Pregnant women and their developing fetuses are vulnerable to multiple environmental insults, including exposure to aflatoxin, a mycotoxin that may contaminate as much as 25% of the world food supply. We reviewed and integrated findings from studies of aflatoxin exposure during pregnancy and evaluated potential links to adverse pregnancy outcomes. We identified 27 studies (10 human cross-sectional studies and 17 animal studies) assessing the relationship between aflatoxin exposure and adverse birth outcomes or anemia. Findings suggest that aflatoxin exposure during pregnancy may impair fetal growth. Only one human study investigated aflatoxin exposure and prematurity, and no studies investigated its relationship with pregnancy loss, but animal studies suggest aflatoxin exposure may increase risk for prematurity and pregnancy loss. The fetus could be affected by maternal aflatoxin exposure through direct toxicity as well as indirect toxicity, via maternal systemic inflammation, impaired placental growth, or elevation of placental cytokines. The cytotoxic and systemic effects of aflatoxin could plausibly mediate maternal anemia, intrauterine growth restriction, fetal loss, and preterm birth. Given the widespread exposure to this toxin in developing countries, longitudinal studies in pregnant women are needed to provide stronger evidence for the role of aflatoxin in adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to explore biological mechanisms. Potential pathways for intervention to reduce aflatoxin exposure are urgently needed, and this might reduce the global burden of stillbirth, preterm birth, and low birthweight.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases