Mycotoxins are the secondary metabolites released by fungi which are toxic and can cause disease and even death in humans and animals if exposed to these substances, especially when exposed for prolonged time periods and at certain levels. Mycotoxins can be found in a wide variety of foods like grains, nuts, dried fruits, and even coffee. They can pose significant health risks, including cancer, liver damage, and neurological disorders. Molds commonly found in buildings with water damage or high humidity levels produce this toxic compound, and can also grow on surfaces such as walls, flooring, and furniture. In this blog post we will discuss more on what mycotoxins are, the risks associated with them, and how to prevent and treat mycotoxin exposure.
Types of Mycotoxins
There are many different types of mycotoxins, but the most well-known mycotoxins are produced from the molds Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium. These include aflatoxins, ochratoxins, and trichothecenes. Aflatoxins are produced by Aspergillus molds and are often discovered in peanuts, corn, and other grains. Ochratoxins, produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium molds, can be found in cereals, coffee, and wine. Another type of mycotoxin, known as Trichothecenes, are produced by several types of molds, and are usually found in building materials.
What do Mycotoxins do to Humans?
Mycotoxins suppress the immune system, and thus are very harmful to health. Some people are more susceptible to the side-effects of mycotoxins than others, although the exposure to mold and mycotoxins are damaging to health regardless if one has immediate symptoms. Mycotoxins are harmful if eaten, inhaled, or through contact and absorption through the skin. Exposure to mycotoxins can cause serious health risks. These toxins can cause a variety of health issues, including respiratory problems, allergies, and even cancer. Aflatoxins have been linked to liver cancer and are considered to be a dangerous carcinogen. Ochratoxins have been linked to kidney damage and neurological disorders, and fumonisins have been associated with esophageal cancer.
Symptoms of mycotoxin exposure or toxicity can vary widely, however some of the more common ones to be aware of are nausea and gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing, watery eyes, skin irritation and rashes, lowered immune response (which can result in secondary infections), headache, chronic fatigue, and neurological symptoms.
Additionally, mycotoxins can cause toxicity in animals and pets, and can cause damage to liver, spleen, and kidney. If you and your pet are experiencing concerning symptoms, you may want to investigate mold and mycotoxin exposure.
Mycotoxins in Foods
Foods often high in mycotoxins:
- Nuts (especially peanuts)
- Dried fruits
- Coffee (there are a few mold-free coffees available)
- Milk (from cows that consume contaminated crops)
Preventing Mycotoxins in Foods
Preventing mycotoxins from developing in food is the most efficacious way to protect against them. The following are some ways to prevent mycotoxins in food:
- Store food correctly: Food should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent mold growth. It is also important to save food in airtight containers to prevent moisture from causing mold growth.
- Monitor humidity levels: High humidity levels can promote mold growth. It is important to keep humidity levels in the correct range for prevention. A dehumidifier can help with this.
- Examine food: Check for signs of mold before eating or cooking. Throw away any food that appears to be moldy or off.
- Clean up spills and leaks: Take care of any spills and leaks as soon as they happen to prevent issues with mold.
Mycotoxin Testing and Treatment
If you think you are dealing with a mycotoxin issue, it is important to find a doctor that is familiar with mycotoxins, testing for mycotoxins, and treatment. Never try to diagnose and treat yourself without medical guidance. However, one simple and relatively safe option to get rid of mycotoxins in the body is taking activated charcoal. Activated charcoal can bind toxins like mold or mycotoxins so that they can be flushed or removed from the body. Even with activated charcoal though, you will need to consult with your medical professional to make sure your are taking it far enough apart from any medications, food, or supplements, and make sure it is safe for you to take.
There are two ways you can test for mycotoxins. You can test yourself, through blood serum antibody testing, which can give you results for about a dozen different mycotoxins. You could also have your house tested if that is the source of your mycotoxin exposure. There are a variety of tests you can do to inspect your house, some are more accurate or reliable than others. You could also have a professional test your home for the presence and levels of mold and mycotoxins. Most homes will have some detectable amount of mold, but you are looking at the level and types of mold to determine the level of safety or danger. Obvious signs of water damage or leaks in a building will likely have much higher and more dangerous levels of mold.
The primary way to treat your mycotoxin exposure is to remove yourself from the contaminated environment. If that is your home, you may need to move or get safe and adequate remediation services. This step is often the hardest and most expensive part of dealing with mold. Check your insurance to see if there is any coverage for mold damage. If you can leave a moldy home or work environment, that is the fastest way to decrease your exposure and toxicity.
Mycotoxins and Air Purifiers
If you cant leave or remediate immediately, consider investing in a HEPA air filtration system and/or a dehumidifier to help manage and slow the contamination. The air filter will help keep the mycotoxins in the air at a lower level, and the dehumidifier may help slow mold growth and damage by reducing the humidity or moisture levels to an amount less favorable to mold. There are other options to consider as well, such as an ozone air purifier, which can help kill or stop the mold from growing, but still will not get rid of all the mold, especially if there is a leak or water damage issue that needs to be fixed. There are a variety of air filters on the market, make sure to find one helpful with mold and make sure to get one that covers the area needed for your home size.
Once you leave or remediate the mold issue in the building or home, you can then more effectively detox from your mycotoxin exposure. Again, seek help from a mold-literate health professional. Try to cut out foods that are high in mold and make sure you are storing your food properly to prevent mold growth. Reduce your exposure to other toxins, which will help your body deal with the toxicity burden it already has without adding to it. It can take months to years to recover from mycotoxins, so be patient and persistent with your treatment. Every person is different, although mycotoxin damage can permanently cause harm to the human body, so treating it as soon as possible, and removing yourself from the exposure as fast as possible, is important for reducing the risk of irreversible injury.
Mycotoxins are a serious health risk. They are toxic substances produced by certain types of mold. If you think you have mold in your home or are in an environment with mold and mycotoxins, it is important to reduce your exposure and remove the mold/mycotoxins from both your environment and your body. They can be found in many common foods and produce significant health risks. Each step you can take to reduce your risk and time exposed to mycotoxins, the better and faster your recovery process may be. Try not to be overwhelmed, but look at each thing listed above that you can do and start the process to reduce the risk of exposure to mycotoxins and protect your well-being.