Here’s what you need to know about natural toxins present in food

Natural toxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by living organisms. These toxins are not harmful to the organisms themselves but they may be toxic to other creatures, including humans, when eaten. These chemical compounds have diverse structures and differ in biological function and toxicity

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Recently many cases have come up where people have even died because of consumption of toxins available naturally in the food. Many people are not aware about their presence.

Some toxins are produced by plants as a natural defence mechanism against predators, insects or microorganisms, or as consequence of infestation with microorganisms, such as mould, in response to climate stress (such as drought or extreme humidity).

Dr Abhijeet Lodha, physician from Ruby said, “Natural toxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock. Some of these toxins are extremely potent. Adverse health effects can be acute poisoning ranging from allergic reactions to severe stomach ache and diarrhoea, and even death.”

He added, “When it comes to natural toxins it is important to note that they can be present in a variety of different crops and foodstuff.  In a usual balanced, healthy diet, the levels of natural toxins are well below the threshold for acute and chronic toxicity.”

Other sources of natural toxins are microscopic algae and plankton in oceans or sometimes in lakes that produce chemical compounds that are toxic to humans but not to fish or shellfish that eat these toxin-producing organisms. When people eat fish or shellfish that contain these toxins, illness can rapidly follow.

Richa Shukla, a dietician from Jehangir Hospital, Pune, said, “To minimise the health risk from natural toxins in food, people should not assume that if something is ‘natural’ it is automatically safe. They should throw away bruised, damaged or discoloured food, and in particular mouldy foods. They should also throw away any food that does not smell or taste fresh, or has an unusual taste. We must only eat mushrooms or other wild plants that have definitively been identified as non-poisonous.”