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Over 30 years ago, scientists observed mycotoxin contaminated animal feed (grains) interfering with normal sexual development in young female pigs, resulting in estrogenic syndromes and precocious puberty. Recent human research in the U.S. is now confirming that the contamination of our food supply with fungal toxins is adversely affecting the sexual development of young girls.
Grains, once considered the foundation of the USDA's food pyramid, have recently come under scrutiny due to their purported evolutionary incompatibility (e.g. Paleodiet), their co-option by biotech and agricultural corporations (e.g. Monsanto's Franken-Corn), as well as the fact that they convert to "sugar" within the body, to name but a few of a growing list of concerns. But there may be a more underlying problem affecting all grains, including both organic and conventional varieties, that Nature herself produces, and it goes by the name of Mycotoxins.
What Are Mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins are toxic secondary metabolites produced by organisms of the fungi kingdom, commonly known as molds. If you eat grains, or grain-fed animal products, there is a good chance you are already being exposed because mold infestation and mycotoxin contamination affects as much as one-quarter of the global food and feed supply.[i]
Food contaminated with mycotoxins can cause acute, even life-threatening adverse health effects. As recently as April 2004, in Kenya, an outbreak of aflatoxicosis, caused by aflatoxin contamination in corn, resulted in 317 cases and 125 deaths.[ii] When samples of the corn were evaluated for levels of aflatoxin, 55% of the maize products tested had aflatoxin levels greater than the Kenyan regulatory limit of 20 parts per billion, ranging from 100 ppb (35%) to 1 part per million (7%).
While it is remarkable that these exceedingly low concentrations can have deadly effects, the absence of acute signs and symptoms of mycotoxin poisoning does not necessarily mean you are not being affected. Indeed, much lower, harder to detect, concentrations of various mycotoxins are capable of profoundly disrupting endocrine function in exposed population, likely contributing subclinically to many other chronic degenerative health conditions.
Mycotoxins As Endocrine Disruptors
A groundbreaking study published in the journal The Science of Total Environment in 2011 found that the estrogen-disrupting mycotoxin known as zearalenone (ZEA), produced by the microscopic fungus Fusarium graminearum, was detectable in the urine of 78.5% of New Jersey girls sampled, and that these Zea-positive girls, aged 9 and 10 years, "tended to be shorter and less likely to have reached the onset of breast development."[iii]
ZEA mycotoxins originate in grains such as corn, barley, oats, wheat, rice and sorghum,[iv] but also travel up the food chain to grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products, and are even found in beer. Indeed, the researchers were able to find an association between the young girls' urinary levels of ZEA and their intake of commonly contaminated sources such as beef and popcorn.
Interestingly, derivatives of ZEA mycotoxin have been patented as oral contraceptives. Also, according to a recent article "[zearalenone] has been widely used in the United States since 1969 to improve fattening rates in cattle by increasing growth rate and feed conversion efficiency. Evidence of human harm from this practice is provided by observations of central precocious puberty. As a result, this practice has been banned by the European Union." Other research has confirmed the link between mycotoxins and premature puberty.
Pigs fed zearalenone contaminated corn fed pigs has resulted in estrogenic syndromes including uterine enlargement, swelling of the vulva and mammary glands, and pseudopregnancy, according to research published over 30 years ago.
Molecular research on ZEA's endocrine disruptive properties indicate that it has much higher estrogen receptor binding affinity, when compared nanogram to nanogram, than found in other well-known endocrine disruptors, such as DDT and bisphenol A, in both estrogen receptor subtypes.[v] Also, healthy human intestinal microflora have been shown incapable of degrading zearalenone, unlike bisphenol A. [vi]