Aflatoxins

Aflatoxins are produced by species of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus in various commodities including maize, rice, barley, wheat, sorghum, peanuts and copra. Asper-gillus flavus produces only aflatoxins B1 and B2 whereas A. parasiticus produces aflatoxins Bi, B2, Gi and G2. The toxicological effects of aflatoxins are dose-dependent. At high doses they are lethal if consumed, causing liver, myocardial and kidney tissue damage. At sub-lethal doses aflatoxins cause chronic toxicity, e.g. liver cirrhosis, and at low-level exposure, they are potent human hepatocellular carcinogens (Wild and Turner, 2002). Aflatoxins also are mutagenic and teratogenic and can depress cell-mediated immunity (Williams et al., 2004). Recently these toxins have been implicated in the stunting of children in Benin and Togo, where growth was reduced in children eating foods highly contaminated with aflatoxins introduced at weaning (Gong et al., 2002). Aflatoxin B1 acts synergistically with hepatitis B virus infection to increase its carcinogenic potency thirty-fold in hepatitis B surface antigen positive populations. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has evaluated aflatoxin B1 as a Group 1 carcinogen producing liver cancer in humans (IARC, 1993).

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