Neurotoxins in Food: How to Avoid Them

Wrapping food in aluminum foil could be linked with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life. But, what other neurotoxins can be found in our food?
Neurotoxins in Food: How to Avoid Them

Last update: 21 August, 2020

Neurotoxins are substances that can damage the nervous system. One example is products that contain the toxin botulinum, which can cause paralysis of the central nervous system along with a number of other serious complications. In some cases, it may even prove fatal.

Botulinum is a product of the organism Clostridium Botulinum, a bacterium that can grow in poorly sterilized canned foods. Next, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to avoid these kinds of toxins.

Food hygiene and neurotoxins in food

Good food hygiene is essential if you want to avoid contamination. Freezing and defrosting food at the right temperatures while respecting the expiry date are just some examples of good food hygiene practices.

Poorly sterilized canned tomatoes are the ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria that can cause botulism, as stated in an article published in the journal, Pediatrics in Review.

As such, these products must be subjected to extremely high temperatures and, if possible, manufacturers should also use vacuum packaging. The bacterium that generates this kind of toxin can’t survive without oxygen and is sensitive to high temperatures.

Children under the age of one year, are especially vulnerable to this kind of food poisoning. Babies can develop a condition known as infant botulism from eating honey, according to a study carried out in 2017.

Neurotoxins are often found in poorly preserved canned foods.

Packaging can increase neurotoxicity

How we preserve our food plays a huge role in preventing these kinds of toxins. For example, elements such as aluminum foil may have certain long-term neurotoxic properties.

Some experts have linked the use of this material in food packaging with an increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. However, while there’s insufficient evidence to ban the use of aluminum, it’s best to be cautious, and try to keep your food stored in paper whenever possible.

Large, predatory fish may contain neurotoxins

Large fish tend to accumulate higher concentrations of mercury in their fatty tissues. In large quantities, this heavy metal is known to have a neurotoxic effect.

As such, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating these kinds of fish on a regular basis. This toxic heavy metal could be passed from the mother to the fetus, putting its health at risk.

However, there’s no concrete evidence linking the consumption of large predatory fish with an increased risk of central nervous system disorders. It’s also important to point out that mercury is fat-soluble, and thus found in greater concentrations in the fattier parts of the fish.

Despite all of that, the consumption of smaller fish is highly recommended. It can help to guarantee a steady supply of high-quality proteins and fatty acids while minimizing the risk of mercury poisoning in the long run.

A woman preparing fish.

A varied diet and good food hygiene

When it comes to your health, you can’t underestimate the importance of a varied and balanced diet. At the same time, there are also some food practices that can help improve the quality and nutritional value of your food. Respecting the rules of good food hygiene can significantly reduce the risks of any negative side effects from your food.

It’s important to make sure that you freeze and defrost your food properly, while also avoiding cross-contamination. Similarly, proper sterilization of canned foods can help to minimize any potential risks.

We would also recommend caution when it comes to using aluminum foil to store or preserve your food. While there’s no concrete evidence to suggest you shouldn’t use it from time to time, there are some reasons to believe that frequent usage may damage your nervous system in the long run. It’s best to wrap your food in paper wherever possible, just to be on the safe side.

Finally, it’s important to remember that, as well as being present in our food, neurotoxins can also be found in a number of other places. For example, the air we breathe contains carbon monoxide which, in high doses, can be extremely dangerous for your health. In fact, there are a number of scientific studies exploring the neurotoxic effects of carbon monoxide.

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  • Carrillo Marquez MA., Pediatr Rev, 2016. 37 (5): 183-92.
  • Wendt S., Eder I., Wolfel R., Braun P., et al., Botulism: diagnosis and therapy. Dtsch Med Wochenscher, 2017. 142 (17): 1304-1312.