Researchers have made a startling discovery about the food available in Nairobi’s retail markets.
Studies by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in October last year showed that the milk, maize, and sorghum on sale in many retail outlets contain aflatoxin, a poison produced by mould found in food.
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ILRI researchers collected 403 samples of milk, maize, and sorghum flour from households and retailers in Nairobi. Aflatoxin was detected in all milk and sorghum samples and 95 per cent of the maize.
Of these, 63 per cent of the milk samples, 16 per cent of maize, and one per cent of sorghum exceeded allowable levels of the poison by the European Union.
Worried by the findings, the team of medical researchers from Moi University, Eldoret, fed 12 pigs on feed contaminated with aflatoxin for 60 days. The scientists used pigs since the functioning of the animal’s body is closely related to that of humans.
The scientists then slaughtered the pigs and conducted tests on three crucial body organs: the liver, the testis, and the epididymis - an organ responsible for storing and carrying sperm.
Their findings, recorded in the East African Medical Journal, are stunning.
Inside the epididymis of pigs fed on aflotoxin, the researchers reported tissue changes, indicating over-production of cells - a sign of early development of cancer.
In the testicles, where sperms are produced, the team reported observing early abnormal swelling of blood vessels.
It also reported evidence of degeneration and premature death of cells in the testis in all the pigs that ate contaminated feed.
In the same organ the researchers identified aflatoxin-induced changes that may have caused low production of sperms. Called low sperm count, this condition is a major cause of infertility in men.
“Aflatoxins have been shown to disrupt the reproductive system of both humans and animals in both sexes,” the researchers concluded in their report.
The liver, the main organ responsible for removing poisons from the body, was not spared either.
Among the aflatoxin-fed animals, the study reported signs of scarring, the early stages of the more serious diseases called liver cirrhosis which in some cases leads to cancer.
While launching the first national survey on non-communicable disease in Kenya in April last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Cleopa Mailu, expressed concern about the role of aflatoxin in increasing cases of cancer in the country.
Aflatoxins are produced by mould that grows on many cereals. The toxins also affect animal feed, which then contaminates milk, meat, and eggs.
With maize and milk being so important in Kenyan diets, their contamination poses a big threat to the country’s public health. [www.rocketscience.co.ke]