Squid Protein Could Help Brains ‘Talk’ to Computers.

In the most advanced prosthetics–such as this crazy mind-controlled robotic arm–electronic hardware interfaces directly with nerves and muscles in the human body. But getting living tissue to play nice with a circuit board is anything but easy, for a number of reasons. One fundamental obstacle you may not have considered: electronics send signals via negatively charged electrons, whereas many of the communications carried out in living tissues take place through the movement of positively-charged particles, such as calcium and potassium ions.

Now, though, scientists have discovered a new feature of a protein called reflectin, found in a group of animals called pencil squid. It turns out reflectin conducts protons and may be able to bridge the communication divide between cells and biomedical implants. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News explains:

[The team] began studying reflectin to discern how it enables the squid to change color and reflect light. They produced the squid protein in common bacteria and used it to make thin films on a silicon substrate. Via metal electrodes that contacted the film, the researchers observed the relationship between current and voltage under various conditions. Reflectin transported protons, they found, nearly as effectively as many of the best artificial materials.

It’s ability to move around these positive charges and it’s “tunability,” or versatile nature, could be used to build implants and prosthetics that can more easily communicate with the human body. The fact that it is biological and flexible means that it may be better than existing materials for integrating into the human body, and with a lower chance of being rejected, the researchers (from the University of California, Irvine) said. And since it is a protein, it could be modified in other desirable ways, such as possibly being able to biodegrade after it is done serving a useful purpose, which could help patients avoid additional surgeries.

The squid protein reflectin is also being investigated to make better camouflage, thanks to its interesting optical qualities.

VivaGel-Coated Condom Kills STDs With Antiviral Lubricant, Soon To Be On Sale

Those living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can attest to the fact that although their diagnosis is not a death sentence, the disease can be a heavy burden on their body, affecting their immune system functioning. As unprotected anal or vaginal sex, and the sharing of needles or drug equipment, are the most common forms of HIV tranmission in the U.S., it is vital to reduce its spread before it starts. To reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, and pregnancy, Starpharma — an Australian bio-tech firm — has designed a new VivaGel-coated condom to be available within months for purchase.

Colorful condoms next to each other

“The VivaGel® condom is a world-first product based on innovative Australian technology,” according to the press release. “It is the only condom of its type, providing barrier protection and incorporating a proprietary antiviral compound (VivaGel®) in the lubricant.” Its recent Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) device certification could lead to a decline in the prevalence of STDs, and revolutionize HIV protection.

The condom contains 0.5 percent astodrimer sodium — a non-antibiotic, antimicrobial drug — designed specifically as a compound against HIV. The gel is intended to help reduce the risk of exposure to viruses that cause STDs, as laboratory studies have found it to inactivate up to 99.9 percent of HIV, HSV (herpes simplex virus), and HPV (human papillomavirus).

The launch of the gel-coated condom comes at a time where HIV rates in Australia and the U.S. are either alarmingly increasing or remaining steady. In Australia, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections rose 10 percent in 2012 — the largest increase in 20 years, according to The Kirby Institute. In the U.S., the estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with about 50,000 new HIV infections per year. In regard to STD rates, the VivaGel condom could help curb the 20 million annual new infections in the U.S., specifically HIV, HSV, and HPV.

The regulatory milestone for Starpharma for VivaGel condoms follows the approval of Japanese authorities to license the gel to Opkamoto Industries — Japan’s leading marketer of condoms. In Australia, the gel will be used on a new line of Ansell condoms, specifically Lifestyles Dual Protect. The TGA approval of this condom supports some of the ongoing regulatory processes in other markets regarding the use of VivaGel on condoms.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration granted Starpharma to carry two key phase 3 clinical trials of VivaGel as a treatment for bacterial vaginosis (BV) — a vaginal infection. The non-antibiotic agent is also being developed for the management of BV symptoms, including unpleasant vaginal odor and discharge. BV has been linked to still birth, pregnancy complications, pelvic inflammatory disease, and lower rates of fertility. Currently, there are no approved products for the prevention of recurrent BV.

The future of a VivaGel-coated condom in the U.S. has yet to be determined. While condoms are considered the best protection against STDs, they are not foolproof. “Condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing either pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections and so anything that you can do to reduce the number of virus particles by inactivating them with a substance like VivaGel would reduce that overall viral load,” Dr. Jackie Fairley, Starpharma’s chief executive told ABC News. The VivaGel condom cannot guarantee full protection from STDs, but it could help further reduce the chances of infection.

