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Corn, Mexican food's main ingredient, could cause cancer
What we eat is the main cause for cancer - Photo: Jorge Sánchez Tellez/EL GRÁFICO

Corn, Mexican food's main ingredient, could cause cancer

05/08/2018
15:54
Mariluz Roldán
Mexico City
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When wrongly stored, food can be contaminated with aflatoxins, a cancerous substance we ingest every day

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What we eat is the main cause for cancer, beyond smoking or infections, warns Magda Carvajal Moreno, a researcher from the Biology Institute form the UNAM, who has done a research about aflatoxins through the years, a carcinogenic substance that we ingest every day.

The expert explained that the aflatoxins are secondary metabolites that come from the Aspergillus flavu fungus, which can be found in different foods like corn, rice, peanuts, nuts pistachios, chilies, chicken, eggs, milk, sausages, and beer.

The aflatoxins produce and are consumed with contaminated foods, which accumulate in the DNA for years and create diverse harmful effects, like cancer and mutations.

During a conference in the Agriculture, Diet and Nutrition (SPAAN), part of the University Food Program (Aual), Carvajal Moreno said that what we eat is the main risk to get cancer, with 36% chances, a risk even higher to the one caused by smoking, which represents a 31% risk, while infections are less likely to cause cancer, with 11%.

In an older research, she found that in cases of people with tumors in the liver, 65% had aflatoxins; in the colon, 54%; in the rectum, 57%; pancreas, 46%; breast cancer, 40%; and cervix, 60%.

According to the data mentioned by the expert, one of Mexican food's main ingredients is among those contaminated by aflatoxins: corn.

She warned that tortillas and the products made from its dough like totopos, sopes, tamales, and quesadillas, among other Mexican dishes, are quite contaminated because she recently developed a study in Mexico City, where she found that 95% of white corn and 60% of yellow corn contain these metabolites.

She emphasized that the aflatoxins generated by the Aspergillus flavus fungus, which easily reproduces in grains wrongly stored “aren't visible, they have no smell or taste flavor, they are heat and cooking process resistant”. Also, they're insoluble in water and in organic solvents like methane, ethanol, benzene, and chloroform.

Carvajal Moreno explained that those metabolites are associated with liver, pancreas, lung, colon, rectum, cervix-uterine cancer: “Although they act in one-millionth of a milligram, they are the most potent biologic carcinogens known. We're all born with proto-oncogenes that are latent, and the aflatoxins, through a chemical mechanism of oxidation, transforms them into oncogenes, which accumulate in the DNA and mutate, mainly in individuals with a genetic predisposition.

During the first stage, the aflatoxins are eliminated through urine, but the risk increases when these foods are ingested on a regular basis. For example, if someone eats contaminated foods for 40 years, the substance will slowly fix into their DNA, damaging it.

The expert said that there's an error in the repairing, replication, and integration, that's why once the gene mutates, the process is irreversible and that's when the cancerous process begins. Later, the cell is transformed and the primary malignant tumor appears, which requires medical intervention, which can include radiation and surgeries.

Nevertheless, there's a way to counter the fungus's damage, and she recommended to eat probiotics like berries, green and red peppers, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, cherries, green beans, tomatoes, and carrots.

She concluded that it's difficult to change eating habits, but it's possible to proportionate healthy products with the right storage process, in dry and cold storage.
 

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