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The Aspergillus genus are found worldwide in the soil, forage products for animals, food products, in organic debris, in composting material, and in dust. They are considered to be weak plant pathogens. However two of the species, Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus are known to produce potent toxins called afflatoxins on certain food crops. Some Aspergillus species also make the potent kidney toxin, ochratoxin. These include the more notable A. ochraceus, A. carbonarius and A. niger. Only a small amount of strains of A. niger make ochratoxin. In the photo on left is Aspergillus flavus.
In addition to the more common mycotoxins Aspergillus spp. are known to make in food crops, they may also produce gliotoxin, fumonisins, patulin, citrinin, sterigmatocystin, aflatrem, scalonic acids, cyclopiazonic acid, and terrein.
Aspergillus is found on many foods. It is almost always on pepper. In one study 100%of pepper samples, and black tea samples had A. species and 12-66% of fruits, 27% of herbal teas and 20% of freeze dried soup samples contained Aspergillus spp.
Strains of Aspergillus niger (photos on right) that do not produce ochratoxin are used to process some food products. Aspergillus niger is used widely in the production of enzymes, such as alpha-amylase, cellulases, lactase, invertase, and pectinase. Aspergillus niger is also used to make fructooligosaccharides and citric acid. It is important to ensure that industrial strains are nonproducers of ochratoxin.
When testing Aspergillus niger strains for production of ochratoxin A, it was found that 3-10% of them were able to produce ochratoxin A. Luckily, most strains of A. niger do not make ochratoxin A, as A. niger is found in the soil everywhere.
The Most Toxic Mycotoxins Associated With Aspergillus Species
Various Aspergillus species produce many toxic mycotoxins, but currently the most commonly known ones that are considered to be a concern are called aflatoxin, gliotoxin, and ochratoxin.
Aspergillus produces the mycotoxin called Aflatoxin. It was discovered after 10,000 turkeys died from contaminated peanuts in England. Aflatoxin has been the cause of deaths in humans and animals as well as birds. They are known to be liver toxins, teratogenic (causes malformations of an embryo or fetus) and mutagenic (causes mutations in genetic material).
The food/forage crops that are known to be especially susceptible to Aspergillus flavus and parasiticus are peanuts, corn and cottonseed. A. flavus is more common on corn and cottonseed, while A. parasiticus is more common on peanuts. Those corns containing higher oil contents are at greater risk for aflotaxins than normal hybrids during the growing process.
Aflatoxins contaminate many crops including corn, peanuts, cottonseed, brazil nuts, pistachios dried coconut, dried figs, and spices. They are common in hot and humid regions of the world. Aflatoxin contamination is worse during drought years.
This is the only mycotoxin regulated by the FDA in the U.S.A. No more than 20 ppb is allowed for interstate shipment.
I have written up extensive data on aflatoxins and you can find it here. I am currently working on data for the oher mycotoxins listed below.
Aspergillus produces the mycotoxin called ochratoxin (OTA). OTA is a potent kidney mycotoxin, and also displays other adverse effects such as liver toxicity, immunosuppression, and is a teratogen and carcinogen.
Ochratoxins occur in nature as Ochratoxin A (OTA), B (OTB), and C (OTC). Ochratoxin A is the most prevalent toxin and the most toxic followed by OTB and OTC. Ochratoxin A, B and C are produced by Penicillium species also.
Exposure to ochratoxins is largely through food contamination and the most common food to be contaminated is grains. Skin contact and inhalation are known to also cause toxicity. Inhalation is usually from dust in commercial areas where grains are being stored and/or processed. Ochratoxin may also be found in water-damaged buildings. One clinical study identified OTA in 83% of over 100 individuals tested with chronic illness and a history of water-damaged building exposure.
Concerns regarding exposure to ochratoxin have primarily centered on exposure to food contaminated with OTA such as wine, beer, coffee, dried vine fruit, grape juices, pork, poultry, dairy, spices, and chocolate. Toxicity from ochratoxin is considered serious enough that it is among approximately 20 mycotoxins monitored in food.
Read more about Ochratoxin here.
Gliotoxin is known to be made by Aspergillus fumigatus, A. terreus, A. flavus and A. niger. Although all the species produce gliotoxin, not every strain is a gliotoxin producer.
As with all mycotoxins, gliotoxin has been shown to negatively impact the mitochondria. It also has a negative affect on the nervous system.
It is a known immunosuppressive mycotoxin and some researchers claim it is the most intense immunosupressant of the mycotoxins although there are others such as mycophenolate which surely act equally immunosupressive. It impacts natural killer cells, T lymphcytes, macrophages, and moncytes.
It inhibits phagocytosis, blocks mast cell degranulation, transcription factor NF-kappa B (blocks inflammatory response and chytokine production). It is known to cause apoptotic cell death in immune cells such as macrophages and monocytes as well as in some non-immune cells.
Gliotoxin is a dipeptide characterized by the presence of a disulfide bridge across the piperazine ring . The disulfide bridge allows the cross linking with proteins via cysteine residues and generate deleterious reactive oxygen species (ROS) through the redox cycling between the reduced and oxidized form. This mechanism of ROS generation is believed to be responsible for the toxicity of gliotoxin. Gliotoxin is thought to inhibits important neutrophil functions in normal individuals, while increasing PMN-mediated inflammation in immunocompromised hosts; this may contribute to tissue destruction in patients with invasive aspergillosis.
