Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Assessment of exposure to harmful mycotoxins through breast milk in Egyptian babies

Aspergillus species cause health problems in humans and animals by direct colonisation through the lungs, but can also cause harm through the production of substances called mycotoxins. These can contaminate crops and grain when food is not dried and stored correctly.

If contaminated grain is eaten over longer periods of time -then the aspergillus mycotoxins can cause cancers, they are highly toxic also causing DNA mutations.

A recent study of 150 mothers and infants fed exclusively on breast milk in Egypt has produced some alarming results. Mothers are exposed to many toxins that can reach infants through breast milk. Scientists measured aflatoxin M1 which is excreted in breast milk and derives from several well known types of Aspergillus - such as flavus and parasiticus, found as crop contaminants.

Infant weights were documented at birth and 6 months. At 6 months - prior to weaning - aflatoxin M1 was measured along with liver markers alanine and aspartate aminotransferases, in both mothers and infants.

65% of mothers had aflatoxin M1 (>0.05ug/ml) in their breast milk - the range was 0.2- 19ug/ml. The infants of aflatoxin positive mothers had lower standard deviation scores both at birth and at 6 months. Also the levels of liver enzymes in both mothers and infants whose breast milk contained aflatoxin were significantly higher than those who were aflatoxin negative.

The study concludes that aflatoxins represent a real health threat in Egypt and the raised levels of liver enzymes in this group must be taken seriously as a potential warning for monitoring for liver cancers. Increased public education about correct food storage and aflatoxin hazards must be a priority. Link to paper

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