While the GI tract would appear simple as a one way street from mouth to anus, the story of mycotoxins turns out to be a real plot twisting complexity. We had hints of this complexity by the fact that different animals demonstrate varying abilities to withstand mold toxins in their diets. The importance of what happens during this pathway has come to light thanks to the burgeoning research into how gut bacteria affect our health. Despite these hints and acknowledgements, today’s highlighted article will leave you asking for a cliff notes summary of what happens in the darkness of your GI tract when mycotoxins pay a visit.
Before we dive into the GI tract, a little background is in order. Recent years of research using newer technological breakthroughs have revealed a world of microbial activity within our GI tract, especially in our colon. These breakthroughs have unearthed intricate and amazing connections between then bacteria living in our guts and various health conditions, good and bad. The world of medicine now recognizes the critical importance of health colon bacteria with healthy humans and how our lifestyle, especially diet, affects both.
These breakthroughs have led to further research into how various substances passing through our GI tract may affect those bacteria. We knew that antibiotics taken for various infections at least temporarily disrupt which bacteria live in our colon, if not permanently in some cases. We knew that dietary changes like fiber intake and fermented foods alter the microbial colonic neighborhood. Given the widespread nature of molds and their toxins in our food supply, naturally researchers would ask whether these substances also affected bacterial balance. Such curiosity was further driven by the knowledge that many mycotoxins have antibiotic effects (i.e. penicillin as derived from Penicillium mold) and many have immune system effects.
Attempting to wrap one’s mind around all the various interactions between our body, the residing colon bacteria, and these mycotoxins would require at least a book length exposition. This summary will reflect the articles divisions into the bacteria’s effect on the mold toxins, the mold toxins’ effects on the gut, and other effects of the toxins on the whole body which reflect back on the GI tract with its bacteria.
While we really want to know what effects that the toxins have on us, we start with our bacteria’s effects on the toxins first since these bacteria are the first to interact with the toxins as they enter our bodies. The bacteria live inside the GI tract tube where food passes through and the activities of the bacteria or other microbes determine how much of the mold toxins reach our own cells and systems.
The metabolism of the bacteria and resident fungi may deactivate or activate various toxins. Sometimes they cut off a portion of the toxin molecule and remove the toxic potential. Sometimes, they remove a section of the toxin molecule which would have otherwise deactivated it and thereby make it more toxic. Which action actually occurs depends on several factors. These abilities are only possessed by certain bacteria and their presence is required. If these bacteria are present, they also need certain conditions like a specific acidity of the GI fluids. Even then, they may need more time to significantly alter the levels of the toxin which may be why ruminants (animals with multiple stomachs like cows) seem to carry out this detoxification better than single stomach animals.
Besides the chemical alterations, some cell walls of bacteria and fungi can absorb the toxins, preventing them from further entry into our cells and bodies. While the article notes that these are not as strong binders as clay minerals, their effects are noticeable and have been used in the agricultural industry. Saccharomyces stands out as a yeast that has this ability and is used in both the agricultural world and the mold toxicity world for humans.
In order to give the flipside of mold toxin’s effects on gut bacteria a fair discussion, this article will continue in part 2 soon. For now, a final point to remember is that a full appreciation of the effect of dietary molds on our gut bacteria and our health requires not only part 2, but a recognition that a close inspection of the dosages of toxins and the animals tested is required for each study conducted. While the toxins may have significant effects at high doses such as ones which we will not encounter in normal life, they may be minimal in our daily life. While the toxins may be very safe or very toxic in one animal, that does not guarantee nor rule out effects in humans. This all means that in order for functional medicine doctors like myself to help patients liver healthier more abundant lives, we must take the knowledge available and apply it carefully to each individual patient while waiting for further research to be conducted. Until Part 2….
Guerre, Philippe. “Mycotoxin and Gut Microbiota Interactions.” Toxins vol. 12,12 769. 4 Dec. 2020, doi:10.3390/toxins12120769
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.