DESPITE the searing heat, Nigeria farmers are back to the land, preparing their farms for the cultivation of this season’s crops. As I suggested in this column last Thursday, under the title AGRO-DOLLAR RAIN ABOUT TO FALL IN NIGERIA, more rice and maize, in particular, should be produced on the farms this year. This assumption is based on the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of more farmers will swell the population of farmers as more land is released for farming upcountry and, this time, land clearance, crop cultivation and harvesting will be mechanised. These are all features of the Anchor Borrowers Project mentioned last week.
But as we jubilate that there should be more food on the dining-table at cheaper prices, so should we worry about the risk of eating poisons with these foods, a risk many governments and food researchers in Nigeria have downplayed over the years or deliberately not sufficiently informed Nigerians about. This risk is the AFLATOXIN risk. If we do not care about what we eat or drink here, other people elsewhere in the world do. And that was why, a few years ago, the European Union banned importation of foods from Nigeria after it was discovered that their aflatoxin and mycotoxin load was too high for the safety of the health of Europeans.
“Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain molds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and greens. They are regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as cassava, chili peppers, corn, cotton seed, millet, peanuts, rice, sesame seeds, sorghum, sunflower seeds, tree nuts, wheat, and a variety of spices. When contaminated food is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human food as well as in feedstocks for agricultural animals. Animals fed contaminated food can pass aflatoxin transformation products into eggs, milk products and meat. For example, contaminated poultry feed is suspected in the findings of high percentages of samples of aflatoxin-contaminated chicken meat and eggs in Pakistan. Children are particularly affected by aflatoxin exposure, which leads to stunted growth, delayed development, liver damaged and liver cancer. Adults have a higher tolerance to exposure but are also at risk. No animal specie is immune. Aflatoxins are among the most carcinogenic substances known. After entering the body, aflatoxins may be metabolized by the liver to a reactive epoxide intermediate or hydroxylated to become the less harmful aflatoxin M1.
“Aflatoxins are most commonly ingested, but the most toxic form of Aflatoxin B1 can permeate through the skin.
“The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action level for aflatoxin present in food or feed is 20-300ppb. The FDA has had occasion to declare both human and pet food recalls as a precautionary measure to prevent exposure.
“The term “Aflatoxin” is derived from the names of one of the molds that produce it, Aspergillus flavus. It was coined around 1960 after its discovery as the source of “Turkey X disease”. Aflatoxins form one of the major groupings of mycotoxins.
Nigeria produces bumper harvests in the farms but loses a quantum of them during storage or transportation. Yam and potatoes, for example, are thereby fungi-infected and loaded with aflatoxins in the cooking pot and dining table. In many road-side eating places, soups and stews are made from rotten pepper which the Yorubas call ata esa (r:r d:d). Many people buy and eat “injured” or “wounded” banana, unknown to them that the rot areas on the banana are the handiwork of a fungus or fungi. Fungi denature oils. For this reason, care should be taken in consuming oil-rich foods. Groundnuts (peanuts) are oil-rich. In a region of the United States celebrated as the biggest peanut grower in that country, cancer of the pancreas is reported to be a common occurrence. So, when peanut is off colour or off-taste, I do not touch it.
I have learned to also avoid peanut butter for this reason. Melon is another stuff to be careful about. To make a delicious pot of melon soup, our mothers peeled melon from the shell, roasted it and then ground it. In other words, the soup was made with fresh melon just removed from its protective shell. These days, melon is sold to the lazy woman already ground and wrapped in cellophane. Not only would the acids in melon have reacted with the cellophane, picking petroleum residue for the pot of soup it is intended for, the melon may have over time become oxidised by oxygen, thereby stocking free radicals for the soup, and, additionally, bring along aflatoxins, being a ready prey for fungi attack. Even maize is not free from fungi infection because of its oil and high moisture content. Vegetables are worse. They get rotten easily. I have learned, too, that onions and limes are not safe from fungi infection.
If you watch a pack of ripening limes carefully, you may notice some that are becoming rotten. The market woman does not wish to lose money by throwing them away. So, she developed the idea of squeezing such limes in a bottle and selling them off to her careless or unsuspecting customer as lime juice. Back home in the kitchen, the lime is used to cure snails, fish, wash vegetables et.c. Unknown to the chef, aflatoxins have been introduced into a delicious meal. When I notice that onions are getting rotten, I do not remove the affected peels and use the remainder. I throw away the bulb. During the mango season many people eat mangoes with spots on the skin.
