Reproductive Health Effects Of Zearalenone And Aflatoxins

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Fungi (molds) produce a wide range of toxins called mycotoxins. Some mycotoxins can cause reproductive health effects. For example, the trichothecene zearalenone is produced by some Fusarium species and has estrogen mimicking (endocrine disrupting) characteristics. Human studies have linked zearalenone exposure to early (precocious) puberty in girls and to endometrial hyperplasias and carcinomas. 

Faisal Shuaib et al. Reproductive health effects of aflatoxins: A review of the literature. 2010;29:262-70.

Abdellah Zinedine et al., Review of the toxicity, occurrence, metabolism, detoxification, regulations and intake of zearalenone: An oestrogenic mycotoxin. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2007;45:1-18.

Fang Deng et al. Effects of growth environments and two environmental endocrine disruptors on children with idiopathic precocious puberty. European Journal of Endocrinology 2012;166:803-9.

Animal studies have linked foodborne zearalenone exposure to a wide range of reproductive health problems including infertility, low birth weight, birth defects, and major hormonal changes.

Aflatoxins are highly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) toxins produced by certain Aspergillus species. Aflatoxin contamination is especially common in poorly stored foodstuffs, especially peanuts and corn (maize).

A recent review of 25 published human studies suggests that aflatoxins may also cause or increase risk of several human reproductive health problems. One study found that detectable levels of aflatoxins were found in 40% of 50 infertile men but in only 8% of 50 fertile men. Six out of 7 studies (86%) reported that aflatoxin levels in maternal, cord or new born infant blood were associated with significantly lower birth weights. One study reported that presence of aflatoxin in maternal serum was linked to significantly high rates of neonatal jaundice (OR 2.68, CI 1.18-6.10). Studies have also reported that average breast milk contamination levels are higher in mothers from developing nations as compared to developed nations.

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