Phytates & Phytic Acid

Catabolites of phytic acid are called lower inositol polyphosphates. Examples are inositol penta- (IP5), tetra- (IP4), and triphosphate (IP3).

Phosphorus and inositol in phytate form are not, in general, bioavailable to nonruminant animals because these animals lack the digestive enzyme phytase required to hydrolyze (break) the inositol-phosphate linkages. Ruminants are readily able to digest phytate because of the phytase produced by rumen microorganisms.[2]

In most commercial agriculture, non-ruminant livestock, such as swine, fowl, and fish,[3] are fed mainly grains, such as maize, legumes, and soybeans.[citation needed] Because phytate from these grains and beans is unavailable for absorption, the unabsorbed phytate passes through the gastrointestinal tract, elevating the amount of phosphorus in the manure.[2]Excess phosphorus excretion can lead to environmental problems, such as eutrophication.[4] The use of sprouted grains will reduce the quantity of phytic acids in feed, with no significant reduction of nutritional value.[5]

Also, viable low-phytic acid mutant lines have been developed in several crop species in which the seeds have drastically reduced levels of phytic acid and concomitant increases in inorganic phosphorus.[6] However, germination problems have reportedly hindered the use of these cultivars thus far. This may be due to phytic acid’s critical role in both phosphorus and metal ion storage.[citation needed] Phytate variants also have the potential to be used in soil remediation, to immobilize uranium, nickel and other inorganic contaminants.[7]

Although indigestible for many animals, phytic acid and its metabolites as they occur in seeds and grains have several important roles for the seedling plant.

Most notably, phytic acid functions as a phosphorus store, as an energy store, as a source of cations and as a source of myoinositol (a cell wall precursor). Phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in plant seeds.[8]

In animal cells, myoinositol polyphosphates are ubiquitous, and phytic acid (myoinositol hexakisphosphate) is the most abundant, with its concentration ranging from 10 to 100 µM in mammalian cells, depending on cell type and developmental stage.[9][10]

This compound is not obtained from the animal diet, but must be synthesized inside the cell from phosphate and inositol (which in turn is produced from glucose, usually in the kidneys). The interaction of intracellular phytic acid with specific intracellular proteins has been investigated in vitro, and these interactions have been found to result in the inhibition or potentiation of the physiological activities of those proteins.[11][12] The best evidence from these studies suggests an intracellular role for phytic acid as a cofactor in DNA repair by nonhomologous end-joining.[11] Other studies using yeast mutants have also suggested intracellular phytic acid may be involved in mRNA export from the nucleus to the cytosol.[13][14]

Inositol hexaphosphate facilitates the formation of the six-helix bundle and assembly of the immature HIV-1 Gag lattice. IP6 makes ionic contacts with two rings of lysine residues at the centre of the Gag hexamer. Proteolytic cleavage then unmasks an alternative binding site, where IP6 interaction promotes the assembly of the mature capsid lattice. These studies identify IP6 as a naturally occurring small molecule that promotes both assembly and maturation of HIV-1.[15]

Phytic acid was discovered in 1903.[16] Phytic acid, mostly as phytate in the form of phytin, is found within the hulls of seeds, including nuts, grains and pulses.[1] In-home food preparation techniques can break down the phytic acid in all of these foods. Simply cooking the food will reduce the phytic acid to some degree. More effective methods are soaking in an acid medium, sprouting and lactic acid fermentation such as in sourdough and pickling.[17] No detectable phytate (less than 0.02% of wet weight) was observed in vegetables such as scallion and cabbage leaves or in fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, or pears.[18] As a food additive, phytic acid is used as the preservative, E391.

