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Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry

Graham Bench

Using CAMS to chase the cure for disease, Newsline, Nov. 20, 2009

Research links bombs to brain cells, LLNL news releases, Aug. 12, 2005

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  Contact: Anne M. Stark
  Phone: (925) 422-9799
  E-mail: stark8@llnl.gov
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2010
NR-10-01-03

Don’t forget to eat your greens
Leafy greens can prevent the ill-effects of toxins in
foods like peanut butter

The age old reminder to always eat your greens isn’t just for kids anymore.

Not only are the vitamins and minerals good for you, but eating greens could also save your life, according to a recent study invoving scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Peanut butter sandwich
Photo-illustration depicts the relationship between
aflatoxin B1, and healthy greens.

LLNL researchers Graham Bench and Ken Turteltaub found that giving someone a small dose of chlorophyll (Chla) or chlorophyllin (CHL) — found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale — could reverse the effects of aflatoxin poisoning.

Aflatoxin is a potent, naturally occurring carcinogenic mycotoxin that is associated with the growth of two types of mold: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Food and food crops most prone to aflatoxin contamination include corn and corn products, cottonseed, peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts and milk.

Bench and Turteltaub, working with colleagues from Oregon State University and an industry partner, Cephalon Inc., found that greens have chemopreventive potential.

Aflatoxins can invade the food supply at anytime during production, processing, transport and storage. Evidence of acute aflatoxicosis in humans has been reported primarily in developing countries lacking the resources to effectively screen aflatoxin contamination from the food supply. Because aflatoxins, particularly aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), are potent carcinogens in some animals, there is interest in the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of these important mycotoxins on humans.

The study used AMS to provide aflatoxin pharmacokinetic parameters previously unavailable for humans, and suggest that chlorophyll and chlorophyllin co-consumption may limit the bioavailability of ingested aflatoxin in humans, as they do in animal models, according to Bench.

Ken Turteltaub
Graham Bench
View video of Graham Bench describing how the study was conducted

Exposure to environmental carcinogens has been estimated to contribute to a majority of human cancers, especially through lifestyle factors related to tobacco use and diet. Notable examples are the tobacco-related carcinogens; heterocyclic amines produced from sustained, high-temperature cooking of meats; and the fungal food contaminants aflatoxins.

The team initially gave each of three volunteers a small dose of carbon 14 labeled aflatoxin (less than the amount that would be found in a peanut butter sandwich.) In subsequent experiments the patients were given a small amount of Chla or CHL concomitantly with the same dose of carbon 14 labeled aflatoxin.

By using LLNL’s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, the team was able to measure the amount of aflatoxin in each volunteer after each dosing regimen and determine whether the Chla or CHL reduced the amount of aflatoxin absorbed into the volunteers.

“The Chla and CHL treatment each significantly reduced aflatoxin absorption and bioavailability,” Bench said.

“What makes this study unique among prevention trials is, that we were able to administer a microdose of radio-labeled aflatoxin to assess the actions of the carcinogen directly in people. There was no extrapolation from animal models which often are wrong,” Turteltaub said.

The research, which is co-funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Resource for Biomedical Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, appeared in the December issue of the journal, Cancer Prevention Research.


Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory that develops science and engineering technology and provides innovative solutions to our nation's most important challenges. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.