In one study, 11% of the A. fumigatus strains isolated from moldy silos on Terceira Island in the Azores were gliotoxin producers. In contrast, 93% of the A. fumigatus strains from respiratory and other tissue samples of cancer patients from 1998 and 2003 in MD. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, USA were gliotoxin producers. This was compared to 75% and 25% of A. niger and A. terreus strains, respectively. Only 4% of the A. flavus strains produced gliotoxin. Furthermore, the concentrations of gliotoxin produced by A. fumigatus were significantly higher than those of other species. This leads us to believe the Aspergillus species found in the clnical setting creates more mycotoxins than those found in the agricultural setting. In the clinical setting is more common to find the fungus colonizing damaged airways, such as in patients with healed tuberculosis, bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis.
Data has shown that respiratory exposure to gliotoxin via the intestine has further irritated individuals with asthma.
Gliotoxin has been shown to shift the Th1/Th2 balance toward a Th2 response.
In studying the mycobiome of the body it was found some fungus is normally in the digestive tract of large groups of people. This included some species of Aspergillus and Fusarium. These are two fungi genus known for having some mycotoxi producers, so I was not thrilled to see this. These are fungi that you can test for at Great Plains lab by using an organic acid test to see if their metabolites are in "normal amounts" or abnormal amounts. It seems although some researches believe they are normal when within certain levels, when they grow out of bounds they cause symptoms and indeed an infection of the gastrointestinal tract is now thought to take place. This is not agreed upon by everyone, but does appear to be happening in my opinion. Indeed we have known for some time that Aspergillus can cause a disease called Aspergillosis in other parts of the body, so why would anyone think it could not be in the digestive tract where they can normally live any way.
Aspergillosis is a group of disease processes that are caused as a result of Aspergillus infections. This is an infection where the fungus grows in the person, and it is not a reaction to mycotoxins made by the fungus. Sometimes molds can actually grow inside a person, usually in the respiratory tract. This is a fungus that is known for taking root inside of people. The people that are more susceptible to Aspergillus spp. taking a liking to them are those that are immunocompromised and those that work in situations where Aspergillus spores are airborne such as agricultural, or horticultural workers inhaling dust from spores. Sometimes oxalates are found in conjunction with Aspergillus growths in the body of humans and animals. In 2015 clinicians found that testing sputum in suspected cases of pulmonary Aspergillus fumigatus and A. niger could help with identifying this illness if it is suspect. The presence of calcium oxalate in sputum cultures is regarded as potentially useful in diagnosis of both species. In animals, oxalate crystals have been found to be associated with Aspergillus respiratory tract infections in the nasal sinus, trachea, syrinx, lung and air sac. They are probably more prevalent than thought, as oxalates have not been looked for in the past. Oxalates have also been found in conjunction with Penicillium and it is thought Candida may also make them.
It is also a cause of fungal ear infections in tropical areas.
There is additionally an illness called Allergic Broncho Pulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA), a rare condition brought on by an IgE-mediated allergic reaction to spores from Aspergillus. Foks with this illness can be extremely sick. It is more likely that someone has it if they are a gardener that makes compost or has a lot of plants in their house. There is high amounts of Aspergillus fumigatus found in garden waste. It is also the most frequently and continuously recurring species of fungus found in compost and in composting facilities. It is often found in commercially sold potting media. If a person is sick and thinks they might have ABPA and they are additionally coughing up brown"cauliflower" shaped plugs, they should go straight to their practitioner to tell them of their ailment. If the practitioner is not available they should go to urgent care.
By the way, I tell people who have mold illness to keep plants out of their house for the reason of soil borne fungus as well as an overabundance of plants creates a lot of extra humidity in a home. One small Aloe plant to use for burns is no big deal, but more than a couple of plants can cause trouble.
The Categories Of Disease Caused By Aspergillus
- Invasive Aspergillosis ( Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis or IPA) - seen mostly in hospital patients and often missed by the hospitals
- Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA) or also called non-invasive Aspergillosis
- Chronic Pulmonary Aspergillosis or aspergilloma (chronic cavitary, semi- invasive)
- Severe asthma with fungal sensitisation (SAFS)
- Subacute invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (formerly called chronic necrotising pulmonary aspergillosis) - a more rapidly progressive infection (<3 months) usually found in moderately immunocompromised patients, which is managed as invasive aspergillosis.
- Simple aspergilloma - single pulmonary cavity containing a fungal fungal ball and no progression over at least 3 months.
It appears that Aspergillus may also become excessive in the gastrointestinal tract and upper airway. Organic acid testing at Great Plains lab looks for metabolites of Aspergillus in the body. Oxalates that can not be explained by other reasons may also be increased by body burden of Aspergillus.
Please see the data on individual mycotoxins to find out what binders, biotransformation pathways, chelators and other useful treatments can alter, and remove these toxins from the body. I put data up as I have time to get it on the website.
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