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Mycotoxins May Increase Risk Of Developing Irritable Bowel And Related Disorders

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Inflammatory intestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease are very common and potentially very debilitating conditions. Some studies report that as many as 10% of adults and adolescents have irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome can cause chronic diarrhea and/or constipation, cause considerable pain and discomfort, and significantly increase risk for malnutrition, chronic fatigue and chronic depression.


Marc Maresca et al. Both direct and indirect effects account for the pro-inflammatory activity of enteropathogenic mycotoxin on the human intestinal epithelium. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 2008;228:84-92. AND

Patricia Cano et al. Deoxynivalenol as a new factor in the persistence of intestinal inflammatory diseases. PLOS ONE January 2013;8(1):e53647

Drinking enough water, taking probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus and eating moderate amounts of fiber have been moderately helpful to many irritable bowel patients. The exact cause(s) for the various inflammatory bowel diseases are not well known.

One factor which could increase risk for irritable bowel is consumption of foods containing mold (fungi) toxins or mycotoxins. Deoxynivalenol (DON) is a trichothecence mycotoxin produced by Fusarium molds and is the most common mycotoxin contaminant in wheat, barley and corn(maize) in Europe and North America. Consumption of foods heavily contaminated with DON have been linked to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in both domestic animals and humans. Now recent research has suggested that related low level exposure to DON and other mycotoxins may increase risk of irritable bowel syndrome and related conditions. Other mycotoxins linked to poorer intestinal function include patulin and ochratoxin (which are produced by some species of the molds Aspergillus and Penicillium).

A French study reported that treatment with low doses of DON, patulin or ochratoxin resulted in significantly increased secretion of interleukin-8 and significantly increased permeability to bacteria in human intestinal cells. Interleukin-8 is a cytokine which plays a major role in increasing inflammation in the intestines. The significantly increased permeability of intestinal cells to bacteria can also play a role in intestinal problems as other studies have reported increased bacteria permeability in humans with inflammatory intestine disorders.

Another French study reported that treating pig (porcine) intestinal cells with low levels of DON significantly increased production of several inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-8 and interleukin-1α. The authors concluded “ …exposure to the mycotoxin DON clearly induced an early intestinal inflammatory response resulting from the interplay of different intestinal cell types and leading to the activation of Th17 cells. These results along with previous observations strengthen the idea that chronic exposure to deoxynivalenol (DON) in food could impair intestinal homeostasis and trigger the appearance of inflammatory bowel disease.”


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