Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Toxins
The word toxin is always creating hype when mentioned during the late night news. “Toxins found in X thought to cause this and that” we usually get to hear and fear toxins as if they are invisible curses placed upon our food, our children’s toys and in military weapons. But what really are toxins? Where can they be found (and where not)? What are they being used for, if at all?
What is a toxin?
A toxin is a substance, which is poisonous to humans, and is created by a living organism. Toxins can be separated into two large groups: bacterial and plant toxins. Many diseases are not caused by the bacteria that have inflicted us, but by the toxins they produce. For instance cholera is not caused by Vibrio Cholerae, the bacteria found in those who have it, but by the toxins Vibrio Cholerae produces.
Toxins usually impair the natural abilities of our cells, causing them to malfunction and ultimately die. If taken in sufficient amounts, toxins can be deadly, sometimes even instantly. Some toxins if taken in very small amounts have priceless healing abilities and are used as medicine.
In the past, military organizations were interested in creating biological weapons that included toxins to make sure any victim of said weapon would succumb without a chance for a cure or surgery. Realizing the immediate danger that would be caused if every country was allowed to have an arsenal of toxin weapons, in 1972 there was the Toxin and Biological Weapons Conventions, in which toxin were globally forbidden to be used as weapons.
There have been murders where toxin laced bullets or other weapons have been used, which caused a lot of concern.
For a toxin to be found in a typical food source that food must have been adulterated, contaminated, spoilt or otherwise altered. By itself, conventional food does not contain toxins, with a few exceptions. One such exception is the tiger Blowfish which contains tetrodoxin in its glands, a poisonous substance. Japanese like to eat the tiger blowfish as a test of manhood. The cook makes sure to remove the poison containing gland before serving, but traces can always have slipped through into the food and kill the diner.
One way for toxins to get into normal food is for the food to be washed in unclean water filled with toxins, as it often happens in poor countries where irrigation water is used for washing vegetables and for removing waste from houses and fields. Another way to get food infused with toxins is if it comes in contact with toxin filled matter. For example, apples that have fallen off the tree into the fecal matter often used to fertilize the trees can have toxins on their skin.
While bacteria die easily when food is heated, toxins endure the heat much better, making cooking a bad way to get rid of toxins. The best way to prevent intake of toxins is to get food that has been HACCP approved and properly cleaned.
The most lethal toxin known to man is created by Clostridium Botulinum, a germ plentiful in nature. To prevent C. Botulinum from infecting our food we use nitrates in canned foods. Nitrates might be dangerous themselves when consumed in large quantities, but C. Botulinum’s toxins are a way greater danger to humanity (It can kill us all!)
A less potent strain of Clostridium is used to create the toxin used in Botox, which paralyzes nerves in our faces to keep our skin tighter and smoother.
Toxins can be just as much a gift as a danger to humanity if used correctly. The Botox market is booming, showing that people really like their otherwise harmless face-lifting toxins. We consume plenty of toxins as medicine, which cures us from awful diseases. Toxins can be a killer if used badly by malevolent people to cause harm. It has been deemed illegal throughout the world to manufacture toxin weapons. While toxins can be found in our foods if they have been contaminated, the vast majority of food sources are toxin free if grown in a clean environment and if they don’t come in touch with dirty water and toxin infused matter.