Categories SNA Faculty
Words like “fungus” and “mold” seldom put a smile on people’s faces but the more researchers learn about these organisms, the more fascinating they become.
Most people know that mushrooms are part of the fungus-mold family.
They have all been well studied and many have great health benefits but that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the fungus that resides in our gut or on our food. This may not sound like a fun topic but be assured, it is.
There is a huge research effort to learn all about the types and functions of all the organisms that reside inside of us. One of the more interesting categories of fungus is Aspergillus niger.
Now let’s be clear, this fungus is not nice and our bodies do not like it but just like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, along with its bad side, it has a good side.
First, as Dr Jekyll, Aspergillus niger is involved in the decaying of plants and food. It is also a mycotoxin that may be carcinogenic and could also cause oxidative damage in our bodies.
It is a common fungus found on many foods including peanuts and has been linked to the development of allergies. As undesirable as this may all sound, we are not defenceless.
Our good gut bacteria or the process of fermenting foods eliminates any danger that Aspergillus niger may possess. This would be the end of the story except researchers keep discovering new benefits for this family of fungus, due to several enzymes they make.
In other words, Aspergillus niger becomes Mr. Hyde and the fun begins.
Do you have trouble digesting hard raw vegetables like carrots and broccoli? Aspergillus niger makes the cellulase enzyme that helps break down cellulose, the insoluble fibre found in vegetables.
Improve your digestive issues with raw vegetables by restoring your gut ecology or try consuming fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi.
Aspergillus niger also produces the phytase enzyme. Phytic acid, an organic compound, found in the fibre of grains, legumes, nuts and seed has been linked to possible calcium and iron excretion.
Phytic acid can bind with these minerals, causing them to be excreted. That is not necessarily bad, as it is part of nature’s way to help ensure we absorb only the amount of minerals we need, assuming there is an ample amount in our diet.
Good bacteria in our intestinal tract works with phytic acid to determine which minerals are absorbed and which are excreted. The phytase enzyme is an essential part of the process.
Phytic acid is also known as IP6 which has been studied as a potential cancer treatment and is considered
an antioxidant. Many health experts call phytic acid a “toxin.“
However, this is just old information before we understood the truly amazing ecology of our gut and how phytic acid needs to interact with other players like Aspegillus niger and our good bacteria.
This relationship is easily maintained by sufficient good bacteria in our gut or fermenting foods that contain phytic acid.
In 2002, donut and French fry eaters were thrown into a tizzy when researchers in Sweden found acrylamide, a toxic substance, in carbohydrate foods that had been heated at high temperatures.
It was not found in the raw food prior to cooking. Acrylamide forms when the amino acid, asparagine, is heated in the presence of glucose and once inside the body, it can bind to red blood cells and an overexposure can cause numbness and weakness of limbs.
Low exposure over time may cause nerve damage and it also may be a carcinogen in humans. Acrylamide exists in industrial manufacturing and prior to this study, exposure had only been seen in people who work in the industries where the use of acrylamide was common.
The Swedish study found acrylamide in people who had not been exposed to it environmentally and this led researchers to discover its existence in baked goods.
As scary as this might sound, there is no need to throw your muffins, bread or potato chips out the window. Aspergillus niger makes an enzyme called asparaginase which prevents the formation of acrylamide.
We do not know yet if aspraginase in our gut can help, once the acrylamide is formed in the baked goods we eat. The good news is that Aspergillus niger is not alone in blocking the formation of acrylamide.
Red wine, garlic, green tea and vitamin D as calcitrol, the form we have in our bodies, can all block its formation, as well. So far, Mr. Hyde has been quite helpful but the best has been saved for last.
With all the cherry-picking over grains and starches lately, we all should have known that we do not have the whole story. New research has found that Aspergillus niger produces an enzyme called transglucosidase (TGD) which can produce oligosaccharides, a type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria, from the starch in foods like white flour and peeled potatoes, in the digestive tract of humans and decreases blood glucose levels in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
What the research has found is that supplementing with transglucosidase, converts low-fibre starches consumed by study participants into healthy prebiotic fiber directly in the digestive tract.
Multiple studies have found that good bacteria does slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream but now we are starting to see that there are other organisms synergistically involved.
So what does this all mean? First, we should not be afraid of mold and fungus spores. In fact, we want to ingest them or at least, accept that we do, whether we like it or not, because they are on everything to some degree.
Second, we want to increase our good bacteria levels so any sensitivity to these organisms is neutralized, and they can work synergistically with the good bacteria and provide us with health benefits.
This story will continue to evolve as researchers discover more functions for all these organisms.
In the meantime, how are we going to have fun with fungus?
Well, we are not actually going to play with it. We are going to take this information and increased our consumption of probiotics and fermented foods to improve our gut health and our ability to digest all kinds of food.
Then we are going to have fun, because we can relax, stop worrying about everything we eat and just enjoy our food!
To Your Health,
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