What are mycotoxins? They’re toxic compounds created by fungus that have the potential to cause dysfunction in the body, including immune deficiencies and cancer. These toxins grow on common food sources, such as grains, coffee beans, and dried fruit. In this post, I’ll be sharing facts about mycotoxins, and what you can do to prevent exposure and ameliorate the effects if you are exposed.
Hundreds of mycotoxins have been identified, but only a handful have gained notoriety due to their adverse impact on health, along with the degree to which they occur in food. Mycotoxins are pervasive, they’re in the food supply, in the air we breathe, in the walls of our homes, and in products we put on our bodies. For this reason, it’s vital to learn about the sources of mycotoxins, the symptoms associated with them, and how to protect yourself from their damage.
Common Food Sources Of Mycotoxins
- Grains: wheat, barley, oats, rye, sorghum, and quinoa
- Breads and cereals
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Dried spices
- Dried fruit
- Nuts: pistachios, Brazil nuts, pecans, almonds, and walnuts
- Hard cheeses
- Alcoholic beverages including beer
- Beauty care products
- Walls, tile, grout, etc.
- Air conditioning vents and heating ducts
- Animal feed
- Milk from contaminated animals
Mycotoxins are chemically stable, meaning they are resistant to food processing and cooking. Mold can grow before harvesting or when the food is stored, especially if the storage conditions are damp and humid. Mold infestation is thought to affect up to 25% of the food and feed supply.
Exposure can occur directly or indirectly, either by consuming the infected food itself or indirectly from exposure to animals that have been fed contaminated feed, such as drinking their milk.
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Species of Mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced from fungi. They are implicated in disease and have the potential to be fatal. For these reasons it’s not surprising they are referred to as fungal poisons. Mycotoxins are classified according to the organs they target: for instance, nephrotoxins affect the kidneys, neurotoxins the brain, immunotoxins the immune system, and hepatotoxins the liver.
Here are a few known mycotoxins, where they are found, and the conditions they cause:
1. Aflatoxin: Found on peanuts, corn, and peanut butter, aflatoxin is carcinogenic and is produced by the species of mold Aspergillus. Aflatoxin B1 is extremely toxic and is implicated in autoimmunity, food allergies, cancer, and liver disease. It thrives in hot, humid areas.
2. Fumonisins: Found in corn, including animal feed, and in smaller occurrences sorghum and rice. Fumonisin is produced by the Fusarium verticilloides and proliferatum strains of mold. These strains are tumor promoters that may possibly cause esophageal tumors in particular subsets of the population. Fumonisins may also be involved in neural tube defects.
3. Patulin: Found on damaged, rotting fruit, especially apples, peaches, pears, and olives. Patulin is produced by the Penicillium and Aspergillus strains, and can cause GI disturbances, including intestinal hemorrhage, reduced intestinal barrier function, and ulcers. It is nephrotoxic and immunotoxic.
4. Ochratoxin A: Found in pork products, coffee, dried grapes, and wine grapes.
It also contaminates heating ducts and water-damaged houses. It’s produced by various Aspergillus and Penicillium species. Ochratoxin A is one of the most abundant mycotoxins that contaminates food. It is potentially carcinogenic and neurotoxic, with a high affinity for the brain. Due to its mutagenic properties, It can cause oxidative damage to DNA. It has been found in human breast milk and blood.
5. Citrinin: Found in old grains and fruit, citrinin is produced by the Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Monascus fungal species. It is nephrotoxic, hepatotoxic, and cytotoxic, meaning it’s toxic to human cells.
6. Zearalenone: Commonly found on corn, but can also be found on wheat, rye, sorghum, and barley. Zearalenone is produced by the species of fungus, Fusarium graminearum. Grains contaminated with this mycotoxin have a pink pigment. Zearalenone and its metabolites are estrogenic, and may be implicated in precocious puberty in young children.
Aflatoxins, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone, and ochratoxin A are the most commonly observed mycotoxins that are a threat to both livestock and humans.
Mycotoxins And Cancer
A large percentage of cancers are linked to mycotoxins. For instance, zearalenone and ochratoxin signal estrogenically, meaning they have the ability to bind to estrogen receptors on the cells where they stimulate growth and proliferation.
In estrogen-related cancers, including female cancers, prostate cancer, colorectal and esophageal cancers, estrogen itself may not be stimulating the receptors, but rather mycotoxins. Mold toxins are endocrine disruptors, notably Zearalenone, which has a higher estrogen-receptor binding capacity when compared to other endocrine disruptors like bisphenol A and DDT.
Interestingly, intestinal microflora in the human body can degrade bisphenol A but not zearalenone. Mycotoxins can damage the nervous system, lungs, and kidneys. They can also damage DNA, a risk factor for cancer. Fungi have the ability to rapidly mutate.
Toxins and The Liver
Toxins also place a heavy burden on the liver. When the liver can’t effectively clear toxins, they accumulate. This can negatively impact immune function, which is a significant risk factor for developing cancer, because ultimately, it’s the immune system that will protect you from getting cancer.
How a person reacts to mold will depend on the state of their general health and immune system, their age, and the degree and duration of toxin exposure. The elderly and children with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk.
For instance, being exposed to large amounts of mold toxins can cause acute symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, headaches, and vomiting, whereas chronic, low-grade exposure that takes place over time can present as immune, respiratory, and neurological problems, damage to internal organs, and cancer.
Fungal toxins can potentially damage every system in the body by inhibiting protein and DNA synthesis, along with mitochondrial protein synthesis. They can also impair the functioning of ribosomes. Alfatoxins, in particular, are carcinogenic compounds that are acutely toxic. They’re mutagenic and immunosuppressive, which sets the body up for disease.
Immune system suppression can initiate bacterial and viral infections, including herpes, and Epstein Barr, the virus that causes chronic fatigue syndrome. Neurological symptoms can be the result of mycotoxin exposure, due to the degradation of the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves, causing muscle twitches and weakness, headaches, and even seizures.
Chronic exposure to toxic mold metabolites may lower white blood cell count, providing the ideal environment in the body for cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia to develop. Low-dose exposures can reduce white blood cell count in the GI tract, which houses 70% of the immune system. The effects of mold exposure are cumulative.
Symptoms Of Mycotoxicity
Mycotoxicity can cause persistent symptoms among which are:
- GI problems
- Hormonal imbalances
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Itchy eyes
- Joint pain and muscle cramps
- Light sensitivity
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Poor memory
Cancer and autoimmunity can be the result from long-term exposure to mycotoxins.
Strategies To Protect Yourself From Mycotoxicity
Removing yourself from the exposure is the primary step in preventing and exacerbating mold toxicity. This is difficult if you have mold in your house that you are being exposed to on a daily basis. Consult a professional to confirm the presence of mold, and what can be done to rectify the problem. It’s possible that your workplace may also be contaminated.
There are strategies you can put in place to protect yourself from mycotoxins. Begin by cleaning up your food supply. Ideally, eliminate grains and corn from your diet, two common sources of mycotoxins. These foods are inflammatory and hard to digest, so it’s a good idea to eliminate them anyway. If you must eat them, make sure they’re non-GMO and organic.
Most corn sold in the USA is GMO, another reason to ditch it entirely. Reduce the amount of sugar you eat and the amount of alcohol you drink. Soak, sprout, and ferment grains, nuts, seeds and beans to reduce the occurrence of mold and minimize the harmful effects.
Store nuts and grains in the freezer to prolong shelf life. If this isn’t an option for some reason, make sure you store them in a cool, dry place with a moisture level ideally below <14%. Replace peanut butter with other nut butters, which are less likely to contain mycotoxins.
Buy your fruit and vegetables from local farmers or food co-ops, and buy only free-range and grass-fed meat. Do a parasite cleanse once or twice a year to eliminate mycotoxins from your GI tract, and periodically detoxify your liver with liver-cleansing herbs. Infrared saunas are exceptional for stimulating detoxification through the skin.
[Read More: Ozone Sauna Therapy [An Alternative Treatment For Cancer]
Other Precautionary Measures
Invest in a high-quality air filter to clean the air of mold spores. I use an air purifier that uses natural photocatalysis, ozone, and ultraviolet light to clean the air. I have it in my bedroom and run it all night. If you already suffer from respiratory or allergic reactions, mold exposure will intensify the symptoms.
Interestingly, indoor air has been found to be even more toxic than outdoor air. Keep your house, and especially your basement and bathrooms, well ventilated. The primary method of exposure to indoor toxins is by breathing in mold spores that are in the air.
Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture levels in the air. Water is a breeding ground for mold so watch for any leaks and fix them immediately. Ventilate your bathroom after showering by opening a window or turning on a fan for 20 to 30 minutes. Wipe down the shower after using.
If you have a swamp cooler, drain it regularly. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms. Check that your gutters and downspouts are clean and draining properly a safe distance away from the foundation of your house.
Cleaning Moldy Areas
If you know you have mold in your house and the area is larger than 3 foot square, you’ll want to hire an expert to get rid of it, especially if it’s in your walls, and particularly if you have asthma, other respiratory conditions, or a suppressed immune system.
If the mold is contained in a small area, you can try cleaning it yourself with ammonia, bleach, or white vinegar. Surfaces like glass and tile will be easier to clean than wood or sheet rock. Always wear a mask or N-95 respirator over your nose and mouth to prevent breathing in spores. Wear gloves that cover your entire lower arm. Goggles will protect your eyes from mold spores.
Undiluted white vinegar can be used on hard surfaces in bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens. Bleach also kills mold. Use one cup of bleach per gallon of water. Apply to the moldy surface and leave on without rinsing. If you have moldy grout, add a little dish soap to the bleach solution. It will help penetrate surfaces that are porous. Be sure and rinse the area when using dish soap.
You can also use a 50/50 solution of water and ammonia. Spray it on the infected area and leave on for three hours before rinsing. Never use ammonia with bleach or all-purpose cleaners as it can emit toxic fumes.
If you have mold outside on a deck or siding, remove it immediately. Mold can damage exterior surfaces, such as stucco and wood. Most significantly, it can eventually make its way indoors. Generously spray a 1-to-10 bleach and water solution on the area. Using a stiff brush, dip it into the mixture and scrub the area. Leave the solution on for up to 20 minutes before rinsing with a hose. Don’t forget to wear gloves.
Natural Remedies To Detox Mycotoxins
Natural remedies and herbs can help to clear mold from the body:
- Antifungal herbs such as garlic, ginger, and cayenne
- Oregano oil: Natural antifungal
- Caprylic acid: Natural antifungal
- Magnesium: Detoxifies yeast toxins and mold
- Chlorella: Binds mycotoxins
- Chlorophyll: Cleanses the blood and is antifungal
- Alli-C: Has powerful antifungal properties
- Probiotics: Binds toxins and prevents their absorption
- Pico silver: Supports the immune system
- Vitamins B and D: Boosts immunity
Use binders, such as activated charcoal, GI detox, or clays to bind mycotoxins and eliminate them from the body. However, only use binders if you’re not constipated.
There are many strategies you can employ on a daily basis to prevent cancer and other health conditions. Reducing your exposure to mycotoxins is key, as is awareness and education. Know where mycotoxins lurk to mitigate your exposure. Clean up your diet, store food in the freezer or a cool, dry place, take natural supplements to detoxify mold, and implement detoxification techniques to decrease the toxic load on your body.
Did you know mycotoxins are implicated in cancer? Let me know in the comments:)
10 thoughts on “What Are Mycotoxins and Why You Should Care?”