VivaGel is expected to hit shelves within months after it receives key regulatory approval from Australian authorities.

AWARE system seeks to revolutionize intensive care

Dr. Brian Pickering of the Mayo Clinic is one of three doctors who reimagined and drastically reorganized the way ICU doctors operate, with a program called AWARE.
“In the past, we’d have kind of screens and screens of information that we went through,” said Dr. Pickering.

It might look like a video game, but each of these squares represents a patient in the ICU.

“We reimagined the user interface for individuals, we spent a couple of years studying workflows and patterns,” he said.

There’s no more shuffling through clipboards of papers. By simply scrolling over one of the symbols that represent a patient’s vital systems, doctors can get statistics, medications, medical history, even level of consciousness at a glance.

Research shows that the AWARE software has cut ICU errors in half and decreased the time it takes to get patients the attention they need.

“When we write our tasks out on paper, because we don’t all share the same sheet of paper, we miss about one third of our tasks,” Dr. Pickering said.

It’s a far cry from the early ways of transporting medical records around the hospital through tubes. AWARE is now used in every Mayo Clinic ICU in the country, but Dr. Pickering doesn’t want this to be Mayo’s best kept secret.

“We’ve always been innovative, but we haven’t always been successful at delivering those innovations outside of Mayo Clinic Rochester,” he said.

That’s where the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator center comes in. Al Berning is in charge of turning this invention into a business.

“The Mayo Clinic accelerator is a perfect place to start this business,” said Berning.

“The objective of Ambient Clinical is to sell and commercialize the AWARE program.”

Rooted in the BioBusiness center in downtown Rochester, Ambient is finding ways to take a Minnesota spark of genius and make it global.

“It was a combination of our team’s interest in creating another company in Rochester combined with Mayo Clinic’s interest in commercializing some of the initial intellectual property and research,” Berning said.

Berning also said AWARE is marketable because of the need for efficiency in ICUs. In fact, Dr. Pickering can even put those thousands of pages of records and data into his lab coat pocket.

“Everything I’ve got on my computer I’ve got on the iPad, so I can come in, I can talk to a patient, I can show them precisely the information that I see,” Pickering said.

AWARE is getting doctors out from behind the computer desk, to the bedside.

“Medicine is about meeting people, talking to people, getting to know your patients and empathizing with them,” he said. “If I spend all my time in the back room looking at this, I miss that connection.”

Proving that sometimes what happens behind the scenes, is just as important as what happens inside your loved one’s hospital room.

Ambient Clinical Analysis and the AWARE system are currently seeking FDA approval. When they do, it will become much easier to market the software on a national scale.

Researchers Find New Way to Kick Out HIV From Infected Cells

The technique addresses the problem of hidden reservoirs of HIV in the body, and could herald a new way of battling the viral infection

Once HIV invades the body, it doesn’t want to leave. Every strategy that scientists have developed or are developing so far to fight the virus – from powerful anti-HIV drugs to promising vaccines that target it – suffers from the same weakness. None can ferret out every last virus in the body, and HIV has a tendency to hide out, remaining inert for years, until it flares up again to cause disease.

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1

Even more encouraging, they also used the system to arm healthy cells from getting infected in the first place, by building genetic blockades that bounced off HIV’s genetic material. “It’s what we call a sterilizing cure,” says Khalili.

His work was done on human cells infected with HIV in cell culture, but, he believes the results are robust enough to move into animal trials and eventually into testing the idea in human patients.

The key to the strategy is the gene editing technique known as CRISPR, a way of precisely cutting DNA at pre-specified locations. CRISPR acts as a customizable pair of molecular scissors that can be programmed to find certain sequences of DNA and then, using an enzyme, make cuts at those locations. Because HIV is a retrovirus, its genetic material comes in the form of RNA; the virus co-opts a host cell’s genetic machinery to transform that RNA into DNA, which it then inserts into the cell’s genome. HIV’s genes, which it needs to survive, then get churned out by the cell.


Khalili designed a CRISPR that recognized the beginning and end of HIV’s DNA contribution, and then watched as the enzyme snipped out HIV from the cell’s genome. “I’ve been working with HIV almost since day 1 [of the epidemic] and we have developed a number of molecules that can suppress transcription or diminish replication of the virus. But I have never seen this level or eradication,” he says. “When you remove the viral genes from the chromosomes, basically you convert the cells to their pre-infection state.”

