Q&A between Brightland + Dr. Elke Cooke, MD.

Brightland: What exactly are Mycotoxins?

Dr. Cooke: Mycotoxins are metabolites produced by mold that are capable of causing disease and death in humans. Because of their pharmacological activity, some mycotoxins, or their derivatives, have found use as antibiotics, like penicillin. Another example is LSD, which is derived from a fungus growing on grains. Fungal diseases range from merely annoying, such as athlete's foot, to life-threatening, like invasive aspergillosis. They occur in patients whose immune system has been compromised and are more common in underdeveloped countries.

Brightland: What kinds of foods are mycotoxins found in?

Dr. Cooke: Mycotoxins are generally found in grains. Corn, wheat, and barely are the typical sources of contamination. In addition, be aware of grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products. Peanuts were also found to contain 24 different types of fungi that were able to colonize from within. The American Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that mycotoxin contamination actually affects as much as one-quarter of the global food and feed supply.

Brightland: What is the relationship between olive oil and mycotoxins?

Dr. Cooke: There are several different types of mycotoxins that can be found in olives. One study showed that although mycotoxins were present in all of the examined olive samples, mycotoxins were only detected in samples of physically damaged olives. Interestingly, the production of specific mycotoxins isolated from olives was up to 3 times higher in rice cultures than in olive cultures. In general, the health risk associated with the consumption of olive oils is low. With excellent quality extra virgin olive oils, care is taken when it comes to olive cultivation, harvesting and milling technologies, as well as oil handling, storage and selling conditions. This makes it possible to achieve even higher quality levels than those stipulated for extra virgin oils.

Brightland: What are some effects that mycotoxins have on our bodies?

Dr. Cooke: Almost certainly, the main health burden of mycotoxins is related to chronic exposure (e.g. cancer, kidney toxicity, immune suppression). Depending on the type of mycotoxins, they can act as powerful xenoestrogens that cause weight gain and affect fertility in people. There are other mycotoxins implicated in a host of cardiovascular and nervous system diseases. Numerous symptoms have also been associated with mold, such as fatigue, allergies, nausea, asthma and insomnia.

Brightland: What can we do to avoid mycotoxins?

Dr. Cooke: One study from 2006 showed that both conventional and organic grain products are equally susceptible to mycotoxin contamination. Unfortunately cooking contaminated grains does not seem to reduce their mycotoxin concentrations either. One of the best solutions is to modify the diet and shift focus to low-sugar, nutrient-dense vegetables and whole foods. Additionally, choosing fresh produce instead of consuming mycotoxin rich, processed grain-based products will yield a positive result. Also, incorporating natural mold fighting herbs and spices, such as garlic, oregano and ginger, has been shown to reduce the adverse effects of mold toxicity.

Brightland: What are two things everyone should know about mycotoxins?

Dr. Cooke: Only about 25% of the population is genetically predisposed to difficulties with mycotoxin excretion and metabolization. So for the majority, these issues do not seem to pose as acute of a threat. If you live or work in a water-damaged building and you suspect that mold affects your health, seek the care of a trained medical provider who can make the correct diagnosis and oversee the treatment.

Elke Cooke, M.D. practices anti-aging and preventive medicine at BodyLogicMD of Sacramento where she uses individual, customized wellness programs tailored to address each patient's specific, personal needs. Dr. Cooke is trained in Emergency Medicine as well as Functional Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine, A4M, the Kalish Mentorship Program and the Clinical Development Program with Dr Kara Fitzgerald. You can find her on www.elkecookemd.com