Mycotoxins in Food (Part One)

One of the biggest reasons our family continues to embrace a grain-free diet is the compelling scientific evidence that mycotoxins frequently find their way into our grain supply. As we attempt to rid our bodies of unwanted pathogens, it's critical to choose healthy, fresh foods which are both easily digested and uncontaminated. The following peer-reviewed study, published in 2003 by Tulane University, looks at the implications of mycotoxins in foods.

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals. Because of their pharmacological activity, some mycotoxins or mycotoxin derivatives have found use as antibiotics, growth promotants, and other kinds of drugs; still others have been implicated as chemical warfare agents. This review focuses on the most important ones associated with human and veterinary diseases, including aflatoxin, citrinin, ergot alkaloids, fumonisins, ochratoxin A, patulin, trichothecenes, and zearalenone.

The study, which is lengthy and scholarly, looks at each mycotoxin and its threat to human and animal health. It gives the following information about ochratoxin, the mycotoxin which is emitted from some species of aspergillus and penicillium:

With other mycotoxins, the substrate on which the molds grow as well as the moisture level, temperature, and presence of competitive microflora interact to influence the level of toxin produced. Ochratoxin A has been found in barley, oats, rye, wheat, coffee beans, and other plant products, with barley having a particularly high likelihood of contamination. There is also concern that ochratoxin may be present in certain wines, especially those from grapes contaminated with Aspergillus carbonarius.

Of the Aspergillus toxins, only ochratoxin is potentially as important as the aflatoxins. The kidney is the primary target organ. Ochratoxin A is a nephrotoxin to all animal species studied to date and is most likely toxic to humans, who have the longest half-life for its elimination of any of the species examined. In addition to being a nephrotoxin, animal studies indicate that ochratoxin A is a liver toxin, an immune suppressant, a potent teratogen, and a carcinogen. Ochratoxin A disturbs cellular physiology in multiple ways, but it seems that the primary effects are associated with the enzymes involved in phenylalanine metabolism, mostly by inhibiting the enzyme involved in the synthesis of the phenylalanine-tRNA complex. In addition, it inhibits mitochondrial ATP production and stimulates lipid peroxidation.

To read the study in its entirety, click here.

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