The advantage of the system lies in the fact that CRISPR can recognize viral genes wherever they are – in infected cells that are actively dividing, and in infected cells in which the virus is dormant. Current drug-based strategies can only target cells that are actively dividing and releasing more HIV, which is why they often lead to periods of undetectable virus but then cause levels of HIV to rise again. That’s the case with the Mississippi baby, who was born HIV positive and given powerful anti-HIV drugs hours after birth and appeared to be functionally cured of HIV when the virus couldn’t be detected for nearly four years, but then returned.


Khalili admits that more work needs to be done to validate the strategy, and ensure that it’s safe. But it’s the start, he says, of a potential strategy for eradicating the virus from infected individuals. That may involve excising the virus as well as bombarding it with anti-HIV drugs. “We can get into cells, eradicate the viral genome, and that’s it,” he says.

What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern?

Thirdhand smoke is generally considered to be residual nicotine and other chemicals left on a variety of indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. This toxic mix of thirdhand smoke contains cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers who are exposed to it, especially children.

Studies show that thirdhand smoke clings to hair, skin, clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces, even long after smoking has stopped. Infants, children and nonsmoking adults may be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, ingest or touch substances containing thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its possible dangers.

Thirdhand smoke residue builds up on surfaces over time and resists normal cleaning. Thirdhand smoke can’t be eliminated by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain areas of a home. In contrast,secondhand smoke is the smoke and other airborne products that come from being close to burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes.

The only way to protect nonsmokers from thirdhand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment, whether that’s your private home or vehicle, or in public places, such as hotels and restaurants.

Milky Way’s Most Distant Stars Spotted.

Like a boat floating in a vast, empty ocean, a newly discovered star now holds the record as the most distant one in our Milky Way galaxy.

Galaxies are islands of stars spread throughout space, essentially, separated by voids littered with relatively few stars. The newly spotted Milky Way star, dubbed ULAS J0015+01, is a distant red giant that resides a jaw-dropping 900,000 light-years away. The most remarkable thing about the star is that it is still within the gravitational grasp of our own galaxy.

It was spotted along with another cool stellar old-timer named ULAS J0744+25, which is some 775,000  light-years away, by a team led by John Bochanski of Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

The two stars are more than 50 percent farther from the sun than any known star in the Milky Way, or about five times more distant than the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that circles our galaxy. In fact, the two stars lie about one third of the distance to the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way’s sister spiral in the Local Group of nearby galaxies.

“The distances to these two stars are almost too large to comprehend,” says Bochanski. “To put it in perspective, when the light from ULAS J0015+01 left the star, our early human ancestors were just starting to make fires here on Earth.”

The feeble light from both red giants were picked up by the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey and Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

It’s a pretty lonely place beyond the Milky Way’s halo. Only seven stars having been cataloged to date that lie beyond the 400,000 light-year halo of stars that cocoon our galaxy.

But beyond the extreme records, these distant stars interest astronomers because they call the Milky Way’s extended halo their home. As far-flung outliers from the galaxy, they may shed light on its origin and evolution. Current theories point to our galaxy colliding with many smaller dwarf galaxies in the distant past, resulting in small smatterings of stars thrown out into intergalactic space. Both ULAS J0744+25 and ULAS J0015+01 may in fact be all that is left over of one such ancient collision.

See for Yourself

Okay, so while these stars are only visible with world-class telescopes, what about the most distant star visible to the naked eye?

If we are talking in terms of the brightest, most distant star then that would be Deneb, the lead star in the summertime constellation Cygnus. Despite having an estimated average distance of 1,400 light-years away, Deneb shines as one of the brightest stars in the heavens.

This sky-chart shows the location of Deneb, the lead star in the constellation Cygnus. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows the location of Deneb, the lead star in the constellation Cygnus. Credit: SkySafari

It is easy to find at this time of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere, since it lies overhead during late nights and pins down one of the corners of the Summer Triangle stellar pattern.

But the record as the farthest star we can see with the naked eye would probably have to go to Rho Cassiopeiae—at an astounding 8,000 light-years from Earth. That is 472,000 trillion miles (760,000 trillion kilometers) away.

This skychart shows the constellation Cassiopeia in the northeast evening sky, home to Rho Cass - the most distant star the unaided human eye can see.  Credit: SkySfari
This sky chart shows the constellation Cassiopeia in the northeast evening sky, home to Rho Cass, the most distant star the unaided human eye can see. Credit: SkySfari

Shining at magnitude +4.5,  it is just visible as a very faint star from the countryside or darker suburbs. The star glints from within the W- or M-shaped (depending on season) constellation Cassiopeia, the Queen. It can be seen throughout the year from mid-northern latitude locations, always in the general vicinity of the North Star.

