Ochratoxin A: What It Is, Symptoms, How To Test & Treatment


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 look at Ochratoxin A – the most common mycotoxin I find in testing. I’ll explore what it is, how to test, and what can be considered in treatment of Ochratoxin A.

What Is Ochratoxin A?

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin produced by several fungal species. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain moulds (fungi).

What Produces Ochratoxin A?

The following moulds produce Ochratoxin A: Aspergillus ochraceus, Aspergillus carbonarius, Aspergillus niger and Penicillium verrucosum.

What Foods Are High In Ochratoxin A?

  • Coffee
  • Oats and other unprocessed cereals including rye, buckwheat, wheat, maize, millet and barley
  • Dried vegetables and olives
  • Smoked and salted dried fish, dried beans, biltong, soya beans, chickpeas, rapeseed, pepper, dried fruit, and sesame seeds, nuts.
  • Grapes and grape products, including table grapes, wines, and dried vine fruits.
  • Apples, pears, peaches, citrus, figs, strawberries, mangoes, tomatoes, melons, onions, garlic, and yams.
  • Cheese, meat products.

It is NOT recommended to avoid all these products – this list simply shows where Ochratoxin A has been detected.

Ochratoxin A And Human Health

OTA has been shown to be toxic and carcinogenic in animals.

The kidney is the main target organ for ochratoxin A. Other adverse effects include:

  • Immunotoxicity
  • Inhibition of macromolecular synthesis
  • Increased lipid peroxidation (cellular damage)
  • Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration (potentially effecting energy)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified OTA as a Group 2B possible human carcinogen, based on demonstrated carcinogenicity in animal studies.

A recent study showed Ochratoxin A triggered autism via epigenetic mechanism (Mezzelani et al., 2016).

OTA altered nutrient absorption in the intestine and, in addition, OTA-treated animals experienced faster and more harmful parasite infections. Also, OTA-has also been found to cause intestinal permeability via oxidative stress.

OTA exerted its effect on gut via the reduction of nutrient absorption, disruption of intestinal permeability, cell apoptosis, and modulation of immune system.

Tissue Distribution

Tissue distribution after exposure of animals to OTA has consistently revealed that the greatest concentration is in the kidneys followed by either liver or muscle and then fat, but tissues found to contain OTA also include the adrenal medulla and cortex, skin, myocardium, gastric mucosa, and bone marrow.

In humans, OTA has been detected in blood, urine, and breast milk as well as renal cell carcinomas, breast cancer, inflamed bladder tissue, and a skin biopsy sample.

Recently, a case has been reported of OTA being found in the umbilical cord and placental tissue of a newborn whose mother had been exposed from a water-damaged home. In addition, the mother had OTA in her breast milk, urine, and nasal secretions. Also, other family members tested positive for OTA in urine and nasal secretion samples, while the pet dog was positive for OTA in its urine and an ear mass! When all members of a household (and pets!) appear to be suffering with health issues, it is certainly worth exploring whether they have been exposed to mould.

How Do I Test For Ochratoxin A?

You can test for mycotoxins in the urine. Great Plains Laboratory have a mycotoxin urine profile, available in the U.K from Regenerus Labs. The below is a sample of my own mycotoxin test results indicating an abnormal range for Ochratoxin A:

Re-testing may be helpful to understand how successful you have been in treatment of Ochratoxin A.

How Do I Avoid Exposure To Ochratoxin A?

Treatment of ochratoxin A requires a reduction in exposure to the toxin. 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 – 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 considering the mycotoxins that might be produced from water-damaged buildings – really the most common cause of mould illness. In these situations, leaving the property *may* be needed. There are other considerations also, as I appreciate this is sometimes just not achievable. I have had clients sleep in tents in the garden, when levels of mould were significant, because they were aware of how they felt on entering their home.

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

How Do You Treat Ochratoxin A?

Check out my article The Ultimate Guide To Mycotoxins which provides a more in-depth summary of treatment for  mycotoxins. Options may include:

  • Binders such as activated charcoal.
  • Anti-fungals such as oregano oil.
  • Liposomal glutathione to support detoxification. Certain mycotoxins have been found to inhibit the enzymes required for the endogenous production of glutathione and thus supplementation may be important.
  • Anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants such as turmeric, rosemary and omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Probiotics – certain strains have been found to assist the detoxification/binding of mycotoxins.
  • Biofilm disruptors.

Sauna therapy may also be helpful as ochratoxin A has been detected in human sweat.

Two popular brands amongst practitioners are Bio-Botanical Research and Beyond Balance, but there are many companies and many products that can be considered based on the unique elements of each situation.

Mycotoxins, as with any condition/topic, needs to be put in context with everything else that might be going on in the individual – small intestine bacterial overgrowth and GI dysfunction (as mentioned above) is extremely common and thus treatment may need to be sequential – focusing on different bodily systems in a logical way.

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.”

While this is specifically talking of aflatoxin, a different mycotoxin, it may be true for ochratoxin and ether way, is an important message to spread.

The likes of Dr. Jill Carnahan suggest that one possible reason for people responding so well to a paleo diet is the natural reduction in intake of mycotoxins from food.

Books On Mycotoxins

Practitioners to follow:




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