Hep B Blog

Aflatoxin Alert: Moldy Nuts and Corn Increases Your Liver Cancer Risk 60-Times If You Have Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of YaiSirichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of YaiSirichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

One of the biggest health threats to people living with chronic hepatitis B is a toxic, nearly invisible mold called aflatoxin found in corn, peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and pistachios.

People with hepatitis B who eat food with high levels of aflatoxins face a liver cancer risk that is 60-times above average.

In addition to nuts and grains like quinoa, aflatoxin can be found in figs, milk and cheese, soybeans, dried spices and cottonseed. It is less common in rice, as long as rice is hulled, which removes aflatoxin mold.

This toxic mold, produced by a fungus that grows in warm, moist climates, is found at high levels in crops grown in rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and China, where food storage and processing is not closely regulated. Unfortunately, these regions also have high rates of hepatitis B infection.

Low levels of aflatoxins are considered unavoidable in food and animal feed, even when good manufacturing practices are followed. Most countries, including the U.S., allow low amounts of aflatoxin in corn and peanuts. However, some researchers suggest even these low levels can lead to liver damage in people infected with hepatitis B who rely on diets rich in corn, nuts and grains.

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA has set “actionable limits” (a maximum tolerable level of aflatoxin) for foods like corn and peanuts in order to limit how much aflatoxin reaches the human food chain and livestock feed.

“Chemical methods (to remove aflatoxins) have been developed for peanuts, corn, cottonseed, various tree nuts, and animal feeds,” according to the FDA’s Bad Bug Book’s chapter on aflatoxin. “Chemical methods for aflatoxin in milk and dairy products are far more sensitive than for the above commodities because the aflatoxin (in animals) is usually found at a much lower level.”

Farmers and food suppliers also try to lower mold contamination by keeping crops from becoming overly moist and warm, harvesting food when it’s ripe before mold can develop, and preventing rodents from spreading the mold before and after crops are harvested.

Here are some ways you can limit the amount of aflatoxin in your diet:

Buy only major brands of nuts and peanut, almond,  and other nut butters.

Discard any nuts or grains that look moldy, discolored or shriveled.

Cook foods to reduce aflatoxin levels: However, aflatoxin mold is not entirely destroyed by cooking, roasting and processing, so small amounts can still remain in peanut butter and many processed products.  According to one report, the cooking process and ingredients used to make corn tortillas, however, effectively destroys aflatoxin.

Soaking grains and nuts can reduce aflatoxin levels: Studies show soaking grains before cooking and cooking soybeans at high temperatures also help decrease aflatoxin levels.

Consume grains and nuts as soon as possible, preferably within one to two months of purchase.

Buy produce grown locally, instead of purchasing items shipped from overseas. Studies of organic products sold in the U.S. found their aflatoxin levels to be as safe as commercial products.

Store grains, corn and nuts in cool, dry places or freeze them to prolong freshness

6 thoughts on “Aflatoxin Alert: Moldy Nuts and Corn Increases Your Liver Cancer Risk 60-Times If You Have Hepatitis B”

  1. The problem with aflotoxins seems to be there that they are everywhere and in everything. So we are all exposed, even if we do our best to avoid them. What is the mechanism by which Hepatitis B sufferers are more vulnerable than the average population? Is it only if you have advanced liver fibrosis that your liver cannot cope with the toxins or it more the presence of the virus itself? So if you have minimal fibrosis you are at less risk? Is it repeated exposure over a number of years that puts you at risk?

    1. Hello: I don’t know the exact degree or timing of liver damage that is required, but any additional “insult” to an already inflamed or infected liver increases the risk of fibrosis, scarring and development of liver cancer. Think of it as an accelerant. If liver cells, already damaged by hepatitis B, have to filter and cope with damaging aflatoxins then the degree of liver damage increases, especially over time with continued exposure.
      The same phenomenon occurs when someone with hepatitis B drinks excessive amounts of alcohol or is overweight and has fatty liver disease, the liver has to handle yet more insults to its health, which is why a combination of Hep B with aflatoxin poisoning, excessive alcohol or fatty liver disease creates synergy for accelerated liver damage. Thanks.

      1. Thanks you for the clear explanation. One of the things us Hep B sufferers are plagued with is the fear of liver cancer. Could it be that a major contributing factors to the high rates of liver cancer in the academic studies is aflotoxins? A lot of the studies are done in Asia where there is more risk of Aflotoxins because of weather and diet. We know Hep b heightens our risk but if we bring Hep b under control with the drugs, reduce fibrosis and avoid Aflotoxins as best we can does our risk of liver cancer come down considerably? Is our risk actually not as height as we all fear living in Eutope / US where less studies are done.

        1. Hello: Excellent questions! I agree that aflatoxins no doubt increase liver cancer risk, especially in Africa where the toxin is believed to be more widespread. However, there is the synergy that a combination of hepatitis B virus genotype (some carry a higher risk of accelerated liver damage and cancer), smoking, alcohol, fatty liver and male gender together play in causing liver cancer. In the U.S., where one could argue the risk of aflatoxin is low, Vietnamese men with hepatitis B still experience extremely high rate of hepatitis B. Is it gender, genotype, smoking, alcohol or other factors?
          My bottom line response is I’m not sure how much aflatoxin increases liver cancer risk compared to other factors. But awareness of all of these factors helps prevent it. Thanks.

          1. One last thought on non-alcoholic beer. Many of us resort to this as we cannot drink the real stuff and some of it actually tastes okay these days. But I understand that the fermentation process in alcohol actually reduces aflotoxins – so, cruelly – non-alcoholic beer is higher risk for it? So we might avoid alcohol but we increase risk of aflotoxins?

          2. Hello: All the reports about aflatoxins in beer show healthy, trace amounts. I don’t know why non-alcoholic beer would pose a greater risk. Good luck.

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