Deoxynivalenol (DON)- A Common Tricothecene Mycotoxin Which Can Cause Vomiting

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Fusarium, Stachybotrys, Memnoniella and several other genera of fungi produce a group of at least 180 different mycotoxins called trichothecenes. Exposure to trichothecenes in foods, beverages, dust, and air can produce a wide range of adverse effects in humans including increased allergy, asthma, and lung inflammation; digestive problems including nausea and vomiting, neurotoxicity- including damage to the olfactory nerve and reduced concentration and mycotoxity, immunotoxicity, and lung hemorrhage.     


James Pestka and Alexa Smolinski. Deoxynivalenol: Toxicology and potential effects on humans. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 2005;8:39-69.

Vesper, S., et al. (2007). “Quantitative PCR analysis of molds in the dust from homes of asthmatic children in North Carolina.” Journal of Environmental Monitoring 9(8): 826-830.

Vesper, S. J. and M. J. Vesper (2002).”Stachylysin may be a cause of hemorrhaging in humans exposed to Stachybotrys chartarum.” Infection Immunity 70(4): 2065-2069

(Vesper and Vesper 2002) Higher levels of Stachybotrys DNA in household dust has been associated with higher asthma rates in children (Vesper, McKinstry et al. 2007). Deoxynivalenol is a trichothecene mycotoxin produced by Fusarium fungi (molds) and often contaminates grains such as wheat, corn, barley, and barley.

Deoxynivalenol is also known as DON, RD-toxin, and vomitoxin. DON production is particularly common in grains in the field or in storage which contain more than 13% water. The estimated costs of DON in ruined grain are $657 million a year in USA alone. DON often appears in animal feeds and in human products such as bread, bakery goods, beer, and many processed foods. The USA EPA has set a limit of DON of 1 parts per million (ppm) in foods.

DON causes a number of adverse digestive effects in humans and domestic animals including vomiting, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss, and growth failure in human children or young animals. DON exposure has been linked to reduced immunity and reduced litter size in domestic animals. Between 1961 and 1991 there were 54 reported outbreaks of DON food poisoning of humans in China consuming moldy wheat, barely or corn.

The largest of these outbreaks occurred in Anhui province (China) in 1991, in which 130,141 people developed vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and fever after eating contaminated grain. Proper harvesting, drying, and storage of grains is critical for reducing DON exposure in humans and animals. DON exposure can also be reduced by consuming a diverse diet that does not emphasize grains. 

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