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Scientists at the University of Pisa, under the leadership of Francesco Massart tested as many as 185 infant formula feeds and 44 samples of meat based baby food and found almost 28% of them contaminated with a type of fungal hormone.

Fungal hormones present in formula feeds may lead to infertility

These fungal hormones present in formula feeds may lead to infertility later in life. Crops like corn, wheat and soy which form the base of most formula feeds are often contaminated with Fusarium, a large family of fungus. This fungus also contaminates the cattle feed. Zearalenone and other related compounds found in the samples of formula feeds are derived from Fusarium. Alpha Zeralenol, another myco-estrogen derived from fungi, is often used as a growth stimulant in farm animals.

Zearalenone was found in 9% of the formula samples while Alpha and Beta Zeralenol were found to be contaminating the meat based baby food which contained beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, ham, horse, calf and turkey.

Zearalenone and other related compounds resemble estrogen structurally and have been said to lead to infertility in animals. They are quickly metabolized into harmless by products by humans and are therefore not considered to be a threat to man. However, infants and children take in three to four times more food per unit body weight than an adult. They depend on formula feed for major part of their nutrition as compared to adults who consume a more varied food. Children are known to be more sensitive to environmental chemicals. Therefore, the long term effects of these myco-estrogens in these children warrants more study.

Estrogenic myco-toxins may lead to precocious puberty

Zearalenone (ZEA) is a non steroidal myco-toxin produced by the Fusarium family of fungus which commonly affects the food grains. ZEA causes contamination of food grains and fruits either directly by fungus infestation or indirectly by contamination of animal feed. ZEA reaches the animal tissue when the animals consume the infected feed.  In addition to this, farm animals are often fed on Zeranol, a derivative of Zearalenone as it is believed to be a growth promoter and helps in fattening of the animals.

ZEA has estrogenic and anabolic properties and is said to promote infertility in animals. It has been said that this estrogenic myco-toxin may lead to precocious puberty in exposed children. 

Early exposure to estrogenic compounds can stimulate pubertal development at a young age. The molecular structure of ZEA and its derivatives is similar to 17b-estradiol. They can bind with estrogen receptors in target cells and carry out estrogen like function. This may lead to early onset of puberty and thelarche in young girls. ZEA can also impair the quality of semen and can lead to infertility at a later stage of life.

Keeping in view the above findings, it is necessary to initiate studies which research on the long term aspects of exposure to myco-toxins in infancy and early childhood. It is also necessary to establish the safe levels of Zearalenone and its derivatives in formula feeds and meat based baby foods. Banning of Alpha Zeralenol as a growth stimulant for farm animals, as has been done in the Europian Union, should also be debated upon.

  • Valentina Meucci, PharmD, Giulio Soldani, Elisabetta Razzuoli, Giuseppe Saggese, Francesco Massart. Mycoestrogen Pollution of Italian Infant Food. The Journal of Pediatrics. Published online 11 March 2011.