Carcinogenic mycotoxins detected in bee pollen sold in Spain

Spanish scientists detected carcinogenic mycotoxins in more than 80 bee pollen samples that are marketed for human consumption in countries like Spain, and warn that they may pose a health risk.

Carcinogenic mycotoxins detected in bee pollen sold in Spain

Bee pollen is a natural substance that these insects produce by mixing the dust they collect from flowers with their saliva, nectar and honey, which has nutritional properties and to which health benefits are also attributed. In fact, many people acquire and consume it regularly and its possible use as a feed and supplement for livestock has also been considered.

Now, however, the results of a study led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), in collaboration with the University of Almería, have set off alarm bells because they reveal that four mycotoxins have been detected: aflatoxin B1, ochratoxin A, zearalenone and deoxynivalenol– in pollen samples marketed in up to 28 countries, including Spain, which constitute a latent threat to human health.

Mycotoxins are a group of molecules that can be found in food and pose a risk to the health of consumers, but although some of them, such as aflatoxins, have been recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as the natural compounds with the greatest known carcinogenic potential for humans, followed by ochratoxin A, deoxynivalenol or zearalenone, no legal restrictions have been established on them in the case of bee pollen.

The results showed the presence of at least one of the mycotoxins analyzed in 100% of the bee pollen samples, “being aflatoxin B1 the one that presented the highest incidence rate”

In addition to their carcinogenic effects, they have also been described as potent immunosuppressive agents (inhibit the immune response), mutagenic (capable of producing heritable genetic alterations or increasing their frequency) and teratogenic (which can alter fetal development and cause congenital malformations). The study has been published in the journal Food Control.

Expand food safety controls to bee pollen

The researchers carried out immunoenzymatic assays to evaluate the presence of five mycotoxins –aflatoxin B1, ochratoxin A, zearalenone, deoxynivalenol and toxin T2– in 80 bee pollen samples from countries such as China, Spain, the United States, India, Italy and Russia, among others. . “Through the ELISA technique, mycotoxins have been detected in all the samples analyzed,” explains María Dolores Hernando, a researcher at the Arid Zones Experimental Station (EEZA-CSIC).

“These samples, in addition to the different origin, include a wide diversity in the characteristics of the pollen marketed for human consumption, such as its production method (conventional and organic), its floral composition (mono and multifloral) and its processing (fresh pollen, dehydrated and like bee bread)”, he adds.

These scientists also looked at the margin of exposure as an indicator of the health hazard level of the presence of carcinogenic mycotoxins and the risk associated with exposure to one or more mycotoxins. To do this, they have taken into account consumption data from the Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for different population groups.

The results of the tests “showed the presence of at least one of the mycotoxins analyzed in 100% of the samples, with aflatoxin B1 presenting the highest incidence rate,” they explain in the article. In 28% of the cases analyzed, the deoxynivalenol content exceeded the toxicological reference values, while aflatoxin B1, as a result of its concentration and frequency of detection –98%– is considered of high concern in 84% of the cases. cases.

Due to the lack of information on the extent of contamination with hazardous substances in bee pollen, a number of questions remain regarding the safety of this bee product. The authors of the work highlight the need to improve the drying and conservation processes of pollen, as well as the extension of food safety controls to products considered, in general, of low consumption.

Source: Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC)


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