Biomarkers of Exposure to Foodborne and Environmental Carcinogens: Enterosorbent Intervention in a High Risk Population Thesis uri icon


  • The need to assess human exposures to foodborne and environmental carcinogens, particularly in populations at high risk for cancer and disease, has led to the development of chemical-specific biomarkers. Sensitive biomarkers for aflatoxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been useful in providing information on population exposure and reducing associated public health impacts. Aflatoxins are fungal metabolites found in a variety of foods. Among these toxins, aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) is the most predominant and hepatocarcinogenic. Acutely, AFB1 can cause disease and death, necessitating safe and effective intervention strategies. Inclusion of NovaSil (NS) clay in the diet represents a practical, sustainable approach. NS has been shown to prevent aflatoxicosis in multiple animal species by binding aflatoxins in the gastrointestinal tract, reducing toxin bioavailability. Co-exposure to PAHs, hazardous environmental contaminants, has been shown to increase the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Therefore, objectives of this research were to utilize biomarkers to assess aflatoxin and PAH exposures in susceptible populations in Ghana and the U.S. and to evaluate the safety and efficacy of NS intervention in Ghana (a population at risk for aflatoxicosis). After 3-month intervention with 3.0g NS/day, median aflatoxin M1 (an AFB1 metabolite) was significantly reduced (up to 58 percent) compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, no significant differences were found in levels of nutrient minerals between NS and placebo groups at baseline and 3-months suggesting NS can be used to effectively sorb AFB1 without affecting serum concentrations of important minerals. PAH biomarker results showed participants in Ghana were significantly exposed to high levels of PAHs based on the presence of 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) in the majority of urines (98.9 percent). NS treatment had no effect on 1-OHP levels, further confirming the preferential binding of aflatoxins by NS. U.S. population data from a Hispanic community in Texas with an elevated incidence of HCC demonstrated a lower percentage and level of aflatoxin and PAH biomarkers. Aflatoxin M1 excretion, however, was associated with increased consumption of certain foods prone to aflatoxin contamination; thus, some individuals may be more vulnerable to exposure and associated interactions that increase the risk for HCC (e.g., PAHs or hepatitis infection).

author list (cited authors)

  • Johnson, N. M.

complete list of authors

  • Johnson, Natalie Malek

publication date

  • October 2011