Today we’re going to examine the surprising and often overlooked bone and overall health benefits of a commonly occurring compound labeled as an anti-nutrient.
Phytic acid, also referred to as phytate, is found in edible seeds, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, and to a lesser extent, in tubers. It has the curious property of binding to certain minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Specifically, phytate denotes that phytic acid is bound to a mineral.
This is why it is classified as an “anti-nutrient”, and has resulted in the rejection of phytate-containing foods by certain nutritional regimens such as the paleo diet.
This wholesale rejection of healthy foods is problematic (and quite controversial) in its own right, especially because there is a great deal of scientific research showing the health benefits of phytic acid. In fact, studies demonstrate that phytate plays an important role in the prevention of bone density loss and other undesirable health conditions.
We’ll delve into this and a lot more in today’s post covering the many seldom-mentioned benefits of phytic acid.
A Valuable Antioxidant
Savers know about the value of antioxidants in the fight for better bone health. Oxidation is the enemy of bone formation, as well as a threat to many other body systems.
A study published in the Biomolecules & Therapeutics Journal has shown that phytic acid helps to block free radicals that would otherwise wreak havoc in your body, much like other antioxidants.1 Another study confirms that consuming roasted or cooked foods containing phytic acid enhances antioxidant function and protects against alcohol-related liver injury.2
Inflammation is responsible for numerous physical problems, from aches and pains to decreased bone density. It’s important to minimize inflammation as much as possible to prevent fractures and maintain good overall health.
Studies have linked phytic acid to reduced inflammation in colon cells. In this quotation from a published study, phytic acid is referred to by the abbreviation IP6:
“The results of these studies suggest that IP6 may exert immunoregulatory effects on intestinal epithelium by influencing transcriptional activity of genes encoding p50 subunit of NF-kappaB, its inhibitor IkappaBalpha and proinflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-8” 3
Those immunoregulatory effects and influence on gene encoding help your body to naturally regulate inflammation.
Increases Polyphenol Bioavailability
Phytic acid has been shown to increase the bioavailability of certain flavones, and some of them actually helps to build bone. In a study on rats, phytic acid was administered alongside the flavonoids isorhamnetin, kaempferol, and quercetin.4
The study found that the compounds had increased aqueous solubility and permeability in the presence of phytate, which improved their oral bioavailability. These polyphenols increase osteoblast production and reduce the oxidation that is harmful to bones. Clearly, increasing the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients is incredibly valuable, since they are powerful antioxidants that offer a wide range of both bone and overall health benefits.
Improves Blood Glucose Control
Phytic acid slows down the digestion of starches, one impact of which is the reduction of blood glucose levels.5 This is especially valuable for diabetics, and also prevents bone loss.
In studies conducted on mice, these effects were demonstrated and linked to phytic acid.6 There is a lot of confusing information about carbohydrates that leaves many people thinking that all carbs are bad. This sort of black and white take on nutrition is rarely accurate, and that’s particularly true in this case.
There are many important benefits to carbohydrates. In fact we need them to lead healthy lives, and phytic acid helps to regulate carbohydrate digestion.
Reduces Uric Acid Buildup
Scientists investigating the relationship between phytic acid and the enzymatic superoxide source xanthine oxidase found that the acid significantly inhibits the superoxide. This inhibiting action blocks the buildup of uric acid, thus helping to prevent gout.7
Gout prevention is worked into the Osteoporosis Reversal Program’s dietary guidelines through moderate animal protein consumption. Too much protein can overtax the kidneys, causing many problems, gout among them.
It’s Good For Your Brain
Unfortunately, many frightening neurological diseases and disorders can impact older people. Phytate is a neuroprotective compound that bolsters the brain against these issues.
In one study, a cell culture model of Parkinson’s Disease was positively affected by the introduction of phytic acid. That’s because it is a natural iron chelator, and an overabundance of iron is one of the associated issues for people with Parkinson’s Disease. The addition of phytic acid to the cell culture provided a way for the cells to rid themselves of excess iron.8
This is a great example of how the phrase “anti-nutrient” describes a potentially useful function in a confusing way. It is technically removing a nutrient (iron), but in a situation in which the nutrient is actually causing a problem.
Phytic acid has also been demonstrated as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s in a study conducted on mice.9 Many parts of our well-being begin in our skull, whether that means neuromuscular relationships, memory or the impact of our mood.
Lowers Triglycerides And Increases Healthy Fats
I have written about high levels of triglycerides increasing your risk of fracture. Phytic acid has the valuable quality of reducing triglycerides in your system.10
Savers know that all forms of cholesterol are important to life processes, and that the amount of each kind you need is specific to its function and what your body needs day to day.
