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The Adverse Health Effects Associated with the Aflatoxins Hazard

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Aflatoxins are toxins produced by fungi as their secondary metabolites. This has been classified as class-I carcinogenic and different countries has different standards. More than five billion people in developing countries worldwide are at risk of chronic exposure to aflatoxins by consuming contaminated foods (Mukherjee 2013). Hepatocellular carcinoma is main disease associated with aflatoxin and third leading cause for liver cancer in world with 550, 000-600, 000 new case per year. Aflatoxins are toxic polyketides which can be found in 25% of crop that has been estimated to be contaminated per year by fung.

Broadly aflatoxin toxicity exposure can be divided into two headings:

Acute exposure: Acute aflatoxicosis is linked with very high doses of aflatoxins and characterized by hemorrhage, acute liver damage, edema and deaths in human. Such conditions raised due to less access to the food, poor environment conditions and lack of strong regulatory system. Good example to cite is outbreak case in Kenya on 1982 by consumption of home-grown maize in which 12 people died and in 2004, 317 people became ill and 125 people died in central provinces.

Chronic exposure: Due to high and moderate concentration exposure of aflatoxicosis could lead to the acute primary aflatoxicosis. Haemorrhage, acute liver damage, edema, digestion problems and death are the symptoms. Chronic exposure to aflatoxin contaminated food can lead to cancer, nutritional deficiency leading to morbidity and mortality. Aflatoxins are also mutagenic and alter or mutate genetic code, alteration of DNA leading to chromosomal breaks, rearrangements, loss or gain of chromosomes or changes within a gene. As they are carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic in nature, it is a real challenge to prevent and detoxify these compounds.

Being lipolytic in nature aflatoxins are easily absorbed across cell membranes via the site of exposure such as gastrointestinal, respiratory tracts and get into the blood streams and to the liver. It gets metabolized in liver.

The effect of aflatoxins on human organs or the systems:

  1. Pathological changes: Enlargement of Liver, kidney, and spleen, fatty liver syndrome.
  2. Urinary System: Inflammation of kidney which could leads to kidney failure.
  3. Digestive system: Decreased in digestion and absorption of protein and fats, impaired carbohydrate breakdown, decreased motility, diarrhea, colon cancer.
  4. Nervous system: Abnormal Behavior, depression.
  5. Reproductive System: Reduced sperm count and infertility. Neonatal outcomes – low birth weight.
  6. Growth: Aflatoxin reduces the rate of growth
  7. Gene and Gene Expression: Teratogenic effect (birth defect).
  8. Gene and Gene Suppression: Carcinogenic effect — higher incidence of cancer.
  9. Immunosuppression: Decreased resistance and susceptibility to, HIV, TB, and other opportunistic infections.

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