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Are Aflatoxins Bad For You?



Short answer

Aflatoxins are bad for you - they are poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals.



Long answer

Aflatoxins are toxins produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. They are commonly found on foods grown in humid regions of the world where they can grow more rapidly. Foods can be affected while growing, during harvest or in storage but the real harm comes after being consumed. The interesting part is that you do not have to consume it directly to be affected. If an animal eats aflatoxin-contaminated foods and you then consume their meat, you are at just as great of a risk. Agricultural workers are the most commonly affected by aflatoxins, for obvious reasons. But what are the effects from these toxins exactly? 

In small amounts, even over a lifetime of exposure, the risk is minimal and you could see no effects at all. Some people experience allergies to aflatoxins (it is a mold, after all) or fatigue. If you consume aflatoxins in large amounts or are exposed in other ways such as inhaling the dust like farmers do, you are at a much greater risk of developing liver cancer. The most common cases of hepatocellular carcinoma caused by aflatoxins occurs in China and Africa. Liver cancer is typically caused by aflatoxin B1, which can also lead to an autoimmune response, digestive issues, and death in more serious cases.

Aflatoxins are commonly found on foods like tree nuts, peanuts (and peanut butter), oilseeds (especially cottonseed), corn and even wheat. That’s not to say that all of these foods everywhere are contaminated. Since the fungi that produce aflatoxins primarily grow in warm humid climates, it just becomes that much more important to know where your food comes from. These crops are more likely to rot due to drought and humidity, both which are favorable for mold to start growing. 

While food in the US is very unlikely to be contaminated by aflatoxins unless imported, you can limit your exposure by combining nuts, seeds, and nut butters with foods like apiaceous vegetables such as celery, carrots, and parsnips which fight aflatoxins. These foods are also full of beneficial properties and can help reduce the possible carcinogenic effects.

Possible short-term side effects

  • allergic reaction
  • fatigue

Possible long-term side effects

  • liver cancer
  • autoimmune response
  • digestive issues
  • death

Commonly found in

  • peanuts, peanut butter
  • cottonseed
  • tree nuts
  • corn
  • wheat

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Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS | 08-07-2016

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Suggest improvement or correction

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