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J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2012 Jan-Feb;22(1):1-15. doi: 10.1038/jes.2011.35. Epub 2011 Oct 12.

Exposure to toxic chemicals in the diet: is the Brazilian population at risk?

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  • 1Laboratory of Toxicology, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Brasília, Brasília, DF, Brazil.


In Brazil, in the last 20 years, dietary risk assessments have been conducted on pesticides, mycotoxins, food additives, heavy metals (mainly mercury), environmental contaminants (mainly DDT) and acrylamide, a compound formed during food processing. The objectives of this paper were to review these studies, discuss their limitations and uncertainties and identify the most critical chemicals that may pose a health risk to Brazilian consumers. The studies have shown that the cumulative intake of organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides by high consumers of fruits and vegetables may represent a health concern (up to 169% of the ARfD), although the benefits of consuming large portions of those foods most probably overcome the risks. High consumers of maize products may also be at risk due to the presence of fumonisin (355% of the PMTDI), a mycotoxin present at high levels in Brazilian maize. The studies conducted in the Brazilian Amazon have shown that riparian fish consumers are exposed to unsafe levels of mercury. However, this is a more complex issue, as mercury levels in the region are naturally high and the health benefits of a fish-based diet are well known. Studies conducted both in Brazil and internationally on acrylamide have shown that the exposure to this genotoxic compound, mainly from the consumption of French fries and potato chips, is of health concern. Reducing the population dietary exposure to toxic chemicals is a challenge for government authorities and food producers in all countries. Management strategies aimed at decreasing exposure to the critical chemicals identified in this review involve limiting the use or eliminating highly toxic pesticides, implementing good agricultural practices to decrease maize contamination by fumonisins, educating local fish-eating communities toward a fish diet less contaminated by mercury, and changing dietary habits concerning the consumption of fried potatoes, the main processed food containing acrylamide.

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