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News > Latin America

Corn, Chili: Food Toxins Main Cause of Cancer in Mexico

  • Corn is basic in any Mexican household's diet.

    Corn is basic in any Mexican household's diet. | Photo: EFE

Published 2 July 2018

Aflatoxins are a product of molds present in several grains and other commodities when not stored properly.

In Mexico the main cause of cancer is carcinogenic toxins present in most of the basic diet, including corn, says a new study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).


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According to Magda Carvajal Morena, a researcher at UNAM's Biology Institute, aflatoxins are present in corn, rice, peanuts, nuts, chili, chicken, milk, eggs, barley, sorghum, cold meat, beer and other common foods.

The toxins are a product of Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, molds that contaminate seeds and other staple commodities when not properly stored, and are associated with liver, pancreas, lung, bowel and cervical cancer.

Corn is one of the main ingredients of the Mexican diet and its derivatives, such as tortillas and other kinds of food, are highly contaminated by these toxins. According to Carvajal's study, 95 percent of white corn and 60 percent of yellow corn consumed in Mexico City is contaminated by them.

During a conference in the Permanent Seminary on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition (SPAAN), Carvajal said food is responsible for 36 percent of the causes of cancer in the country, followed by tobacco consumption with 31 percent and infections with 11 percent.

Magda Carvajal Moreno, researcher at UNAM's Biology Institute. Photo | DGSC

Carvajal said such aflatoxins “can't be seen, have no taste or smell, and resist heat and cooking, ultra-pasteurization and nixtamalization processes.”

“Even though they act in a million part of a milligram, these are the most potent biological carcinogens known. Everybody is born with latent proto-oncogenes and the aflatoxins, through an oxidation chemical process, turn them into (carcinogenic) oncogenes that accumulate in the DNA for years and mutate mainly in individuals with genetic predisposition,” she said.

In high quantities, aflatoxins cause vomit, diarrhea and even abortion. In smaller quantities, the body usually gets rid of them through urine. However, its the chronic, small amount consumption that permanently damages the DNA and can cause fetus malformations, cancer, immunodeficiency, Reye syndrome and Kwashiorkor disease.

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Carvajal had previously led a research team and found out chickens processed for human consumption had an average of 209 micrograms of aflatoxins in the liver, 988 in gizzards and 150 breasts, while the egg's yolk had 102 and the white 28. The droppings, used normally to feed cattle, had 39 micrograms.

If the chicken liver lacks color and shows red of yellowish, it means is contaminated.

Aflatoxins can enter the food chain in several ways, as contaminated products are used in industrial processes or to feed animals for later consumption. For example, chicken droppings normally used to feed cattle, have 39 micrograms of aflatoxin in average.

Her team also studied 600 liters of the main milk trademarks consumed in Mexico City and found out that 50 percent of them were contaminated. One particular trademark, whose name wasn't published, showed 86 percent of contamination in their products.

“We also analyzed dog and cat food. In the first case, 100 percent of the products are contaminated; in the second, 80 percent,” said Carvajal.

To fight aflatoxins, Carvajal recommends consuming probiotic foods such as blueberries, peppers, spinach, broccoli, beets, tomatoes and carrots, cherries and green beans, as well as vitamins A, C and E.

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