Phytic acid has a strong binding affinity to the dietary minerals, calcium, iron, and zinc, inhibiting their absorption.[1][27] Phytochemicals like polyphenols and tannins also influence the binding.[28] When iron and zinc bind to phytic acid, they form insoluble precipitates and are far less absorbable in the intestines. This process can therefore contribute to iron and zinc deficiencies in people whose diets rely on these foods for their mineral intake, such as those in developing countries[29][30] and vegetarians.[31]

Because phytic acid can affect the absorption of iron, it has been proposed that “dephytinization should be considered as a major strategy to improve iron nutrition during the weaning period”.[32]

Under construction

Food sources of phytic acid (g/100g) [19] [18] [20][21][22][23][24][25]
Food [% minimum dry] [% maximum dry]
Pumpkin seed 4.3 4.3
Linseed 2.15 2.78
Sesame seeds flour 5.36 5.36
Chia seeds 0.96 1.16
Almonds 1.35 3.22
Brazil nuts 1.97 6.34
Coconut 0.36 0.36
Hazelnut 0.65 0.65
Peanut 0.95 1.76
Walnut 0.98 0.98
Maize (Corn) 0.75 2.22
Oat 0.42 1.16
Oat Meal 0.89 2.40
Brown rice 0.84 0.99
Polished rice 0.14 0.60
Wheat 0.39 1.35
Wheat flour 0.25 1.37
Wheat germ 0.08 1.14
Whole wheat bread 0.43 1.05
Beans, pinto 2.38 2.38
Buckwheat 1.00 1.00
Chickpeas 0.56 0.56
Lentils 0.44 0.50
Soybeans 1.00 2.22
Tofu 1.46 2.90
Soy beverage 1.24 1.24
Soy protein concentrate 1.24 2.17
New potato 0.18 0.34
Spinach 0.22 NR
Avocado fruit 0.51 0.51
Food sources of phytic acid (fresh weight)[21]
Food [% minimum fresh weight] [% maximum fresh weight]
Taro 0.143 0.195
Cassava 0.114 0.152

Chestnuts contain 47 mg of phytic acid for 100g.[26]


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So, if the phytates in beans are so successful in preventing cancer, and re-educating cancer cells, let’s put them to the test.

“Colorectal cancer…is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States,” and it “arises from [what are called] neoplastic adenomatous polyps”—meaning colon cancer starts out as a benign little bump, called a polyp, that then grows into cancer that can eventually spread to other organs, and kill us. So, the National Cancer Institute funded the “Polyp Prevention Trial…to determine the effects of a high-fiber high-fruit and -vegetable, low-fat diet.”

They found “no significant associations” between polyp formation and “overall change in fruit and vegetable consumption.” However, those with the greatest increase in bean intake only had about a third of the odds of advanced polyps popping up. Yes, it could have been the fiber in the beans, but there’s lots of fiber in fruits and vegetables, too. So, maybe it was the phytate.

If the tumors do grow, though, they still need to spread. “Tumor growth, invasion, and metastasis are multistep processes” that includes not just cell proliferation, but invasion through the surrounding tissue, and “migration through basement membranes” to reach the bloodstream before the tumor can establish “new proliferating colonies” of cancer cells. The first step is to tunnel through the surrounding matrix, considered “a critical event in tumor cell invasion.”

To do this, the cancer cells use a set of enzymes called “matrix metalloproteinases,” which is where phytates may come in. We know phytates inhibit cancer cell migration in vitro, and now, perhaps, we know why. They help block the ability of cancer cells to produce the tumor invasion enzyme in the first place, in both human colon cancer cells, and human breast cancer. Thus, phytates could be used not only in the early promotion state of cancer, but also in all stages of cancer progression.

So, what happens if you give phytates to breast cancer patients? Although few case studies in which phytates were given in combination with chemotherapy clearly showed encouraging data, organized, controlled, randomized clinical studies were never organized, until now. Fourteen women with invasive breast cancer divided into two randomized groups. One group got extra phytates; the other got placebo. At the end of six months, the phytate group had a better quality of life, significantly more functional, fewer symptoms from the chemo, not getting the drop in immune cells and platelets one normally experiences.

And what are the potential side effects of phytates? Less heart disease, less diabetes, fewer kidney stones. “Because cancer development is [such] an extended process [it can take decades to grow], we need “cancer preventive agents” that we can take long-term, and phytates, naturally occurring in beans, grains, nuts, and seeds fit the bill.

“Although in the past…concerns have been expressed regarding intake of foods high in [phytates reducing] the bioavailability of dietary minerals, recent studies demonstrate that this [so-called] ‘anti-nutrient’ effect…can be manifested only when large quantities of [phytates] are consumed in combination with a [nutrient-poor] diet.”

