Molds are microbes; some of them that grow on peanuts, pistachios can cause severe damage to your liver. They contain very dangerous carcinogenic substances and toxins. These toxins are considered a big risk and are known to cause liver cancers.
Mold forms a common part of dust seen in homes. It is also common in the dust collected at your workplace. Most of the molds are not known to have hazardous effects on people. Also, side effects of an exposure to them are not the same for all people. These effects vary from one person to another. But in general, occurrence of short term allergies upon being exposed to molds is common.
Types of mycotoxins in mold
Long term exposure to molds can lead to medical conditions, triggered by mycotoxins present in them. These toxins are essentially produced by fungi – especially those affecting crops. As per American Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 24% of crops grown all over the world are contaminated by mycotoxins. The most widely observed and researched mycotoxins are ergot alkaloids (such as ergotamine), aflatoxin, etc. Clinical studies reveal that a family of mold can make various types of mycotoxins. On the other hand, different genres of molds can make similar mycotoxins.
The toxins found in molds – especially aflatoxins – damage your liver than other organs of your body. The medical condition to refer poisoning by these toxins is called aflatoxicosis. It occurs when you consume foods polluted by these toxins. When you feed animals with foods polluted by toxins (especially aflatoxins), the products we derive from animals – such as meat, eggs, milk, etc. – may also be contaminated by same toxins.
Toxins in mold
Among toxins found in molds, aflatoxin needs a special emphasis. These toxins are carcinogenic and hence are extremely dangerous. Molds falling under Aspergillus parasiticus as well as Aspergillus flavus are known to produce this poisonous toxin in abundance. These toxins are found to grow in decayed vegetables, grains, hay as well as on soil. Staple food products not stored as per recommended storage conditions can develop these toxins. The common items where it is found to grow include millet, peanuts, wheat, corn (especially sweetcorn), sesame, rice, cottonseed, etc. The toxin is also found in improperly stored spices.
Aflatoxicosis is not found to be contagious. However, medications can offer very little relief from such poisoning. Of the various types of aflatoxins, the major types are aflatoxins B, aflatoxins G and aflatoxins M. Of these aflatoxins B are the most widely seen toxins in molds. These are extremely carcinogenic than many other toxins found in mold. On the other hand, aflatoxins M and M1 are found in animal produce when animals are made to consume feeds contaminated by molds. Aflatoxin G includes two sub-types namely aflatoxin G1 and G2.
Who are most likely to be affected?
Children are easy targets. Molds with aflatoxin can cause liver cancer as well as damages to children’s liver. These toxins can also stunt growth among younger children and may also delay their development during the growing years. You may be surprised to know that aflatoxin is categorized among acutely carcinogenic toxins known to humans.
How do toxins in mold cause liver damage?
Adverse effects of aflatoxin can be summarised as two types. The first type is exposure to this toxin for a long span of time, but in small quantities. This can happen when you consume foods that have a few traces of this mycotoxin; and consumption of these foods is found to last for a fairly long period of time. Such exposure causes cancer in the liver triggered by mutations in your genes. The other type is high level of exposure for a fairly short span of time. This exposure also causes liver cancer. But, apart from cancer in the liver, such short term exposure to large quantum of aflatoxins can lead to impairment of liver function, coma, pain in your lower abdomen, edema, seizures, internal bleeding (haemorrhage) and at times, death.
Young adults as well as middle-aged adults have higher levels of resistance to exposures of aflatoxin. Adults succumbing to this toxin are very rare. But among children, intensive as well as persistent exposure can result in carcinoma of liver or cirrhosis. A condition called hepatic necrosis is usually observed as a prior condition i.e., a step prior to damage of liver. This is characterized by injuries to the cells of your liver.
Carcinoma of liver or cirrhosis is a medical condition wherein your liver fails to function normally. The tissues in your liver may get replaced by scar tissue. You may not observe the damages caused to your liver initially. Liver gets damaged over a long period of time. It may even prolong over a period of several years. All through this period, you may not observe any signs or symptoms of liver damage.
However, as the condition gets aggravated, signs such as inflammation of lower limbs (mainly legs), discoloration of skin, build-up of fluids in your abdomen, itchiness, weariness, etc. can be observed.
If your liver has suffered severe damages, the symptoms are characterized by changes in your digestion pattern, internal bleeding, mood swings, mental disorders, coma, edema, etc.
What is the biological process by which liver is damaged?
The toxins of mold (such as aflatoxin) insert new molecules onto deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This action leads to gene-level mutation of a key genre of genes; especially, those responsible for protecting cells from damages or death. These toxins also suppress your immunity which makes your body more vulnerable to viral attacks.
Scientific research has identified a few factors that can determine whether you are at risk of liver damage. These factors include exposure to other carcinogenic toxins, gender, intake of nutrition, age as well as type of species. These toxins mainly are found to target liver, among mammals. The odds of liver damage increase based on absence of monitoring facilities to track aflatoxins in mold, climatic conditions that can boost formation of fungi on food commodities such as corn, millets, rice, etc. These mycotoxins are also found to grow on grains stored in damp conditions, soon after harvest. It is also seen to grow prior to harvest if temperature and moisture conditions are suitable for its growth.
How to detect exposure to toxins of mold?
The level of aflatoxins in your body can be diagnosed by testing samples of blood serum and urine analysis. Your blood serum is used to detect the extent of AFB1-albumin; while the urine analysis checks for AFB1-guanine level. Of these two approaches, the blood serum test is more reliable as it can provide a credible output of aflatoxin exposure over a long term period – spanning even several months. Urine analysis is more suitable for short-term exposure – especially on a day-to-day basis.
How to prevent and treat this medical condition?
Possible risks can be prevented with intake of foods such as parsley, carrots, celery, etc. These vegetables are categorized as apiaceous; indicating their origination from aromatic flowering herbs or plants. These vegetables are known to subvert the harmful effects of the toxins commonly found in molds.
As mentioned above, the medical condition leading to damages to your liver due to toxins is called as aflatoxicosis. Treatment for this condition depends on the acuity of the disorder. Usual approaches include administration of dextrose (through IV mode), vitamins B and K. Your doctor may also advise you to consume a diet rich with proteins as well as intake of needful quantum of carbs.
Control of toxins in food
Many countries control pollution levels in foods by prescribing safety levels of toxins. In United States, the extent of aflatoxins permitted in foods cannot be more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) in foods. Similar regulations are also set for animal produce. For instance, milk containing more than 0.5 parts per billion of aflatoxin M is not permitted for consumption.
Despite such regulations, traces of toxins may still be present in foods. Some food producers do claim that these are lesser than the acceptable limits for safe consumption. However, long term consumption of such foods and the impact it has on health has already raised serious concerns among consumers. Beside humans, pets also face dangers of consuming foods contaminated by the presence of mycotoxins. Among animals, LD50 rate for aflatoxin (level at which 50% of the consuming lot experiences fatal outcomes) is found to be 1 mg to 9 mg per kg of animal’s body mass. Animals have also been found to develop cancer with the intake of toxic pet foods.
In sum, molds contain several types of mycotoxins. Aflatoxin is one type of toxin made by molds falling under the Aspergillus family. It is found to grow on multiple bases including decayed vegetables, soil as well as hay. In general, it can grow when the base has moisture content of 8% or above. Warmer weather conditions also can help these molds to grow.Of all the carcinogenic toxins found in mold, aflatoxin is sufficiently researched and its effects are well-documented. It is in fact one of the most toxic and carcinogenic substances produced in molds. Exposure to molds containing this mycotoxin can impair the functioning of your liver. Liver cancer is one of the common side effects of frequent exposure, regardless of its intensity.