Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Ochratoxin has been described as toxic to the immune system, developing fetus, kidneys, nervous system, as well as being carcinogenic—but that’s in animal studies. Ochratoxin causes kidney toxicity in certain animal species, but there is little documented evidence of adverse effects in humans. That’s why it’s only considered a possible human carcinogen.

Big Ag assures that current ochratoxin levels are safe, even among those who eat a lot of contaminated foods. The worst-case scenario may be young children eating a lot of oat-based cereals. But even then, their lifetime cancer risk is considered negligible, with those arguing against regulatory standards suggesting you can eat more than 42 cups of oatmeal a day and not worry about it. Where do they get these kinds of estimates?

They determine the so-called benchmark dose in animals—the dose of the toxin that gives a 10 percent increase in pathology—and then, because you want to err on the side of caution, you divide that dose by 500 as a kind of safety fudge factor to develop the tolerable daily intake.

For cancer risk, you can find the tumor dose—the dose that increases tumor incidence in lab animals by 5 percent—and extrapolate down to the ”negligible cancer risk intake,” effectively incorporating a 5,000-fold safety factor. It seems kind of arbitrary, right? But what else are you going to do? You can’t just intentionally feed people the stuff and see what happens. Though look; people eat it all the time. Can’t we just follow people and their diets out over time and see if people who eat more whole grains, like oats, for example, are more likely to have cancer or live shorter lives?

What is the association between whole grain intake and all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality? Every additional ounce of whole grains a day is associated with not only a lower risk for cancer, but also a lower risk of dying from all causes put together. Here are all the big cancer studies. Every single one, if anything, trended towards lower cancer risk.

Bottom line is that you don’t find adverse effects confirmed in these population studies. This is not to say ochratoxin is necessarily harmless, but any such risk it does pose doesn’t outweigh the known benefits of whole grain consumption. In fact, healthy constituents of the whole grains themselves, like the antioxidants, may directly reduce the impacts of mycotoxins by protecting cells from damage. So, eating lots of fruits and vegetables may also help. Either way, a healthy diet can play a significant role in mitigating the risk.

In summary, healthy foods like whole grains are good, but just not as good as they could be because of ochratoxin, whereas less healthful foods, like wine and pork, are worse because of the mycotoxin. Ochratoxin was detected, for example, in 44 percent of tested pork.

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