Trichothecenes, Zearalenones, Fumonosins, Aflatoxins, and Ochratoxin A are five potentially life threatening toxins that can end up in the food chain and will not be easily destroyed by heat or freezing.
Nowadays the word “toxin” tends to invoke an idea of chemicals or metals, but there are plenty of toxins in the natural world. These five in particular come from something considered ubiquitous, but rarely thought of as dangerous: mold.
There are around 50 000 species of mold in the world, 200 of which can cause health problems and a genus of 300 that are probably the most famous in the world: penicillin. Mold follows the same basic patterns as all its fungi family members: it thrives in moist environments, such as basements and bathrooms, and — as we are all keenly aware — on foods. On top of that, and relevant to this article, is that fungi reproduce by spreading spores. Those spores, once airborne, can be inhaled and enter the body. Most of the time they are irritants and allergens, but sometimes the effects are more severe and long lasting.
Symptoms of mold toxicity can have a wide range, going from cold like symptoms to more serious respiratory problems like pneumonia or general difficulty breathing, to immune suppression, nervous system damage, mood change, cognitive impairment, fatigue, and more. Someone familiar with mold toxicity, such as a naturopathic doctor, can be important to consult with to get a proper diagnosis as early as possible.
The most serious threat to health is the molds that create mycotoxins. As you may have guessed, the five substances from the first sentence of this article are the main mycotoxins of concern. These toxins enter the food chain through animal feed, which ultimately enters the human body thanks to its extreme resilience.
Each of these horrible five causes a different set of symptoms:
Trichothecenes stop the body from producing proteins and kill off cells. Immediate symptoms are drowsiness, dry eyes, and a skin rash, which spreads over the body in blotches. Finally it may lead to paranoia or haemorrhagic fever. There is real risk of death due to infection or blood loss.
Zearalenones bare a resemblance to estrogen (the “female hormone”) on a molecular level. In animals that eat infected food there is swelling and redness of the vagina and potential for vaginal prolapse (part of the vaginal canal protrudes through the vaginal opening). Zearalenones are assumed to have the same effect on humans, but it is not known for certain.
Fumonosins can digest brain tissue, cause liver damage, and increases the risk of liver and esophageal cancer.
Aflatoxins are another mycotoxin that increases the risk of cancer. First onset — especially in high doses or in children — can cause liver damage. Children in particular will experience delayed growth and development.
Ochratoxin A is one of the most widespread food-borne mycotoxins in the world, contaminating improperly stored food such as grains, pork, grapes, and coffee. Ochratoxin A increases likelihood of cancer and can cause immune system problems.
Now you know that mold can go beyond the fuzzy coating on an old orange and become something that threatens — or can heal — you and your family. In fact, following the flooding here in Calgary there has certainly been a rise in the amount of mold contamination in homes and the city environment as a whole, threatening many families. Knowledge is our best defense. Awareness is the key to avoidance.
If you experience any of the symptoms above, detect a musty smell in your home, have an old or previously flooded home, or think that you have been affected by mold, contact us to schedule a naturopathic consultation and figure out the proper testing and treatment options for you.