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Dangers of Aflatoxins

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Written by Mariia Roza on May 25, 2021

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Aflatoxins are poisonous substances that belong to the mycotoxins group. They are formed by several types of mold. Occurring naturally all over the world, these fungi can contaminate crops and pose a serious threat to the health and lives of humans and animals. The WHO(1) has even documented the dangers of Aflatoxins.

There are over 14 varieties of aflatoxins, and four of them (B1, B2, G1, and G2) are especially dangerous. What is worse, aflatoxins can contaminate(2) all major types of crops.

Humans are primarily exposed to aflatoxins through contaminated nuts, cereals (such as corn and rice), dried fruits, and spices. Aflatoxin M1 (derived from aflatoxin B1 metabolism) can even be found in milk, notably in areas with aflatoxin-infested grains.

People who have been exposed to aflatoxins for a prolonged time can face severe consequences(3) for their health.

  • Aflatoxins (notably B1) are potent carcinogens that can affect all organs, especially the liver and kidneys.
  • There is an unproven hypothesis that aflatoxins can cause congenital disease, including stunted growth and development.
  • Aflatoxins harm the body's immune system, reducing its resistance to infections such as HIV or tuberculosis.

Aflatoxins are hazardous, but you can reduce your risks by following four simple rules:

  • Carefully inspect grains and nuts for any kind of mold.
  • Discard anything that looks moldy, discolored, or wrinkled.
  • Get your grain and nuts as fresh as possible. Bonus if you can find local products and avoid those transported over long distances.
  • Choose only well-known brands of nuts and nut butter. That way, you'll avoid dishonorable manufacturers who poorly dry and store their products. 

Sources

  • World Health Organization. (2018, February). Aflatoxins. Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/FSDigest_Aflatoxins_EN.pdf
  • Mahato D. K., Lee K. E., Kamle M., et al. (2019, October 4). Aflatoxins in Food and Feed: An Overview on Prevalence, Detection and Control Strategies. Frontiers in Microbiology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.02266
  • De Almeida L., Williams R., Soares D. M., et al. (2019, September). Aflatoxin levels in maize and peanut and blood in women and children: The case of Timor-Leste. Scientific Reports. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49584-1