The reason we can actually see Rho Cass is because it is classified as a hypergiant star, one that has a diameter some 500 times wider than our own sun, which it outshines 10,000 times more brightly. Astronomers believe this makes for an explosive combination and so computer models are suggesting that this stellar monster may explode as a supernovae anytime.

So, try and catch it while you can.

Peppermint Oil: A Potent Oil with the Power of Menthol.

History shows a wide range of uses for peppermint as an essential oil, which has been used for over 200 years in ancient Rome and Egypt. Various cultures have used this oil not only for its minty fragrance, but also to symbolize hospitality. Peppermint oil is also a popular oil in medicine due to its therapeutic benefits.

What Is Peppermint Oil?

peppermint oilPeppermint oil is derived from the leaves of the peppermint plant or Mentha pipertita, a hybrid of the water mint and spearmint plants, and M. arvensisvar. piperascensa, a plant from the Labiatae family.1 The essential oil is often used as a home remedy for stomach problems, muscle pain, and headaches. Aside from being available in its oil form, peppermint oil can be found in supplemental capsule form.2

Uses and Benefits of Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is often used in aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils to support health. Studies have found that aromatherapy is effective in relieving anxiety, pain, and vomiting, as well as improving memory. The aroma of peppermint oil has been shown to improve memory and raise alertness.

According to findings, peppermint oil exhibits antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant, analgesic, radioprotective, and antiedema properties.3

Below are other common uses of peppermint oil:

    • Relief for Stomach Problems

Peppermint oil is a safe and effective alternative to medications like Buscopan in reducing colonic spasms.4 It eases abdominal pain by allowing gas to pass through easily. Peppermint oil also provides relief for indigestion and upset stomach.

Research5 has also shown that peppermint oil is effective in improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Another show that it has helped reduce total irritable bowel syndrome score by 50 percent among 75 percent of the participants.6

Peppermint contains large concentrations of menthol and is twice as potent in the essential oil form in decreasing smooth muscle spasm and blocking calcium channels in the gut.

    • Respiratory Benefits

Peppermint oil can be used as an expectorant and decongestant. It can clear up phlegm in your respiratory tract when used as a chest rub or inhaled through a vaporizer.

The essential oil may also provide benefits to individuals with tuberculosis. Researchers found that when inhaled, the oil can help decrease tuberculosis-induced inflammation and prevent the disorder from worsening or recurring.7

Peppermint oil can also work against asthma as it contains rosmarinic acid, which helps curb inflammation-causing chemicals that may cause the condition.

    • peppermint aromatheraphyPain Relief

Peppermint is beneficial in addressing pain. It can be used to relieve sore muscles when used with massage or added to bath water. Dabbing a few drops on your wrist or inhaling the aroma can reduce headache pain. Like with sore muscles, it can be massaged onto your temples.

    • Positive Effect on Cancer-Related Treatments

Peppermint oil can substitute drugs that address chemotherapy-induced nausea. It can also help treat hot flashes in women receiving treatment for breast cancer.8

    • Treatment of Herpes Infections

Peppermint oil was found to have a beneficial effect on drug-resistant herpes simplex virus when applied topically. Because of its lipophilic nature, peppermint oil is able to pass through the skin, making it an ideal treatment against recurrent herpes infection.9

Using peppermint oil on shingles rash also improves pain induced by the disease.

    • Hair and Skin Health

Mixing peppermint oil into massage oils, shampoos, body washes, and lotions gives these products antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, helping cool skin and eliminate dandruff or lice from your scalp. It can also improve frizzy hair and may contribute to hair growth.10

Peppermint oil can aid in oil secretion in skin, therefore preventing acne. It can also heal cracked lips, which is why it’s often an ingredient in lip balms.11

    • Dental Health

Peppermint oil extract is shown to be more effective than the mouthwash chemical chlorhexidine in preventing the development of biofilm that contribute to cavities.12 It can also prevent bad breath. To use, just add one to two drops to your toothpaste.

    • peppermint oil massage theraphyComfort for Stress and Nervous System Problems

Due to its energizing effects, peppermint oil is used to manage stress and treat nervous disorders and mental fatigue. Studies suggest that the essential oil may have an effect similar to psychostimulants, as shown in a study involving mice.13

Herbal supplements: What to know before you buy.

