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Mycotoxins: the hidden cancer-causing fungus in corn, processed foods

By Sari Huhtala

If cancer prevention is on your radar, then eliminating corn from your diet ought to be at the top of your priority list, considering corn and corn-based products have the highest levels of fumonisins – a naturally-occurring fungus linked to cancer and immunotoxicity.

“Corn is the grain most vulnerable to fumonisin contamination. The levels of fumonisins can be quite high, even in the absence of visible signs of mould proliferation,” according to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency report: Multi-Mycotoxins in Corn Products, Crackers, Other Grain Products, Pasta and Gluten-Free Products – April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. Most processed foods on the market contain corn derivatives like dextrose, maltodextrin and corn starch.

The report highlights the results of studies on the presence of mycotoxins  (naturally-occurring fungus) in corn products, crackers and grain products – both domestic and imported, collected from regions across Canada from 2018 to 2019. Out of 750 samples analyzed, mycotoxins were present in 51 per cent of products. Researchers discovered 17 different mycotoxins within the samples, including aflatoxins, zearalenone and fumonisins.

“One aflatoxin form, aflatoxin B1, is among the most potent naturally-occurring liver carcinogens known,” the report states.

Among products texted, pasta was found to have the highest concentration of detectable mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins zeranol and zearalenone (ZEA) can be found in corn, grains and other plant foods, as well as in animal products. Research suggests the presence of ZEA may be cause for concern as ZEA are mycoestrogens and endocrine disruptors, according to a 2011 study in Science of the Total Environment. Zeranol is a synthetic form of the mycotoxin, used in both Canada and the U.S. to speed up the growth of animals for the meat industry. The European Union banned zeranol use in 1989, and any import of beef from North America, due to research that shows ZEA may promote cancer in humans.

For the 2011 study, researchers recruited 163 girls, ages nine and 10, with the intent of understanding what effect mycoestrogens might have on body size and development in young girls. They discovered detectable levels of mycoestrogens in 78.5 per cent of the girls. The girls with detectable levels were more likely to be shorter, and less likely to have reached the start of breast development. Corn and beef consumption was also associated with higher levels of mycoestrogens. High levels of zearalenone were found in those who consumed high levels of popcorn.

Numerous studies, including a 2009 study in Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, found naturally occurring zearalenone can contaminate wheat, corn, oats, hay and other grains, and can increase the risk of breast cancer.

The synthetic form zeranol has been found to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, and breast cancer cell proliferation, according to research in the Breast Journal and in the International Journal of Oncology. Research in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that even when zeranol levels are about 30 times lower than the FDA-established limit in beef, abnormal cell growth can be “significant.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report in 2018 highlighting concerns about human health and fumonisin exposure.

“In all animal species tested, fumonisin B1 has been associated with a wide range of adverse health effects, particularly on the liver and kidney. A particular concern is the cancer-causing potential of the toxins, thought to arise following disruption of fat metabolism by the toxins,” according to a 2018 WHO article on Fumonisns, entitled “Fumonisins are a significant health risk to livestock, and potentially also to humans.”

To reduce the risk of cancer, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, a science-based policy and advocacy organization in the U.S., recommends consuming hormone-free meat products and limiting popcorn and consumption of other grains and grain-based products that may be contaminated with ZEAs.

Photo credit: ©[Whitestorm] via Canva

Sari Huhtala is the publisher and editor of Alive and Fit Magazine. She has over 25 years experience in journalism. She is a mother of 3 adult children. She has spent over 20 years navigating a healthy path for her family, one health hack at a time, as a single mom feeding her kids healthy on a shoestring budget. She also has over 15 years experience as a certified fitness specialist and personal trainer, 10 years experience as a reiki practitioner; she studied Shamanism and is currently completing yoga teacher training certification.

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