Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Aflatoxins in Food & Vulnerability to AIDS

Frequency of AIDS in Africa


Mycotoxin contamination of food is a widespread problem in parts of the developing world (1,2) especially where local farmers do not have adequate facilities to dry crops prior to storage, storage is inadequate, crops are damaged while in the field or simply farmers lack money or knowledge/awareness of the potential problems and how to avoid them.

Even if the dangers of eating mouldy food is well known there can be a need to eat the food if it is the only food available for some poor communities. Consequently exposure to mycotoxins such as aflatoxin is known to be many times that found in the more developed world (3) and symptoms of exposure are widespread eg. stunted growth, liver cancer.

A new research report suggests that a diet containing high levels of aflatoxin has less obvious consequences but no less lethal. In some parts of Africa AIDS is circulating in the population at high frequency - up to 15% of the general population aged 15 - 49. At high dose rates of aflatoxin there is evidence that our immune systems are suppressed. The research group set out to try to show if there is a correlation between suffering from AIDS and having a diet high in aflatoxin.

The results are quite clear - the amount of aflatoxin in the bodies of people suffering from AIDS correlates with the number of HIV virus' circulating in their bodies. As they eat more mouldy food so they become more infected with the virus. HIV also causes immune suppression so we have a vicious cycle of destruction of the immune system of the affected people. The authors suggest that this may be a factor in the initiation of the infection.

These people are a victim twice over - once from poverty and a poor diet, the second time when they are left exposed to a deadly virus with only a weakened immune system to fight it with.

References
  1. Aflatoxins claim victims in Africa
  2. New biocontrol agent for Aspergillus contamination of peanuts
  3. Improved Health through Aflatoxin Management in African Foods

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