2016 Volume 4 Issue 1 Pages 14-27
Aflatoxins are fungal toxins that possess acute life threatening toxicity, carcinogenic properties and other potential chronic adverse effects. Dietary exposure to aflatoxins is considered a major public health concern, especially for subsistence farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where dietary staple food crops such as groundnuts and maize are often highly contaminated with aflatoxin due to hot and humid climates and poor storage, together with low awareness of risk and lack of enforcement of regulatory limits. Biomarkers have been developed and applied in many epidemiological studies assessing aflatoxin exposure and the associated health effects in these high-risk population groups. This review discusses the recent epidemiological evidence for aflatoxin exposure, co-exposure with other mycotoxins and associated health effects in order to provide evidence on risk assessment, and highlight areas where further research is necessary. Aflatoxin exposure can occur at any stage of life and is a major risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma, especially when hepatitis B infection is present. Recent evidence suggests that aflatoxin may be an underlying determinant of stunted child growth, and may lower cell-mediated immunity, thereby increasing disease susceptibility. However, a causal relationship between aflatoxin exposure and these latter adverse health outcomes has not been established, and the biological mechanisms for these have not been elucidated, prompting further research. Furthermore, there is a dearth of information regarding the health effects of co-exposure to aflatoxin with other mycotoxins. Recent developments of biomarkers provide opportunities for important future research in this area.