Binders of Mycotoxins & Other Toxins

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What are binders?

Binders or sequestering agents, are substances that generally bind cholesterol, bile acids and toxins in the small intestine. They are used to bind toxins, but may bind foods, supplements, or drugs also. Binders are also called adsorbants.

In relationship to toxins, binders are orally ingested material that bind either directly to the toxin in the intestine or they bind to bile acids which may be attached to toxins. Ultimately the binder acts like a taxi giving the toxins a ride out of the body as part of the fecal matter.

Binders have a large surface area to volume ratio, giving them a large adsorptive capacity. A variety of substances have shown efficacy in lowering mycotoxin and endotoxin levels including cholestyramine, activated carbons, chlorella, alluminosiliicate clays, food fibers, yeast cell walls and others. These agents were once thought to be non-specific but research is showing many of them will bind to some toxins while  being useless with others. This has to do with the binders molecular makeup, arrangement of atoms and ions, the electrical charge, as well as physical make-up such as their pore size or porousness. Some binders are hydrophilic while others are more towards the hydrophobic end of the scale. Those that are more hydrophilic tend to adsorb polar toxins and don't adsorb non-polar toxins so well. Many binders are being manipulated synthetically to become more hydrophobic so they will adsorb non-polar toxins better. In addition to binding toxins, binders also have the potential to bind nutrients as well as supplements and medications, so unless it is known that a binder in question will not do this,  binders should be taken  apart from medications,  vitamins, minerals and supplements.


Adsorption And Absorption

Adsorption of toxins

This is a surface phenomenon. It occurs only at the surface of the adsorbent.  This is the process where-by one substance will draw another substance onto itself and hold onto that substance maintaining a higher concentration on the adsorbent material rather than the surrounding liquid or solid.  This is the process where-by one substance will stick to another substance. This is similar to how a Burdock seed or Cleavers seed sticks to your clothing or how Velcro sticks to itself.

Adsorption is affected by physical attributes of the binder such as size, distribution of the pores, total charge and its distribution. Also properties related to mycotoxins or other toxins such as polarity, shape, size, surface area and solubility as well as uncoupling and charge distribution (in the case of ionized compounds) also influence the adsorption process.

A binder needs to be able to adsorb the toxin over a broad pH range since the product has to work throughout the gastrointestinal tract. This fact is one of the reasons in vitro testing can not be taken very seriously in relationship to binders of toxins. Binders that bind mycotoxins outside of the body often do not successfully remove them during transit in the gastrointestinal tract.

Adsorption is what is taking place with binders of mycotoxins.


Absorption of toxins

This phenomenon occurs throughout the body of the absorbent material. In this process one substance will draw another substance into itself This is similar to how a sponge is filled with water.


Examples Of Adsorption Or Binding

Soil colloids or clays will have a negative charge that causes them to adsorb ions on the surface. This negative charge is why they bind positively charged particles and why they often contain minerals.

Clays are negatively charged and therefore attract cations. They can exchange cations too. Chemistry tells us that ions with higher valency will exchange for those of lower valency. For example Al3+ > Ca2+ > Mg2+ > K+=NH4+ >Na+.


Biliary Excretion Of Mycotoxins and Other Toxins Into the Gut

The liver processes a lot of toxins and releases many of these toxins into the bile. Bile acids, also made in the liver and released into the bile, may bind to these toxins . Bile acids are amphiphilic (having both a polar, water-soluble or water loving group and a nonpolar, water-insoluble and (lipophilic) or fat loving group) molecules. This means that one part of them loves water and another part of them loves fats.  This allows them to attach to a variety of toxins with varying degree of tightness. The bile acids may hold tight to these toxins in the intestines or let them go. If the bile acid holds tight to the toxin, both the bile acid and the toxin may be picked back up as part of the entero-hepatic circulation.  However, if the bile acid and toxin compound become attached to a binder this complex will not be picked up into the circulation. It will continue on in the gut and be excreted in the feces during a bowel movement. Yippee! Some binders may be more attracted to the bile acid and some may be more attracted to the toxin. Either way if the binder attaches to one of them, the whole complex will go out in the feces. If the bile acid lets go of the toxin or if the toxin was never attached to a bile acid, the toxin may get picked back up into the circulation again unless a binder comes by and attaches to them. If the toxin becomes bound to a binder, the toxin/binder compound  will also be excreted in the feces. So any toxin/binder or any toxin/bile acid/binder complexes will usually end up excreted in the feces during a bowl movement. Yippee and good riddance. You can read more about bile acids here.


