Ochratoxin in Breakfast Cereals

Ochratoxin in Breakfast Cereals
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One of the few food contaminants found at higher levels in those eating plant-based diets are mycotoxins, fungal toxins in moldy food ingredients, such as oats.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Intro: This is the first video in a 4-part video series on mycotoxins like ochratoxin and aflatoxin. In this series, we’ll look at what these compounds are, which foods contain them, and how concerned we should be about ingesting them.

In France, exposure to dietary contaminants was compared between vegetarians and meat-eaters, and the results showed that exposures to persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and dioxins was dramatically lower among those eating more plant-based, due to the non-consumption of foods of animal origins—though they did have higher estimated exposure to some mycotoxins, fungal toxins present in moldy food.

Now, there are many types of mold on the planet, and the vast majority are harmless. But over the last several years, certain mold toxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin, have been popping up in breakfast cereals. Hundreds of samples were taken off store shelves, and about half were contaminated with ochratoxin, for example. But those were store shelves in Pakistan. Pakistan has a sub-tropical climate with monsoons and flash floods, leading to fungal propagation.

But then, similar results have popped up in Europe, Serbia, Spain, and Portugal. Then mycotoxins were discovered in breakfast cereals in Canada. What about breakfast cereals in the United States?

There were 144 samples collected, and similar to other countries, about half were found to contain ochratoxin. But only about 7 percent exceeded the maximum limit established by the European Commission. What is the significance of the finding of ochratoxin in breakfast cereals from the United States? This was the largest study to date, including nearly 500 samples of cereal off store shelves across the U.S. Overall detection rates were about 40 percent, though only 16 violated the European standards. All the cereals with ochratoxin were oat-based, making about one in 13 of the oat-based breakfast cereal samples tested being contaminated.

Ochratoxin has become increasingly regulated by many countries to minimize chronic exposure. Here are the current regulations for mycotoxins in cereal-based baby foods worldwide, for example. Some countries are very strict, like in the European Union, other countries less so, and one country in particular has no standards at all. Ochratoxin is not currently regulated at all in the United States.

What if you stick to organic products? One might expect them to actually be worse, owing to the fact that fungicides are not allowed in organic production. However, mycotoxin concentrations are usually similar or even reduced in organic, compared with conventional products.

For example, in one of the breakfast cereal studies, researchers found similar contamination, and the same was found for infant foods. It cannot be concluded that one is better than the other from a mycotoxin perspective. Despite no use of fungicides, organic systems appear generally able to maintain mycotoxin contamination at low levels. But how much is that saying, given how widespread it is? How concerned should we be about the public health effects from long-term exposure of this potent mycotoxin?

If you look at blood samples taken from populations going back decades, sometimes 100 percent of people turn up positive for ochratoxin circulating in their bloodstream. In some sense, they are unavoidable contaminants of food, since the detection of mycotoxins is not always easy and can remain hidden. And once foods have become contaminated, mycotoxins aren’t destroyed by cooking. So, are there some foods we should simply try to avoid due to higher risk of contamination? That’s exactly the question I’m going to address next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Intro: This is the first video in a 4-part video series on mycotoxins like ochratoxin and aflatoxin. In this series, we’ll look at what these compounds are, which foods contain them, and how concerned we should be about ingesting them.

In France, exposure to dietary contaminants was compared between vegetarians and meat-eaters, and the results showed that exposures to persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and dioxins was dramatically lower among those eating more plant-based, due to the non-consumption of foods of animal origins—though they did have higher estimated exposure to some mycotoxins, fungal toxins present in moldy food.

Now, there are many types of mold on the planet, and the vast majority are harmless. But over the last several years, certain mold toxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin, have been popping up in breakfast cereals. Hundreds of samples were taken off store shelves, and about half were contaminated with ochratoxin, for example. But those were store shelves in Pakistan. Pakistan has a sub-tropical climate with monsoons and flash floods, leading to fungal propagation.

But then, similar results have popped up in Europe, Serbia, Spain, and Portugal. Then mycotoxins were discovered in breakfast cereals in Canada. What about breakfast cereals in the United States?

There were 144 samples collected, and similar to other countries, about half were found to contain ochratoxin. But only about 7 percent exceeded the maximum limit established by the European Commission. What is the significance of the finding of ochratoxin in breakfast cereals from the United States? This was the largest study to date, including nearly 500 samples of cereal off store shelves across the U.S. Overall detection rates were about 40 percent, though only 16 violated the European standards. All the cereals with ochratoxin were oat-based, making about one in 13 of the oat-based breakfast cereal samples tested being contaminated.

Ochratoxin has become increasingly regulated by many countries to minimize chronic exposure. Here are the current regulations for mycotoxins in cereal-based baby foods worldwide, for example. Some countries are very strict, like in the European Union, other countries less so, and one country in particular has no standards at all. Ochratoxin is not currently regulated at all in the United States.

What if you stick to organic products? One might expect them to actually be worse, owing to the fact that fungicides are not allowed in organic production. However, mycotoxin concentrations are usually similar or even reduced in organic, compared with conventional products.

For example, in one of the breakfast cereal studies, researchers found similar contamination, and the same was found for infant foods. It cannot be concluded that one is better than the other from a mycotoxin perspective. Despite no use of fungicides, organic systems appear generally able to maintain mycotoxin contamination at low levels. But how much is that saying, given how widespread it is? How concerned should we be about the public health effects from long-term exposure of this potent mycotoxin?

If you look at blood samples taken from populations going back decades, sometimes 100 percent of people turn up positive for ochratoxin circulating in their bloodstream. In some sense, they are unavoidable contaminants of food, since the detection of mycotoxins is not always easy and can remain hidden. And once foods have become contaminated, mycotoxins aren’t destroyed by cooking. So, are there some foods we should simply try to avoid due to higher risk of contamination? That’s exactly the question I’m going to address next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the first video in a four-part series on mold toxins. Stay tuned for:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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