Did you know that the contamination of our food supply may be adversely affecting the sexual development of young girls? Recent research indicates that mycotoxins, or toxic secondary metabolites produced by fungi, contaminate as much as 25% of the global food supply. This research has been ongoing for over 30 years now, and there is sufficient evidence to indicate that this issue may be a more ancient problem that affects both organic and conventional grains. This contamination can cause acute and even life-threatening adverse health effects such as aflatoxicosis.
Adverse health concerns can occur even with low concentrations of these toxins, and the absence of symptoms does not necessarily mean that you are not being affected. Even miniscule concentrations can affect your endocrine function and potentially lead to more chronic degenerative health conditions. When mycotoxins act as endocrine disruptors there is an increased likelihood of premature, delayed, or even halted sexual development in young girls.
A recent study revealed that nearly 78.5% of young girls sampled in New Jersey were positive for the estrogen-disrupting mycotoxin zearalenone (ZEA). This mycotoxin has derivatives that are patented and found in many oral contraceptives, and has also been commonly used in the United States as a fattening agent for cattle since 1969. In this study, the young females testing positive for ZEA tended to be “shorter and less likely to have reached the onset of breast development.” This particular mycotoxin is found in many grains such as corn, barley, oats, wheat, rice, and sorghum. However, it is possible for grain-fed sources of meat, dairy products, eggs, and even beer to be contaminated as well. This study was the first of its kind to evaluate the potential estrogen-disrupting properties of ZEA, and there is a great need for further research to be conducted on this topic in the interest of public health. There are over 40 mycotoxins known to be health concerns that are subject to regulation in over 100 countries, but most have not been fully evaluated for their health risks.
While we can push for further research and food regulation, what can be done in the meantime? The best prevention of adverse health effects is diet modification. Unfortunately, the issue lies in both conventional and organic grain products, and cooking contaminated grains does not reduce their mycotoxin concentrations enough to make them safe for consumption. Shifting away from cereal grains and excluding mold-susceptible grains from your diet is one of the best steps you can take. Instead, try to include low-starch, high-nutrient vegetables that are fresh and well cleaned. Avoid anything that is canned or heavily processed, as these tend to be more rich in mycotoxins. Additionally, consider cooking with garlic as it has been studied to potentially reduce the adverse effects of ZEA toxicity.