Aflatoxins threaten your liver

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December 23, 2014
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Normally, liver cancer occurs in hepatitis patients, or individuals with cirrhosis of the liver. But the disease has been on the rise for decades, now striking 1 in every 81 American men and 1 in every 196 women.

Worldwide, though, the statistics are even worse. In sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, liver cancer—and its cousin, bile duct cancer—are among the most common forms of the disease.  In those countries, more than 700,000 people are diagnosed each year, and for about 600,000 of them the disease is fatal.

With such a deadly disease on the rise, I think it’s time to ask some tough questions. Why are more Americans than ever being diagnosed with liver and bile duct cancer? And—more importantly—what can you do about it?

Here’s one answer that’s rarely discussed among doctors—avoid aflatoxins, potent carcinogens that accumulate on food.

The fungus Aspergillus flavis produces aflatoxins. Crops can be contaminated before or after harvest. Aflatoxins are worst in areas with warm, wet weather, but they can also be produced in drought conditions, depending on agricultural practices.

Corn, peanuts, and cottonseed are considered highest risk. And I recommend my patients avoid foods made with those ingredients, too, making peanut butter—even if it’s made from organic peanuts—off limits.

Aflatoxins are found on both organic and conventional crops, and cooking—even at high temperatures—does not kill them. They’ve been detected in foods like milk, yogurt, eggs, and cheese, possibly because the dairy animals had eaten contaminated feed.

Aflatoxins are a very serious health issue. They’re also ubiquitous in our world. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which routinely tests foods that have the potential for aflatoxins, classifies the mold as an “uncontrollable contaminant.”

Much of the damage caused by aflatoxins takes place in your liver, so you’re not likely to be aware of it until serious symptoms—abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, fluid in the lungs, enlarged liver—develop.

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Remember, your whole body relies on the liver; it removes waste and harmful substances from your body. So even though it may be impossible to avoid aflatoxins completely, you can take steps to protect your liver and minimize the damage they may cause.

There is no test to determine whether or not you have aflatoxicosis. But you can be tested to see if you’re hypersensitive to the fungus, Aspergillus flavis, and adjust your diet accordingly.

And even if you don’t get tested, here’s what I suggest to patients who are concerned about aflatoxin exposure:

Reduce your exposure: Even if you only eat a handful of peanuts or a peanut butter sandwich now and then, damage to your liver can accumulate. And chronic exposure increases your odds of developing liver cancer. So I recommend switching to cashew or almond butter. But if you just can’t give up those peanut butter sandwiches, at least refrigerate the peanut butter to minimize mold growth.

Use anti-fungal supplements: There are a number of different choices. Two that I like are FC Cidal, an herbal combination product, and Formula SF 722, which contains a fatty acid that helps restore health to your gastrointestinal tract.

Take curcumin: There’s woefully little research done on substances that reduce the health effects of aflatoxins. But one study did find that curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, actually reduced aflatoxin-induced liver damage in lab animals.

In addition, try my recipe for a healthy liver detox. I don’t think a day goes by without me giving this recipe to at least one patient. It’s a simple process that my patients say works wonderfully, even the ones who are skeptical at first.

And please don’t be overwhelmed by all the problems in our food supply. It can be disheartening, but it’s better to be aware of potentially harmful substances, so you can take steps to protect yourself and your family.

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  • aidensky

    Doesnt Curcummin/Turmeric have some of the highest contamination of aflatoxin already in its raw/ground state?
    I have read that is has many benefits but also read that is also a carrier of aflatoxins.
    Slightly confused

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