Herbal supplements aren’t right for everyone. Get the facts before you buy.

Echinacea to prevent colds. Ginkgo to improve memory. Flaxseed to lower cholesterol. The list of herbal remedies goes on and on.

Herbal supplements, sometimes called botanicals, aren’t new. Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. However, herbal supplements haven’t been subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and aren’t as strictly regulated as medications. For example, makers of herbal supplements don’t have to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before putting their products on the market.

Yet some herbal supplements — including products labeled as “natural” — have drug-like effects that can be dangerous. So it’s important to do your homework and investigate potential benefits and side effects of herbal supplements before you buy. And be sure to talk with your doctor, especially if you take medications, have chronic health problems, or are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Are herbal supplements safe?

Herbal supplements are regulated by the FDA, but not as drugs or as foods. They fall under a category called dietary supplements. The rules for dietary supplements are as follows:

  • Manufacturers don’t have to seek FDA approval before putting dietary supplements on the market. In addition, companies can claim that products address a nutrient deficiency, support health or are linked to body functions — if they have supportingresearch and they include a disclaimer that the FDA hasn’t evaluated the claim.
  • Manufacturers must follow good manufacturing practices to ensure that supplements are processed consistently and meet quality standards. These regulations are intended to keep the wrong ingredients and contaminants, such as pesticides and lead, out of supplements, as well as make sure that the right ingredients are included in appropriate amounts.
  • Once a dietary supplement is on the market, the FDA is responsible for monitoring its safety. If the FDA finds a product to be unsafe, it can take action against the manufacturer or distributor or both, and may issue a warning or require that the product be removed from the market.

These regulations provide assurance that herbal supplements meet certain quality standards and that the FDA can intervene to remove dangerous products from the market.

The rules do not, however, guarantee that herbal supplements are safe for anyone to use. Because many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong effects in the body, these products can pose unexpected risks. For example, taking a combination of herbal supplements or using supplements together with prescribed medications could lead to harmful, even life-threatening results. For this reason, it’s important to talk with your doctor before using herbal supplements.

How do you know what’s in an herbal supplement?

The FDA requires that the following information be included on the labels of all herbal supplements:

  • The name of the herbal supplement
  • The name and address of manufacturer or distributor
  • A complete list of ingredients — either in the Supplement Facts panel or listed beneath it
  • Serving size, amount and active ingredient

If you don’t understand something on an herbal supplement’s label, ask your doctor or pharmacist for an explanation.

An easy way to compare ingredients in products is by using the Dietary Supplements Labels Database, which is available on the National Library of Medicine’s website. The database has information on the ingredients for thousands of dietary supplements sold in the United States. You can look up products by brand name, uses, active ingredient or manufacturer.

40-Year-Old Woman with Postpartum Dyspnea and Hypoxemia .

40-year-old woman was admitted to this hospital 10 days post partum because of dyspnea and hypoxemia associated with leg edema and blood-tinged sputum. Diagnostic procedures were performed.

Causes of dyspnea and hypoxemia in the peripartum period are predominantly of pulmonary or cardiovascular origin, the latter generally associated with pulmonary edema. The peripartum period predisposes women to a number of pathologic conditions, including pulmonary embolism, amniotic-fluid embolism, infection, aspiration, preeclampsia, and peripartum cardiomyopathy.

Clinical Pearls

 What are the clinical manifestations of an amniotic fluid embolism?

Amniotic-fluid embolism is a rare but catastrophic complication of pregnancy or labor. Patients with amniotic-fluid embolism usually present with cardiorespiratory collapse; this is typically accompanied by disseminated intravascular coagulation and systemic inflammatory responses. Delayed manifestation of amniotic-fluid embolism beyond 48 hours after delivery is extremely rare.

• What is the epidemiology and what are the clinical manifestations of peripartum cardiomyopathy?

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is characterized by congestive heart failure and left ventricular systolic dysfunction toward the end of pregnancy or in the months after delivery, in the absence of other identifiable causes of cardiac disease. The ejection fraction on echocardiography is nearly always less than 45%. More than 90% of cases present in the first weeks post partum. The incidence varies from 1 in 300 live births to 1 in 3000 live births; two “hot spots” are Haiti and Nigeria. Peripartum cardiomyopathy is most common in women of African descent but is seen throughout the world. The manifestation is similar to that of other cardiomyopathies, including such signs and symptoms of venous congestion as dyspnea, orthopnea, edema, and, in extreme cases, hypoxemia.

Morning Report Questions

Q: What are the principles of management of peripartum cardiomyopathy?

