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Fungal Mycotoxins - they are a Poison

Tuesday, 15 December 2009 21:50
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Fungal Mycotoxins - they are a Poison.

A poison is any substance that when ingested, inhaled, applied to, injected or
developed within the body; by virtue of its chemical or molecular action has the potential to cause damage to cellular structure and/or function.
The term toxin is used to describe a poison but more specifically a toxin is a protein produced by plants animals and bacteria that are dangerous for other living organisms.

Poison and toxins have a direct dose relationship- the higher the dose, the greater the potential for structural or functional damage.

Outcomes of Mycotoxin Exposure


  1. Detoxification after exposure - no or minimal structural or functional damage to the tissue and when removed from the exposure essentially full recovery.
  2. Tissue damage with repair/Cellular adaptation - restoration and recovery based on the type of tissue and extent of tissue damage.
  3. Chronic Long Term Injury - persistent morbidity and potential carcinogenesis.
  4. Death - may occur at any of the stages of exposure due to the agent or possible sensitivity due to previous exposure or a cumulative effect.

Mycotoxins and the Liver

Mycotoxins are produced by fungi, as the primary organ responsible for detoxification in the body the liver is the target for Aflatoxicosis, Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) exposure is a major risk for the development of a form of liver cancer called Hepatocellular Carcinoma. AFB1 causes DNA damage forming the basis for carcinogenesis.

The links of evidence between Hepatocellular Carcinoma to mutations in the p53 gene:

A. The specific mutation(GA:TC transversion) in the p53 gene is found in over 50% of Hepatocellular Carcinomas in areas of the world where there is a high incidence of Aflatoxicosis compared to 1% in other parts of the world with a low incidence of Aflatoxicosis.

B. Patients with positive urine AFB1-guanine excretion are 3 times more likely to develop Hepatcellualr Carcinoma.

C. Patients with Hep B are more likely to develop Hepatocellular Cancer but when exposed to Aflatoxicosis at the same time the individuals are 60 times more likely to develop malignancy showing a synergism between HBV infection and AFB1 exposure. There are other documented links showing reactions with other viruses, infections and some food supplements with Aflatoxin poisoning. (1)


Could Fungal Mycotoxins be the cause of DNA change in Mammalian Cells?

A physical or chemical agent that changes the genetic material, usually DNA of an organism and increases the frequency of mutations. As many mutations cause cancer, mutagens are typically also carcinogens .(2)

During the 1940-1950’s episodes of lethal disease in humans were  recorded in Russia, this situation was well documented and  referred to as “Alimentary Toxic Aleukia”(ATA) due to mould contamination of harvested grains, the true causative agent was not  known at that time and it has been retrospectively now considered to be  caused by the T-2 toxin. In the 1930’s this disease resulted in the death of thousands of horses but not by the same toxin, subsequently it has been found that the chemical nature of the causative  compounds  are very similar and are known today as members of the class of Mycotoxins called Trichothecenes (3)

The major aflatoxins consist of B1  B2 G1 and G2 which are produced by selected isolates, The aflatoxins are primarily hepatotoxic or cause liver damage in animals; aflatoxin B1 being the most potent of these can immunosuppressive, carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic (4). Aflatoxin B is a human carcinogen but may be only part of the total answer to human liver cancer (5). Further studies and research may eventually link pre-exposure to other toxins and chemicals as well as linking exposure to a virus, or bacterium at the same time as Mycotoxin exposure as part elevated Low Density Lipo-proteins and resultant DNA change.(6)

Have been shown to be a cause of disease in horses that includes a softening of white matter in the brain -leukoencephalomalacia. (7) The Fumonisins are suspect in the cause of oesophageal tumours in certain human populations (Marasas 1993, 1996).Primates when feed Fusarium Toxins developed Hyperlipidemia and Atherosclerosis- Hyperlipidemia is a protective-toxin binding agent that is seen in a number of complex infections. (8)

Results show that Intracellular Glutathoine levels decrease in U-118 MG cells exposed to Fumonisin B1 for 12-144, the results were obtained in GT1 and C6 cells after being exposed to FB1 for 48 hours. Necrotic cell death was observed in all cells treated with FB1 for 144 hrs. The human U-118MG glioblastoma cell seems to be sensitive to FB1 but it did not appear to cause DNA damage in cells. (9) Further Research is required here as it’s believed that a number of other Mycotoxins may also affect the Glutathoine levels which may lead to elevated Low Density Lipo-Proteins

