What Are Mycotoxins and Why Are They Still Harmful
The direct health effects of mycotoxins in humans or animals are known as mycotoxicoses. Most mycotoxicoses can be traced back to the consumption of contaminated food, though they can also occur through inhaling spores or direct toxin-to-skin contact.
These effects vary depending on their toxicity, the extent to which you were exposed to a mycotoxin, your age, alcohol or drug abuse, vitamin deficiency, and the quality of your health. Some mycotoxins have acute side effects that cause symptoms quickly, while others create cumulative or chronic adverse health effects over time, such as liver and respiratory cancers. The effects of mycotoxins can also be exacerbated by alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, and poor caloric intake.
Knowledge of the existence of mycotoxins dates back to ancient times, when people would pray to their harvest gods to protect their crops from mildew. However, the term “mycotoxin” was not coined until 1962, when contaminated grains in animal feed compelled scientists to consider the risk of mold substances found in crops.
Mycotoxins are more problematic in developing countries, where poor food handling and storage techniques, as well as an increased likelihood of malnutrition, can lead to outbreaks. Today, advanced harvest and storage techniques combined with strict food and trade regulations protect populations in first-world countries from significant ingestion of mycotoxins.
However, instances of mycotoxicoses can still occur in countries such as the US, and the most vulnerable groups are households that eat corn as a staple or live in inner city populations, where building are most likely to harbor mold.
Mycotoxins continue to be a danger for many reasons, one being that they are difficult to define and classify, and each scientific group has their own method of classification. Due to the varying nature, origins, and effects of mycotoxins, the quality of the scientific research varies as well.
Another reason mycotoxins continue to be prevalent today is that they are natural food contaminants. While improvements in agricultural practice, drying and storing crops, genetic engineering, and ongoing research have significantly decreased the threat of mycotoxins in the US, some formations continue to be unavoidable.
Mycotoxins are also an ongoing result of the high concentration of processed food. Agricultural products such as fruit, nuts, and cereal grains can be susceptible to mold infestation despite strong efforts to control contamination.
Finally, some symptoms of mycotoxins don’t manifest themselves for years, making it difficult to identify the source of the health condition. For example, toxin-related tumors may develop years later, by which point any exposure to a mycotoxin may be undetectable or disregarded as irrelevant.
You can reduce exposure to harmful mycotoxins by taking steps to lessen the risk of fungal growth. Include more fresh and minimally processed foods in your diet. If you keep a food storage, make sure your products are not kept in conditions that favor fungal growth, such as loose containers, a damp environment, or keeping food past its shelf life. If you grow a lot of your own food, employ proper harvest, storage, and processing regulations.
If you have further questions such as what is a mycotoxin or how to keep mycotoxins out of homes, please feel free to call Sage Nutrition and Healing Center at 303.503.5969. I would be more than happy to discuss the dangers of mycotoxins and effective mycotoxin prevention.