A: As with other cardiomyopathies, management of peripartum cardiomyopathy should focus on reducing preload and afterload and interrupting the maladaptive neurohormonal response to systolic heart failure. Diuretic agents and itrates are the treatments of choice for volume overload, although caution is required with the use of these agents before delivery. Angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II-receptor blockers could be administered but would be contraindicated if the patient were still pregnant. In the setting of a low ejection fraction and in light of the hypercoagulability of the puerperium, anticoagulation may be advised for the prevention of systemic embolism. Implantation of an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, to prevent death from arrhythmia, is relatively contraindicated, because systolic function frequently recovers. If the patient were pregnant, neither premature discontinuation of pregnancy nor delivery by cesarean section would be indicated.

Q: What is the prognosis of peripartum cardiomyopathy?

A: As many as 50% of women with peripartum cardiomyopathy eventually recover cardiac function, but 25% have progression to advanced heart failure, which often leads to cardiac transplantation or death. A lower ejection fraction at presentation predicts a worse outcome and  delayed recovery. Peripartum cardiomyopathy usually recurs in subsequent pregnancies, so decisions about repeat pregnancies need to be considered on an individual basis.


The Silent Toxin in Food that Provokes Cancer, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and More.

Found in everything from cereal grains to driedfruit and nuts to legumes, along with wine, hard cheeses and certain types of coconut oil — mycotoxins are difficult to dodge. Associated with a variety of diseases, these fungal metabolites can wreak havoc on the health of both body and mind. Just the same, we don’t need to be at the mercy of these invisible troublemakers. Instead, we can take active steps through dietary interventions to reduce exposure and decrease damage.

Mycotoxins: What are they and why should I care?

Causing a vast range of issues in animals and humans, mycotoxins are produced by fungi and can destroy health when even small amounts are consumed over time. Although tricky to diagnose (due to the diversity of symptoms), there is enough evidence that links the toxin with heart and liver disease, neurological malfunction, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, asthma, stunted growth and premature death.


Mycotoxins are surprisingly resilient and remain relatively unscathed when frozen or cooked. Crops grown in tropical regions are exceptionally vulnerable to contamination due to high humidity and weather fluctuations. One of the most well-known mycotoxins, and also the most damaging, is aflatoxin — a carcinogenic mold often found in peanuts, among other foods. Aflatoxin specifically attacks the liver and has been implicated in cancers of both the liver and cervix.

John A. Tafel, M.D., an integrative medicinephysician, provides the following list of high-risk edibles that can contain mycotoxins:

1. Alcoholic beverages
2. Corn
3. Wheat
4. Barley
5. Sugar
6. Sorghum
7. Peanuts
8. Rye
9. Cottonseed
10. Hard cheeses

Dr. Tafel wrote,

One food that is not mentioned on the list is coconut oil. I want to point out that, while coconut oil is an incredible food in terms of nutrition and taste, many coconut oils contain mycotoxins. This is because they are commonly made with copras, or dried coconuts, which are often contaminated with mycotoxins. So in order to fully enjoy the benefits of this coconut oil, you will want to be sure that you find a company that uses only fresh coconuts to make their oil.

Dairy and meat (from animals fed contaminated grains), mesquite, dried fruits, maple syrup and rice can be problematic as well.

How to reduce exposure

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to escape contact with mycotoxins. Be that as it may, we can take action and protect ourselves. The first step is to avoid, as much as possible, foods that tend to be highly contaminated, as noted above. It’s also important to bake at home and mill your own flour for ultimate freshness and quality control. Prepackaged baked goods (including bread) are notorious for harboring mycotoxins. Sadly, it doesn’t matter if premade products are organic, sprouted or fermented — all can contain fungal metabolites.

Tree nuts are also troublesome, especially almonds and Brazil nuts. Rinsing nuts will assist in removing surface toxins. Next, soaking nuts in water with 1/4 teaspoon of vitamin C powder (per pint of nuts) for 5 minutes will help destroy mycotoxins within the nut. Drain and gently dry in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. A small amount of vitamin C can be added to cooking water for grains and pasta too. The same for honey and maple syrup (1/4 tsp. per pint).

And a study in the journal Cancer Letters found that extracts of turmeric, garlic and asafetida “inhibited the aflatoxin production considerably (more than 90%) at concentrations of 5-10 mg/ml.” Moreover,turmeric and curcumin reversed aflatoxin-induced liver damage in test ducklings.

Sources for this article include: