Yeasts, mushrooms and other fleshy fungi are all around us and many of them are harmless, while a decent number are actually tremendously important for the human society and our health.
But there are some species of fungi that produce highly dangerous toxins (commonly known as mycotoxins) that can significantly impair human’s health and well-being. One of them is the fungus Aspergillus flavus (AFLA), which produces a potently poisonous mycotoxin called aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin could be rightfully named an alpha-toxin since it’s actually one of the most harmful fungal toxins on the planet and no level of aflatoxin exposure is considered safe for humans.
To help you minimize its effects on your health, in this article we’ll uncover the four basic types of aflatoxins and the main source that contains them:
Aflatoxin B1 and B2 and Aflatoxin G1 and G2
When consumed by a mammal (for example, a cow), aflatoxin B1, a genotoxic carcinogen and a strong acute toxin, gets transformed, or metabolized into Aflatoxin M1, which is then passed into the cow’s milk and is available for laboratory measurements.
For the last two decades, milk and dairy products contamination with aflatoxin M1 is a serious global issue, especially for developing countries, because the presence of this toxin is very harmful for the health of children and infants, who are more susceptible than adults.
And how does this toxin arrive in cow’s milk? Very easy. The cows are fed with contaminated, moldy feeds and then the aflatoxin transformation product aflatoxin M1 ends up in their milk. This contaminated milk then reaches the consumers, many of which are children.
How does aflatoxin get in animal feeds?
Most consumers are not even aware that the vast majority of cows today are not pasture-raised and grass-fed, but fed small amounts of hay supplemented with grains, corn, soy and other ingredients that are supposed to increase the energy density of their diet and fatten them in a more profitable way.
In other words, cows aren’t allowed to roam freely and graze grass – they are raised in crowded feedlots where they eat plenty of corn, which can often be contaminated with mycotoxins after droughts that leave the plants very susceptible to infection with pathogenic fungi such as Aspergillus flavus. After Aspergillus flavus begins its reproduction in the infected plant on the field, the corn gets stored in silos, where the fungi has the ideal conditions to continue to spread and poison the crop. The corn is then fed to the cows and the mycotoxins end up in the milk and dairy products.
How does aflatoxin affect children’s health?
There’s no doubt about it – aflatoxin M1 has proven carcinogenic effects in both animals and humans and is tremendously dangerous to children’s health. A vast pool of scientific research highlights an association between exposure to aflatoxin M1 and developmental disorders in children. The findings from these studies suggest that aflatoxin consumption may increase infection in by suppressing the child’s immune system or by reducing nutrient absorption.
What should infants drink? Breast milk!
The safest, most nutrient-dense milk for the baby is of course, breast milk. That being said, the mother herself should consume only milk that has been checked for aflatoxins. If the mother is unable to breastfeed, she should provide the baby with a safe and healthy milk formula, not diluted cow’s milk!
The frightening thing is that you can never know for how long have you been exposed to aflatoxins and what awaits you in future years. The best we can do is take preventive measures and believe in the estimates made by experts which claim that the cases of aflatoxin contamination get reduced every year with the help of rigorous testing of fresh milk and dairy products.
By being aware of this problem, you can significantly reduce your and your children’s exposure to aflatoxins, which is very important to do because the cases of long-term exposure to contaminated milk lead to truly devastating health problems.