Wow, it’s really amazing to learn about all of the places that mycotoxins can be lurking… I was most surprised to learn about them in coffee when I was enjoying bulletproof coffee a few years ago. However, with that particular one, they were also selling a coffee that was supposedly free of mycotoxins, so I felt like maybe they could be overstating the risk since they could make money off of that claim. I appreciate all the research you’ve done and it was interesting to see coffee listed here too. It’s definitely something that I’d want to avoid where possible!! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Aly,
Yeah, it’s pretty staggering all the place mycotoxins lurk. It’s important to be aware of sources. You never know the truth behind claims. It very well could of been legit, but then again… When money is involved, you never know.
Buy organic coffee and store the beans in your freezer. Being aware of where mycotoxins lurk will reduce your risk. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.
This is good info. What would you suggest for a person who eats a lot of oats and peanuts? What’s a good substitute for that, or how can you limit your exposure to Mycotoxins if someone wanted to still eat oats and nuts? Is it even possible?
I didn’t actually know that peanuts could be a source for mycotoxins.
Thank you. Soak your oats before you eat them. You could take it one step further and sprout them. It’s really easy and boosts the nutritional content and makes them easier to digest. Buy organic as well. Take precautionary measures and then enjoy your food.
I know nuts run the risk of mold, but if you buy organic and store them in the freezer, you should be okay. Walnuts, pecans, and almonds are good substitutes for peanuts or at least, reduce the amount you eat. I recently bought pecan butter, called Purely Pecan, and it’s awesome. Almond butter is also a good substitute. Thanks for reading!
I must admit, the sheer amount of sources of potential mycotoxin exposure is frightening. On one hand, as I read the list of foods to avoid, I found myself wondering what we can safely eat.
Thank you for sharing the various strategies. Next, I want to follow your link and read more about the parasite cleansing. I had never heard of that before.
Yes, it’s pretty frightening. Buy the highest-quality food you can afford and store it properly. Be aware of water damage in your house and rectify it. Just do your best. Awareness is key! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
Thanks for this informative post I didn’t know that the growth of mycotoxins in foods could result in the production of toxins known as mycotoxins, which can cause a variety of ill effects in humans, from allergic responses to cancer.
I love eating grains and corn in particular and the realization of mycotoxins has given me great concern. I guess i need to cut down the frequent eating of food that contains mycotoxins. I’ll share this with family and friend as well.
I agree, it is surprising and worrisome the effect mycotoxins can have on human health. It’s certainly something to be aware of.
Buy organic grains and store them in the freezer. That will reduce your risk, as will soaking and sprouting your grains. In my opinion, corn is worth eliminating from your diet. If you do eat it, make sure it’s non-GMO as the majority of corn in the USA is GMO.
Thanks for reading!
I had no idea that mycotoxins could be found in so many places. Going through your list of foods, however, would severely limit a person’s diet. I am fortunate as I have a small farm and so know exactly where my beef and chicken comes from and what they eat. Its interesting the lactic fermentation of foods can kill the mycotoxins but that regular fermentation (wine and beer) won’t do it.
This is rather confusing. It’s kind of scary where mold can be hiding in our homes as I’ve seen enough house-flipping type shows to know that you might not even see the problem until the walls are opened up and how often does THAT happen? It seems that these little critters are swarming all over the place around us and that you would nearly have to live in a bubble to avoid them all!
Hi, and thanks for reading. The issue to focus on is food quality and storage when it comes to protecting yourself from mycotoxins from food. All we can do is our best. Take precautionary measures and then enjoy your food.
How awesome to live on a farm. I would absolutely love that. Black mold hiding behind walls is terrifying to me because the spores get in the air where they can be inhaled, and you’d never know what you were breathing in. I had a friend who had black mold in her walls and it was costly and a pain in the neck to get rid of. Sadly, her kids were sick because of it.
Thanks for reading my article!