Dr J.H. Williams of the University of Georgia, United States, carried out a study of local African markets and reported that about 40 percent of the commodities found the “exceeded permissible aflatoxin levels (in excess of the international standards of 10-20ppb) and that an estimated 4.5billion people in developing countries are at risk of uncontrolled or poorly controlled exposure to aflatoxins, and up to 40 percent of commodities in local African markets exceed allowable levels of aflatoxins in foods.”
In the website; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/705839, he reports:
“It is known that high aflatoxin levels in the bloodstream depresses the immune system, thereby facilitating cancer, HIV, and stunting the growth of children. A cross-sectional study conducted in Ghana and cited by Dr. Williams shows that immune systems of recently HIV-infected people are significantly modified even they have above median levels of natural exposure to aflatoxin.
“Referring to another study, Dr. Williams notes:
“People with a high aflatoxin biomarker status in The Gambia and Ghana were more likely to have active malaria.”
The website quotes Dr Oladele Dokun, a veterinary doctor at Nigeria’s Animal Care Laboratory as saying:
“Research has shown aflatoxin causes infertility, abortions and delayed onset of egg production in birds as well as sudden losses in egg production in actively laying birds. Furthermore, loss of appetite, skin discoloration or even yellowish pigmentation on skin can be observed in fish.”
The Euro ban
A few years ago the European Union banned the importation of Nigerian cocoa after a high Gamalin-20 (a pesticide) was found in chocolates and ovaltine. Later, another import ban covered beans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, dried fish and meat, peanut chips and palm oil. If you wonder what palm oil is doing on the list, as we say here, I would share my experience. I was told I could obtain fresh and pure palm kernel oil from a particular region of the country. So I paid for 20 liters of palm oil which I hope to enjoy for months. But I was shocked one day to find a white film over the oil right inside the plastic keg. It was fungi! So I threw the keg and, its contents away and proceeded with the detoxification of my system. This sort of thing can make one ill, and an inexperienced doctor would mely provide drugs to suppress symptoms he observes and not uproot the cause(s). If you shrug your shoulders in disbelief, saying our grandparents ate this things and live to ripe, old age, you may not have looked at the other side of the equation. That other side was their diet. Did they consume sugar the way we do today? Did they eat junk foods? Were they stressed up the way we are? Did they not sleep longer and more restfuly than we do. Their bodies were not as weaken as ours, and probably didn’t collapse as easily as our do under aflatoxin bombardment.
The European Food Safety Authority said the Nigerian food crops were banned because their pesticide levels were too high. The pesticide level of the banned Nigeria beans was between 0.03mg per kg to 4.6mg per kg of Dichlorvos pesticide against an acceptable residue limit 0.01mg/kg.
Director-General Paul Orhyi, of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and control (NAFDAC) blamed the ban on the “failure” of exporters to comply with regulatory requirements. I wondered them if it would not have been better to admit that NAFDAC’s hands were too full and that it required more men and funds to enforce compliance, as Nigerians were beginning to show interest in food exports as a way of diversifying their country’s revenue base. Or, if NAFDAC had enough policing capacity, did its officers look the other way while the food cargoes were loaded in ships? It is embarrassing, to say the least, to find ship loads of exported foodstuff returned to the country. Fearsome is the thouht that we all at home may be consuming poisons whenever we eat beans in any form, fish and peanuts. To be fair to NAFDAC, it has embarked on a national campaign to enlighten the public about the contamination of Nigerian foods. But many Nigerians are not paying enough attention.
In the website; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov we are advised:
“Aflatoxin, one of the most widespread of the known carcinogens, is present at a high level in most common foods stored poorly for long periods in Nigeria. It may work synergistically with other carcinogens to produce the high incidence of primary liver cancer seen in young men at the age of 40. In the northern Nigeria Savannah areas, cereals, especially sorghum and millet, as well as groundnut products are the high risk foods. In the Southern forest areas, dried fish, groundnut and all palm products often carry unwholesome quantities of aflatoxin.”
Aflatoxic poisoning is also known as aflatoxicosis. It may present as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, convulsion, collection of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), collection of fluid in the brain (cerebral edema), abnormalities of the blood, including blood cancer even in children, bleeding, liver damage and cancer, kidney and heart damage and even death.
Consumption of a large dosage of aflatoxin may produce the symptoms described above. Accumulations over a long period of time may not hurt severely immediately, but may ultimately result in, say liver damage or cancer. Lung cancer may come from the inhalation of mold dust, especially in the cases of people who inhale mold dust from affected crops.
