Aflatoxins: Reduce Your Exposure To This Known Carcinogen

When you think of moldy food, you might picture of piece of moldy bread. But have you thought about corn, dried fruit, dried spices, nuts, and milk? Aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin produced by mold which grows on foods such as tree- and ground- nuts as well as on grains and grain products. Both humans and animals are at risk for exposure. While aflatoxins can cause allergies and acute toxicity when eaten, they can also cause liver cancer. Awareness of which foods carry the highest amounts of aflatoxins is key to limiting your exposure.

A Worldwide Problem

The formation of mold on agricultural crops is a worldwide problem. Areas most at risk are ones where humidity and warm temperatures abound, like India and Asia. Climate change, however, has brought the problem closer to home. In Europe, aflatoxin contamination poses a threat to the dairy industry, particularly with regard to milk. In the U.S., the threat is greatest for crops grown in the Southeast. Environmental conditions that weaken plants, like drought or pest infestation, also set the stage for the growth of Aspergillus, the aflatoxin-producing mold. Use of the pesticide, Roundup, has also been found to encourage the growth of Aspergillus, especially among genetically-modified crops.

Aspergillus molds are common soil and air contaminants which can grow on crops before harvesting, but also during harvesting, storage, and after processing. The fact that aflatoxins are very stable enables them to persist in foods despite intense processing, including roasting. That means that nut butters as well as cereals can contain aflatoxins. Contaminated grain that is fed to livestock is another source of exposure for humans who consume dairy products or eat meat and poultry (although the risk of transmission through meat/poultry is very rare). Of the various animal products at risk for aflatoxin contamination, milk has been found to contain the highest amounts.

Foods Most Susceptible to Contamination

Several different types of aflatoxins exist. The U.S. and many other countries around the world monitor for aflatoxin contamination of food and have specific limits on the amounts allowable in human food and animal feed. This includes domestic and foreign products. Of the approximately 100 countries which have regulations governing aflatoxin exposure, the EU has the strictest limits.

The foods most likely to be contaminated by aflatoxins include:

  • Nuts & Nut Butters: Peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts

  • Grains & Grain Products like cereals

  • Corn

  • Chilies

  • Soybeans

  • Rice

  • Figs

  • Dried Fruits

  • Dried Spices

How You Can Limit Your Exposure To Aflatoxins

Chronic exposure to low levels of the B1 alfatoxin has been implicated in the development of liver disease, including hepatitis and cirrhosis, as well as in the development of liver cancer. Inflammation of the intestinal tract as well as the kidneys have also occurred due to aflatoxin exposure. Other reported health problems include depression, infertility, suppression of the immune system, low birth weights, and birth defects.

Here are a few ways you can limit your exposure to aflatoxins:

  • Store grains and nuts in a cool and dry place and discard after 1-2 months or freeze them soon after purchase for later consumption.

  • Check nuts for mold and throw out ones which appear shriveled.

  • Avoid eating any of the at-risk foods in large amounts or on a regular basis.

Regular detoxification is an important part of improving and maintaining your health. Ask your healthcare provider if a supervised detoxification program like Metagenics ClearChange is right for you. Specially designed mold detoxification programs are also available. For more information on how you can improve your health by eliminating toxins from your body, please contact us.


Frazzoli, C. et al. The Hotspot for (Global) One Health in Promary Food Production: Aflatoxin M1 in Dairy Products. Front Public Health. 2017 Feb. 2:4:294.

Lawley, R. Aflatoxins. February 1, 2013.

National Cancer Institute. Aflatoxins. March 25, 2015.

The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.

~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~

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