Common Questions with Dr. Pratt-Hyatt: Is There Mold in my Coffee?

In today’s second blog answering everyone’s most common question is “Is there mycotoxins in your coffee?” The short answer is yes, but a lot of food has small amounts of mycotoxins. The United States and European Union both have stringent limits of mycotoxins allowed in food. Because the limits aren’t zero this leads to almost everyone having some amount of mycotoxins in their urine, which can be seen in the urine mycotoxin tests available. In toxicology the quote “The dose makes the poison” is often quoted, which is a paraphrase from the Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus.

I have very limited data on this subject; however, I will talk about a small pilot study that Neil Nathan and I ran a couple of years back. We have 10 participants abstain from foods known to be high in mycotoxins (a list is below) and then we tested their urine mycotoxins. The study then had them eat large amounts of these foods for a couple of weeks and then retested. The findings did not show any significant increase in mycotoxins. This is obviously a small sample size and I would probably have monitored the diets more if we were going to publish, but this was an interesting small experiment. However, let’s dive into what other labs have done.

What Causes Mycotoxins in my Coffee?

The sources of toxins that have been measure are Ochratoxin A (OTA) from Aspergillus and Penicillium and toxins from Alternaria. The European Commission assessed which foods were leading to small amounts of OTA exposure. The report indicated that cereals, coffee, beer, wine, cocoa, dried fruits, meat, and spices were the most significant sources of OTA. In this report, they estimated that 10% of the OTA intake was from coffee1.

For Alternaria, there are five different toxins: Altenuene, Alternariol, Alternariol monomethyl ether, Tentoxin, and Tenuazonic Acid. These have been seen in similar products as discuss above2. As of June 2019, there was no regulation of Alternaria toxins in foodstuffs, however, maximum levels were under consideration. So the questions are: do mycotoxins break down in coffee, how much mycotoxins have been found in coffee, does it matter the source of origin of the coffee, and do coffee drinkers have more mycotoxins than in their body than non-coffee drinkers.

Most food items are processed in some manner before they are consumed. This can include baking, roasting, or frying which can affect the chemical structure and concentration of mycotoxins in the final product. For OTA, reports of how it is affected by these processes have ranged from no impact to almost a 100% reduction3.  Several studies OTA has been shown to decrease in roasted coffee4,5. Another study from Sueck et al shows that high temperatures OTA can be broken down (Figure 1)6. This data indicates that coffee that is roasted at higher temps could have less OTA.

Figure 1: Degradation of Ochratoxin A (OTA)

Table 1: Toxins in Coffee by Location

One of the most comprehensive studies of looking at mycotoxins in coffee is from Mujahid et al in 20207. They looked at Alternaria toxins from multiple different countries to see if they could find any toxins. As seen in Table 1 they all looked at 78 coffee brands from over a dozen countries. A significant number of these fell below the limit of detection (LOD) which indicates that there weren’t many mycotoxins in these samples. This data is further summarized in Table 2, The caveat to these data is that they were looking at Alternaria toxins and not other mold toxins. However, as stated above the foods contaminated with Alternaria toxins have a significant overlap with foods contaminated with Penicillium and Aspergillus.

Table 2: Exposure Levels of Toxins in Coffee

If we wanted to discount the data from Mujahid et al and look further into OTA exposure through coffee we could look at a paper from Cramer et al published in 20158. This lab measure OTA in the blood of both females and males. In addition to this, they also looked at both coffee drinkers and noncoffee drinkers. As a result of this experiment, the data is seen in Table 3, where you can see the same mean value of OTA in both coffee drinkers and noncoffee drinkers. If there was any significant contribution of OTA to patients that drink coffee you would expect a slight increase in this value, even if it wasn’t significant. However, no increase at all is interesting and indicates to me that coffee is not a significant contributor of mycotoxins to people.

Table 3: OTA Values in Coffee Drinkers vs. Noncoffee Drinkers

I hope this blog is helpful to people. This further highlights an item that frequently talks about, and that is what is the biggest source of mycotoxins in patients. We continually return to the fact that most mold problems come from environmental exposure in a home, workplace, school, etc. I’m not saying these small amounts found in food could not be problematic for patients that already have mold issues. These symptoms are due to their detox systems being impaired and glutathione stores used up, these small amounts could have detrimental effects.

Till next time.

Source Material

  1. Commission, E. Assessment of dietary intake of ochratoxin A by the population of EU Member States. (ed. Protection, D.-G.H.a.C.) (https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/cs_contaminants_catalogue_ochratoxin_task_3-2-7_en.pdf, 2002).
  2. Chain, E.P.o.C.i.t.F. Scientific Opinion on the risks for animal and public health related to the presence of Alternaria toxins in feed and food. EFSA Journal 9, 2407 (2011).
  3. Scudamore, K.A., Banks, J.N. & Guy, R.C. Fate of ochratoxin A in the processing of whole wheat grain during extrusion. Food Addit Contam 21, 488-97 (2004).
  4. Blanc, M., Pittet, A., Munoz-Box, R. & Viani, R. Behavior of Ochratoxin A during Green Coffee Roasting and Soluble Coffee Manufacture. J Agric Food Chem 46, 673-675 (1998).
  5. Suarez-Quiroz, M. et al. Effect of the post-harvest processing procedure on OTA occurrence in artificially contaminated coffee. Int J Food Microbiol 103, 339-45 (2005).
  6. Sueck, F. et al. Occurrence of the Ochratoxin A Degradation Product 2’R-Ochratoxin A in Coffee and Other Food: An Update. Toxins (Basel) 11(2019).
  7. Mujahid, C. et al. Levels of Alternaria Toxins in Selected Food Commodities Including Green Coffee. Toxins (Basel) 12(2020).
  8. Cramer, B. et al. Biomonitoring using dried blood spots: detection of ochratoxin A and its degradation product 2’R-ochratoxin A in blood from coffee drinkers. Mol Nutr Food Res 59, 1837-43 (2015).

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