Intestinal Excretion of Toxins Into The Gut

Some chemicals have been shown to be removed from the body by intestinal excretion rather than being dumped into the gut by the liver in the bile. Exfoliation of intestinal epithelium and exudation across the intestinal mucosa are the two major non-biliary mechanisms whereby xenobiotics (foreign toxin) can enter the intestinal lumen (the tubal space inside the intestine where food and poop reside). Binders can pick these toxins up in the gut to ensure they continue out in the feces rather than being reabsorbed. Although I have not read research about mycotoxins being released into the gut for excretion through this route, it may be taking place and if so, the binders would once again pick up mycotoxins being released this way and escort them out of the body.


Bile Acids, Intestinal Excretion and Specific Binders

Research shows that bile acids appear to be able to latch onto some toxins and escort them out of the intestines in the feces, while other toxins appear to be better removed in a low bile acid environment. I can think of a good reason that this might be. Bile acids can pick up hormones or other substances in the gut and transport them from the gut into the circulation. Pharmaceutical companies use this handy trick to get some drugs across the intestinal wall. So, perhaps some toxins are more easily passed through the intestinal wall when attached to a bile acid. If so, this would mean that that using a binder that directly attaches to a toxin that bile acids would normally help move across the intestinal wall, would be competing with the bile acids to remove the toxin.  If there are less bile acids around, the binder would have less competition and be able to grab onto more toxins. As far as I know there is no research around this theory.

Some binders are better able to remove specific types of toxins, but again not as well researched as we would like. What we do know is that binders are helping people with mycotoxin induced illness and you can read further about specific types of binders and how they work and read the research that supports their use.


Binder Side Effects

Some binders can cause side effects due to gastrointestinal intolerance. This can include bloating, abdominal pain, reflux and constipation. Additionally, they can inhibit the absorption of medications like levothyroxine or warfarin, reduce absorption of fat soluble vitamins and reduce patient compliance. Therefore, binders need to be taken exactly as a patients practitioner prescribes to decrease the possibility of these side effects from taking place. Use this link to learn more about how to safely use the binder and bile acid sequestrant, cholestyramine. While some people have significant side effects other people have little to no side effects. Much of the data listed for cholestyramine is true for other binders.


Which Binder To Use

No one binder seems to be best at binding all mycotoxins. Additionally, when it comes to water-damaged buildings, there are usually numerous mycotoxins as well as other toxins that affect the individual exposed. Therefore, people often take multiple binders together to try to cover their bases.

A list of different types of Binders and research links on them can be found here.

What Is A Good Binder

  • Adsorption capacity
  • Specificity
  • Irreversible binding
  • Safety
  • In vivo studies support use for the toxin in question


Adsorption capacity - The ability of the binder to bind to the mycotoxin in question.

Specificity - How specific the binder is for the target mycotoxin and not other things such as nutrients.

Irreversible binding - If a binder easilly becomes unbound, it can be released again.

Safety - Obviously, we don't want to use toxic binders.

In Vivo Studies - I need to explain that in vivo means in the body studies, rather than in vitro which is in a petri dish. Some binders work in a petri dish but not in the body. In vitro is easy to research and is a good starting place and if it is all we have, well we might try it, but in vivo research is always best. Results can also change depending on the individual charagetristics of the animal/human too.


Using Muliple Mycotoxin Binders

Some people use multiple binders together and in this manner hope to have these multi-mycotoxin binders be appropriate for the various mycotoxins that they may have in their bodies. Although there is little research of the use of multiple binders at one time, the idea of using them this way makes sense as binders are more effective at binding specific toxins. This depends on polarity and other factors. The fact that many people do not know which mycotoxins are even bothering them due to testing being in its infancy, means using a mix of binders would seem a smart way to go. Many people do use multiple binders in every day practice.