Natural aflatoxin remedies
Since mold and aflatoxins are known to cause all sorts of cancer, the first line of defence against them would seem to be (1) immune boosting (2) detoxification (3) anti-cancer foods and herbs (4) oxygenation (5) anti-inflammatories (6) anti-fungal herbs. Some of the well known anti-mold herbs are (a) Garlic, (b) Pau d’Arco (c) Thyme and (d) Cloves. To this group belongs, also, Golden Seal Root.
When it comes to immune boosting, attention has to be paid to the liver. It breaks down poisons into simpler, non-poisonous ones or into less toxic toxins. Where the liver is healthy and functioning optimally, no cancer can erupt in any part of the body, as science is now discovering through autopsy reports which implicate liver weakness in the evolution and development of cancers. To prevent the liver itself from becoming cancerous, not only is it necessary to equip it to detoxify all toxins which the bloodstream brings to it to pulverise, it is important as well to prevent it from being overloaded with more poisons than it can get rid of and to protect it against them. Accordingly, liver-clearance herbs such as Carqueja are important as decongestants while herbs such as Milk thistle, Jerusalem artichoke and False Daisy (eclipta alba) are hepaprotectives. An hepaprotective is a liver protecting agent. Hepaprotectives obtain their recognition as such from their protection of the liver against carbontetrachloride. This is a chemical which easily damages and destroys the liver. When animals were fed carbontetrachloride, they died of liver damage. Only a few of them died when they ate Milk thistle, for example, simultaneously with the poison. Hardly did any die when fed Milk thistle a few days before ingestions of Carbontetrachloride. Protecting the liver enables it produce enough bile salts to mop toxins for excretion. One teaspoonful of Tumeric powder enables the gall bladder to empty half of its bile contents at once. But such a dosage is contraindicated in people with gall bladder stones or kidney stones, as a gall bladder stone blockage of the bile ducts may block bile passage and cause congestion in the bladder and liver, and, in the kidneys of susceptible people, the oxalic acid in Tumeric may combine with free or excess calcium salts to form calcium-oxalate stones.
Liver health boosts immunity. we can boost immunity further by consuming herbs which help to lower bacterial, viral and fungi load so that the immune system, freed of a heavy load of combatants against it, can act with more vigour. Echinacea, which sometimes is sold along with Golden Seal Root, is an immune booster. A product named Echinacea Supreme combines Echinacea, Golden Seal Root and Grape Seed Extract, another great name in the immune supporting therapy. Here is one secret I will share later: pawpaw leaf juice.
If the brain has been affected, because some molds cause cerebral allergy and nervous system damage, brain-health herbs are called for. Ginkgo biloba is well known. It promotes blood circulation to, and in the brain, enhances memory and cognition. Lion’s mane mushroom repairs damaged nerves and supports their regeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids prevents inflammation of brain cells and is a mood enhancer and anti-depressant. Some sources of Omega-3 oil are flax seed oil and evening primerose oil. But fish oil is the best. Noni juice is also good. If behaviour and mood are disturbed, a proprietary product named BEHAVIOUR BALANCE or MOOD SUPPORT are suggested.
For general well-being in a state of aflatoxin overload, Orange peel powder can be terrific. It is anti-toxin, anti-inflammatory, a lung decongestant and blood purifier.
Adaptogenics, too, are indispensable. From low gear or high gear, they bring the body to normal gear. One of the most well-known among their ranks is Siberian Ginseng. We should not forget about greens…Wheatgrass, Chlorella, Kale, Spirulina and Liquid Chlorophyll taken alone or together. They detoxify the blood and lymph. They also recompose and oxygenate the blood. We should not relegate Stinging Nettle as well.
The new farmers are pouring into the farms in hundreds of thousands, if not millions nationwide to ignite Nigeria’s real green revolution. IITA (international institute for tropical Agriculture) and NAFDAC are helping out with aflasafe on the farms and in storages. But they may not capture all the mold and aflatoxin in the net. So, when we eat, we should be reminded that aflatoxins may be present in the food. Therefore, our meals should not be without protection. You may have been reading in this column that I sometimes eat groundnuts and banana with pawpaw leaves (papaya). This leaf is an antioxidant and offers digestive protection. So are Bitter leaf and Basil leaf (Efinrin in Yoruba). Ditto garlic and tumeric.