T-2 Toxin
This Mycotoxin is representative of a large group of mycotoxins called Trichothecenes, belonging to the Type A chemical class of non-macro cyclic
Trichothecenes. The major effect of T-2 toxin and other Trichothecenes is that they inhibit protein synthesis which is followed by secondary disruption of DNA and RNA synthesis. It affects actively dividing cells such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract, skin lymphoid and erythroid cells. It can decrease antibody levels, immunoglobulins and certain other humeral factors such as CY toxins (10, 11).
Results of testing established that the conidia of S. arta contain Trichothecenes mycotoxins. In view of the potent toxicity of the Trichothecenes, the inhalation of aerosols containing concentrations of these conidia could be a potential hazard to health (12).

Ochratoxin is primarily a kidney toxin but in sufficiently high concentrations it can damage the liver as well. It’s a carcinogen in rats and mice and considered to be
The cause of some associated tumours in humans (13).

Oxalic Acid
A little realized Mycotoxin which has been found in areas of tissue where other mycotoxins were testing positive and can form into Calcium Oxalate crystals.
Calcium Oxalate Crystals have been reported in breast tissue from Cancer patients, also in the Sphenoid sinus where a.Niger was removed and from Lung tissue where crystals on transbronchial biopsy specimens was the only laboratory indication of Aspergillosis until fungal cultures became positive (14)


Benefits of some Mycotoxins?

Important pharmaceuticals have been developed from these secondary metabolites including:

  1. Antibiotics (penicillin) which can cause reactions in some humans.
  2. Immunosuppressant’s (Cyclosporin A) a fungal derived drug- Reported occurrences of de novo malignant tumours occurring in 598 renal transplants recipients who were immunosuppressed with Cyclosporin (15, 16) reported 88 tumours in 87 seven transplant recipients after the use of Cyclosporin.

What we don’t know and the Questions that research needs to deal with


  1. Can individuals who have been pre-exposed to say Ochratoxin have a cumulative affect when re-exposed?
  2. Ochratoxins are removed from the body very slowly so that continued exposure may lead to a cumulative build up?
  3. Individuals who have become highly sensitive due to steroids etc may react at lower exposures, ?
  4. If the mycotoxins are causative agents associated with health issues and that causative agent is not removed, will those health issues re-emerge?

Steps to Determining the presence of Mycotoxins in a Workplace or Dwelling

  1. Find the source which is allowing a fungal contamination to develop
  2. Indentify the species
  3. Sample for Mycotoxins
  4. Testing of the occupants for Mycotoxins.
  5. Genetic fungal testing from sputum or tissue

Duty of Care

This is an area whereby elimination is the best duty of care- eliminate the presence of Mycotoxins and its just one more health risk removed from what could be a litigation minefield.


Fungal Testing

It would appear that the most important testing to be carried out is Indentification not quantification as very low levels of some Fungi may produce Toxins which can
have far reaching results and if we focus on levels we may miss the results which
have greater significance.


What should you do if you are aware of Mycotoxin contamination in a Work Place?

Don’t hide the results
Don’t hide the results
Don’t hide the results



  1. PATB 4130/5130 lecture 24;How Toxins and Poisons Cause Disease-Don Montogomery.DUM, PHD,Dipl ACUP
  3. Forgacs and Carli -ADV VET SCI,7,273 1962
  4. Miller and Wilson
  5. Roben and Richard 1992-Aflatoxins in Animal and Human Health, REV,Environ.Toxicol 127:69-94- Medline
  6. NeilVJ PhdECS
  7. Marasa et.al 1988 -WFO, Kellerman TS, Gelderblom, WCA, et al:1988
  8. Av Constantini.MD1993- The fungal Mycotoxin etiology of Malignancies and Autoimmune Diseases- Esser-Naugle International Lectureship Grant Oct 11 ,1993
  9. Helene Stockman SYTTY
  10. Niyo et al 1988
  11. Richard 1991
  12. Sorenson 1987-Appl.Enviromental.Microbiol 53:1370-1375
  13. Pfohl-Leszkowicz et al 2002
  14. Setimiu D Murgu MD and Henri Colt MD 2005
  15. Vogt et al 1990
  16. Penn and First 1986

Vince Neil
Mycotox Pty Ltd

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Last Updated on Friday, 05 March 2010 23:17


# 2011-02-13 16:52
Good job on this article. Mold can cause serious health problems. For information about the health effects of mold and indoor contaminants, go to truthaboutmold.info and globalindoorhealthnetwork.com.