute to growth faltering e.g. low socioeconomic status, chronic diarrhoea, infectious diseases, malnutrition.
  • Aflatoxins cause immunosuppression, therefore may decrease resistance to infectious agents (e.g. HIV, tuberculosis)

Early symptoms of liver damage caused by aflatoxins include:

  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • Anorexia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Hepatitis

Cases of acute poisoning are exceptional and rare (Etzel, 2002).

How Do I Test For Alfatoxin And Mycotoxins?

Great Plains Laboratory have a mycotoxin urine profile available from Biolab in the UK. Below is a sample of the report:

How Do I Avoid Exposure To Aflatoxin?

The World Health Organisation advise the consumer to:

  • Carefully inspect whole grains and nuts for evidence of mould, and discard any that look mouldy, discoloured, or shriveled.
  • Buy grains and nuts as fresh as possible; that have been grown as close to home as possible, and which have not been transported over a long time
  • Buy only reputable brands of nuts and nut butters – aflatoxin moulds are not entirely killed by processing or roasting, so can show up in products e.g. peanut butter
  • Make sure that foods are stored properly and are not kept for extended periods of time before being used
  • Try to ensure his/her diet is diverse; this not only helps to mitigate aflatoxin exposure, but also improves health and nutrition. Consumers who lack dietary diversity need to pay extra attention to minimize the risk of high exposure to aflatoxins. For example, extensive aflatoxin exposure has been reported from areas where people get a major part of their daily calorie intake from maize; this foodstuff is commonly contaminated with aflatoxins and needs to be handled properly both before and after harvest.

However this is not taking in to consideration the mycotoxins that might be produced from water-damaged buildings. In these situations, leaving the property may be needed.

Check out my article The Ultimate Guide To Mycotoxins for more information on treatment.

How Do You Remove Alfatoxin From The Body?

Check out my article The Ultimate Guide To Mycotoxins which discusses interventions to support the detoxification of mycotoxins.

Climate And Mycotoxins

A paper entitled Aflatoxins in the Soil Ecosystem: An Overview of Its Occurrence, Fate, Effects and Future Perspectives states:

“Current regulations provide minimal options for the disposal of aflatoxin-contaminated crops, amongst which is the incorporation of residues into the soil for natural degradation. This form of mycotoxin loading into the soil could potentially change its physicochemical characteristics and biotic parameters. Recent studies suggest that as climate conditions change, the occurrence and geographical distribution of aflatoxins might increase, posing significant health risks to the soil ecosystem, food crop production and human health.”

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