I would play devils advocate here though. I have a concern that some binders may bind each other. If you are taking a binder with a negative charge, and a binder with a positive charge to cover your bases, would they not end up binding each other to some degree as easily, or more easily than the toxins? There are researchers who have brought this up as a possibility for results they have seen during their study, so I am not the only one wondering about this.

Other Choices When Binders Fail

Binders do not work for all mycotoxins, or at least not well enough. For instance in animal studies, binders are not as effective in preventing toxicity in relation to fusarium mycotoxins such as ochratoxins, trichotehecenes or zearalenone. For these types of toxins, biotransformation methods are used. This is the alteration of the toxins into a less toxic or non-toxic form and in the animal studies is usually accomplished with enzymes or microorganisms. This is done in the gastro-intestinal tract in these studies and given at the same time as mycotoxin-laden food. However, these methods can be used by people who use enzymes and or appropriate gut bugs while stimulating bile movement into the gastrointestinal tract. The use of live yeast and their cell walls has also been beneficial.   Antioxidants are also used as protection against mycotoxins as well as the support of our own bodies biotransformation system, glutathione being a key player. As we learn more about how to support our biotransformation system and which mycotoxins are removed by specific parts of this system, we can become more specific in how to remove these toxins.


You will see a lot of research looking at binder activity in vitro. This can be misleading as the complicated digestive tract is hard to mimic outside of the body and often times a binder that does a great job binding a mycotoxin in vitro will be found to have little or no effect in vivo. For instance In an in vitro study examining adsorption efficiency  of ochratoxin A by three different adsorbents: inorganic (modified zeolite); organic (esterified glucomannans) and mixed (inorganic and organic components plus enzymes). The modified zeolite had the best adsorption rate in vitro. It was overwhelmingly better than the esterfied glucomannans or the zeolite/glucomannan/enzyme mix. However, in the gut the adsoprtion of the esterfied glucomannans were much better than the zeolite and slightly better than the mix of zeolite/glucomannan/enzyme.

Dynamic gastrointestinal models as well as  animal and some human research is giving us more definitive answers to which binders are really useful for the various mycotoxins. Research shows some binders bind specific  myotoxins/toxins better than other binders. The studies can also show variable results from one study to another for the same binder and that can depend on if the research is in vitro or in vivo or change with the type of critter, sex of the critter or other factors researched. Still, this data gives us some data that can be very useful and the results can be seen clinically.

Although dynamic gastrointestinal models try to mimic the gastrointestinal system of animals or humans, the fact is that the best research is done on real live animal or human models where the binder is taken along with the mycotoxins. Most of these are done on animals, although some countries have a high rate of mycotoxins in their food supply and they have done some experimentation on giving people binders who are known to have high amounts of mycotoxin metabolites in their urine. They can then test the urine to see if there is a change. This has given us some good ideas of binder use for mycotoxins such as aflatoxin.

There is also research showing that in some cases binders are not the best way to go. It appears using or supporting gut flora may be more beneficial in some instances. For instance the efficacy of binders against Fusarium produced trichothecenes is fairly poor in current research. However, the trichothecene Deoxynivalenol (DON) has been reported to be completely transformed to de-epoxy-DON by ruminal and intestinal microflora (protozoans). This counter-acted its toxic effects. So in this case perhaps transformation in the gut by gut bacteria may be more useful than the use of binders.

In an example of food mycotoxins, olives have been shown to be contaminated  by Aspergillus spp. which makes a mycotoxin called aflatoxin B1. This is both on fresh and processed olives. The application of Latobacillus plantarum (in live sauerkraut) during the storage of olives favors the reduction of the levels of aflatoxin B1.

In another study on aflatoxin B1, two strains of Lactobacillus pentosus and Lactobacillus beveris exhibited the capability of isolating aflatoxin B1 by respectively sorbing and discharging 17.4% and 34.7% of the aforementioned toxin that was in the experiment solution. It did not matter if the bacteria were alive or dead as their bodies still sorbed the mycotoxin and removed it. (This was in vitro)


When To Use Binders

There is an article written up for people who are using binders to remove mycotoxins at this link. It will give you some additional data specific to using them.

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