For example, there used to be a concern that phytate consumption might lead to calcium deficiency. But, in fact, researchers discovered the opposite to be true—phytates protecting against osteoporosis. In essence, phytate has many characteristics of a vitamin, contrary to the established, and, unfortunately, still-existing dogma among nutritionists about its “anti-nutrient” role.

“Given the numerous health benefits, its participation in important intracellular biochemical pathways, normal physiological presence in our cells,” and tissues, and blood, and “the levels of which fluctuate with intake, epidemiologic[al] correlates of phytate deficiency with disease and reversal of those conditions [with] adequate intake, and safety – all strongly suggest for [phytate’s] inclusion as an essential nutrient,…perhaps a vitamin. Meanwhile, inclusion of [phytates] in our strategies for prevention and therapy of various ailments, cancer in particular is warranted.”

Now, they’re talking about trying out supplements. But, of course, eating a healthy diet rich in phytates would always be a prudent thing to do.


“The recent observations on phytate as an anticarcinogen…have support from [population-based] studies which show lower incidence of cancer in populations consuming vegetarian type diets.” Because phytate is found in beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, the average daily intake of phytate in vegetarian diets is about twice that of those eating mixed diets of plant and animal foods.

“Dietary phytate” has been reported to “prevent kidney stone formation, protect against diabetes, dental cavities, [heart disease] as well as against a variety of cancers.”

“Do all these potentially beneficial effects sound too good to be true?” I mean, are there other examples of compounds made by plants that can have benefits across multiple diseases? Yes. Aspirin, for example, which is actually found throughout the plant kingdom, may also account for some plant-based benefits.

But of all the things phytates can do, “[t]he anticancer activity of phytic acid [also known as phytate, also known as IP6 or inositol hexaphosphate] is [considered] one of the most important beneficial activities.”

Dietary phytates are “quickly absorbed from the [digestive] tract and rapidly taken up” by cancer cells throughout the body, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of all tested cancerous cell lines. Phytates have been shown to inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells, colon cancer cells, both estrogen receptor-positive and negative breast cancer cells, voicebox cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver tumors, pancreatic, melanoma, and muscle cancers. All, at the same time, not affecting normal cells. That’s the “most important expectation of a good anticancer agent,” is for it to only affect cancerous cells, and leave normal cells alone. That’s what phytates appear to do.

Leukemia cells taken from cancer patients are killed by phytates. Normal bone marrow cells, however, are spared, which may explain why bean extracts kill off colon cancer cells, but seem to leave normal colon cells alone.

“Both [the] in vivo and in vitro experiments have shown striking anticancer effects…demonstrated that phytate is a broad-spectrum antineoplastic agent,” meaning antitumor agent across different cells and tissue systems.

What are the mechanisms of action by which phytates battle cancer? How do phytates fight? How don’t they fight? Look at this. Phytate targets cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing activities: detox, differentiation, anti-angiogenesis. In other words, phytate “affects the principal pathways of malignancy.” And, not just some of them apparently, phytate “targets and acts on all of them.”

“The antioxidative property is one of the most impressive characteristics of phytate.” In fact, that’s why the meat industry adds phytates to meat—to prevent the oxidation of fat that begins “at the moment of slaughter.”

“Besides affecting tumor cells” directly, phytates “can act on [our] immune functions” by augmenting natural killer cell activity, the cells in our body that hunt down and dispose of cancer cells, as well as neutrophils, which help form our “first line of defense.” And, then, starving tumors is more of a last line of defense. Not only can phytates block the formation of new blood vessels that may be feeding tumors, they can disrupt pre-formed capillary tubes, indicating that phytates may not only help blockade tumors, but actively cut off existing supply lines.

What’s really remarkable about phytate is that “[u]nlike…other anti-cancer agents, it not only causes a reduction in cancer cell growth, but also what’s called “enhanced differentiation”—reversion of the appearance of cancer cells back to that of normal, meaning it causes cancer cells to stop acting like cancer cells, and go back to acting like normal cells. You can see this with colon cancer cells, for example. In the presence of phytates, human colon cancer cells mature “to structurally and behaviorally resemble normal cells.” And, this has been demonstrated in leukemia cells, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and muscle cancer cells, as well.

This video is the second of a three-part series on phytates and cancer. If you missed it, see the first, Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer, and then the exciting conclusion, Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.



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