People with thalassemia should avoid corn for better blood and liver health

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Photo source: Canva

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There are a variety of foods that I will be writing about as being bad for blood health. For now, I'll begin with corn due to its breadth and level of toxicity. 

Vegetable Enemy #1 

90 million acres of land in the United States have corn growing on it. To help you understand the scale of this... the entire state of New York is 35 million acres in size. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the 25 million farmed animals that are slaughtered for food each day consume a diet that consists of 95% corn. (1) (2

Corn is so widely produced, that it's added as a filler ingredient in almost every processed food available for consumption in America.

Go into your pantry right now and look at the ingredients of any baked good, cereal, soft drink, and "health food" (e.g., like gluten-free bread) and you'll most likely see some form of corn listed there. (3)

While sweet corn on its husk isn't the most offensive thing to eat, especially if it's organic (although, there's increasing evidence that there's no such thing as non-genetically modified* corn in the United States)(4), hulled corn is a different matter. 

*Genetically modified organisms (GMO) will receive their own blog post soon, because there’s so much to say about them. For now, just know that GMO foods are patented chemistry projects that use people as test subjects (since they’ve never existed before in nature and we’re the guinea pigs who are testing their safety).

The cost of GMOs on human health is extremely high, since these food products cause inflammation and are believed to contribute to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, protein formation and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system, cancer and autism (Miller, 2014). (A)

Vast quantities of corn are produced each year, which means farmers will sell some husks in farmers markets / stores, feed animals with it, and store the rest in bins until the market price is fair for them to sell en masse. 

Grain that sits waiting for a buyer has to live through temperature fluctuations. If the corn gets too dry it will become infested with insects. If it's too hot, the corn will become starchy and gummy.

The most desirable corn for purchase is corn that’s stored at a cool, low-moisture point. This is where the worst kind of trouble comes in. As with any food that sits moist for a long period of time, already-present molds and fungi begin to spread. (5

Corn Fungi Is Toxic

Crop fungi metabolize their food by producing a chemical called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are poisonous compounds that spread through crops as mold spreads. About 25% of the world’s harvested crops are contaminated by mycotoxins each year. Other common crops that run into trouble with mycotoxins include wheat, coffee beans, and certain tree nuts like peanuts. (6

According to the National Corn Growers Association, "the two primary mycotoxins affecting corn are aflatoxin and fumonisin." (7

The World Health Organization states that "aflatoxins are amongst the most poisonous mycotoxins . They can be life threatening, usually through damage to the liver [causing liver cancer]." (8)

Turner, Flannery, Isitt, Ali, and Pestka (2012) state, "aflatoxins and fumonisins are of particular concern, because they produce health risks including cancer, growth faltering, immune suppression and neural tube defects." (B)

The United States Food and Drug Administration does measure the amount of contaminants in food. However, they do not label foods, stating safe upper limits. Most consumers are unknowingly consuming a diet that’s saturated with these and other toxins.

It’s also important to note that mycotoxins cannot be destroyed at high-temperatures or with chemicals once crops have been contaminated. (10)

What Does This Mean For People With Thalassemia?

While scientific studies done on animals do not typically translate directly to humans, they are still done in order to form hypotheses. In other words, if an animal reacts to a certain substance in a certain way, then it is hypothesized that a human will also encounter that same reaction. 

As we know, livestock are fed a diet primarily based in corn. Farmers tending to these animals have reported that exposure to aflatoxin gives animals "symptoms of gastrointestinal dysfunction, reduced feed conversion and efficiency, and anemia." (11) Aflatoxin specifically causes hemolytic anemia in chickens. (12)

Meanwhile, according to Ikechi, Fischer, DeSipio, and Phadtare (2017), one third of all gastroenterology visits [by patients] are due to irritable bowel syndrome caused by hypersensitivity to fructose, primarily from high fructose corn syrup. (C) 

Schneid, Schenk, Lackier, Holasek, and Mangge (2017) state that gastrointestinal malabsorption in beta thalassemia minor patients may be the result of fructose [and lactose] malabsorption.(14)

Even though people don't consume corn as directly as industrial animals do, we should consider the fact that the standard American diet exposes people to large amounts of corn derivatives (i.e., citric acid, corn fructose, dextrose, lactic acid, etc.). Furthermore, exposure to corn mycotoxins don’t just come from grains, but also animal byproducts like dairy and eggs.

Corn Derivatives Are Acidic

Corn derivatives like citric acid, corn syrup, lactic acid, etc. have a low pH, meaning they are acidic. (15

Mousa (2016) states that an acid-forming diet can induce low-grade metabolic acidosis, which causes very small decreases in blood pH.

When low-grade acidosis is chronically present, a person experiences lower bone mass, ineffective excretion of toxins, and increased potential for chronic illness. (D)

Iron Fortification

One last note: corn produced in the United States, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Venezuela is fortified with iron. 

For example, one cup of white or yellow corn flour has 2.78 mg of iron, but one cup of enriched white or yellow corn flour has 8.22 mg of iron.

People living with thalassemia minor and major both have increased iron absorption from foods in the gut, so it’s good to know which foods are enriched with higher quantities of iron.

Free! Supplement Guide

Learn which supplements are most important for people diagnosed with thalassemia minor or major. You'll also discover why certain supplements shouldn’t be taken together, what time of day to take supplements, which natural whole foods to eat instead of (or in addition to, if you're deficient) taking supplements, and more!

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According to the National Institutes of Health, “Thalassemia patients absorb too much iron from food due to abnormally low levels of a small peptide, called hepcidin, which regulates iron uptake from the gut.” (17)

This is a non-starter for people with thalassemia major, since the amount of iron absorbed in the diet is trivial in comparison to the amount of iron received in one unit of blood.

I've realized in my own life that I only limit or remove certain foods from my diet after learning why they shouldn't be there in the first place.

Hopefully this post helps you become more familiar with the foods you’re eating, so you can make better dietary decisions in your own life.

To your good health,


Unlinked References: 
A) 3) Larry miller: Genetically modified food linked to diseases. (2014, Nov 13). The Deming Headlight Retrieved from B) Turner, P. C., Flannery, B., Isitt, C., Ali, M., & Pestka, J. (2012). The role of biomarkers in evaluating human health concerns from fungal contaminants in food. Nutrition Research Reviews, 25(1), 162-79. doi:
C) Ikechi, Ronald; Fischer, Bradford D; DeSipio, Joshua; Phadtare, Sangita (2017) Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Clinical Manifestations, Dietary Influences, and Management Healthcare, 5(2). DOI:10.3390/healthcare5020021
D) Mousa, Haider Abdul-Lateef,M.B.ChB., M.Sc. (2016). Health effects of alkaline diet and water, reduction of digestive-tract bacterial load, and earthing. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 22, 24-33. Retrieved from