The “healthy” form of cholesterol, HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), is increased when you eat foods rich in phytate.10 This provides your body with the building blocks it needs for the production cholic acid, among other valuable actions.
Prevents Kidney Stones
Few things are more distressing (and painful) than kidney stones. One way to reduce the likelihood of calcification in the kidneys, and to keep this bone-essential organ healthy, is to be sure you get plenty of phytate.
One study investigating potential treatments found that in rats treated with aqueous phytic acid and phytic/zinc mixture the “number of calcifications on the papillary tips and the total calcium amount of the papillary tissue were significantly reduced.”11 More phytic acid resulted in less calcifications.
A human study that compared urine samples from active calcium oxalate stone formers with healthy people discovered that those unaffected by the condition also had higher phytic acid levels.12 The connection between the two was direct. Get enough phytic acid to inhibit crystallization of calcium salts and prevent the consequent renal stone development.
Increases Bone Mineral Density
As I mentioned in the opening of this post, in addition to having an indirect positive impact on bone health by increasing the absorption of polyphenols and reducing inflammation, phytate is also recognized as distinctly beneficial for bone loss prevention, and it accomplishes this without the dangerous side-effects of pharmaceuticals.
Surprisingly, more than one study has drawn the conclusion that those who don’t get enough phytate tend to be the same people who develop osteoporosis.13,14 One study examined 1,906 participants through bone mineral density testing and questionnaires on dietary and other risk factors. The conclusion?
“Bone mineral density increased with increasing phytate consumption. Multivariate linear regression analysis indicated that body weight and low phytate consumption were the risk factors with greatest influence on bone mineral density.”13
This further shows that nutritional balance is crucial for the prevention and reversal of osteoporosis. In other words, eating the right amount of certain foods can make a big difference. Also, it’s noteworthy that many Foundation Foods contain phytic acid. Bear in mind that adequate levels of gut microflora and sprouting foods that contain phytate activates the enzyme phytase, which reduces phytate levels.
It’s All About Balance!
A bone-healthy diet that accomplishes the ideal 80/20 balance of alkalizing to acidifying foods is a cornerstone of the Osteoporosis Reversal Program. And if you’re eating according to that protocol from the long list of Foundation Foods listed in the Program, then I have great news for you. You’re already consuming phytate-rich foods (such as beans, nuts, oats, and seeds) and gathering all of the benefits we discussed today. In fact, many foods containing phytic acid are Foundation Foods. Again, it’s all about balance.
As you can see, preparing bone healthy meals is not about denying yourself certain foods, but about allowing yourself to eat foods you love in the combination and quantity that will help you build your bones and feel stronger, younger, and full of life.
For that reason I created a cookbook with recipes that fit the bone-building pH-balanced model. Bone Appétit opens up the door to a new world of delicious bone-building dishes, and it also includes the 30-Day Meal Planner, to help you plan an entire month of pH-balanced meals.
Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones!
Discover over 200 mouth-watering bone healthy recipes for breakfast, smoothies, appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, fish, and plenty of main courses and even desserts!
Eat better to have strong and youthful bones and to live better, and do it the easy way with Bone Appétit by your side. It gives you easy-to-follow instructions, and the recipes use readily available ingredients to take advantage of all of the health benefits we’ve reviewed today and many, many more.
Till next time,
1 Lee KM, Kang HS, Yun CH, Kwak HS. “Potential in vitro Protective Effect of Quercetin, Catechin, Caffeic Acid and Phytic Acid against Ethanol-Induced Oxidative Stress in SK-Hep-1 Cells.“ Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2012 Sep;20(5):492-8. doi: 10.4062/biomolther.2012.20.5.492. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24009840
2 Kunyanga CN, Imungi JK, Okoth MW, Biesalski HK, Vadivel V. ”Antioxidant and type 2 diabetes related functional properties of phytic acid extract from Kenyan local food ingredients: effects of traditional processing methods.” Ecol Food Nutr. 2011 Sep-Oct;50(5):452-71. doi: 10.1080/03670244.2011.604588. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21895422
3 Wawszczyk J, Kapral M, Hollek A, Weglarz L. “The effect of phytic acid on the expression of NF-kappaB, IL-6 and IL-8 in IL-1beta-stimulated human colonic epithelial cells.“ Acta Pol Pharm. 2012 Nov-Dec;69(6):1313-9. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23285696#
4 Xie Y, Luo H, Duan J, Hong C, Ma P, Li G, Zhang T, Wu T, Ji G. “Phytic acid enhances the oral absorption of isorhamnetin, quercetin, and kaempferol in total flavones of Hippophae rhamnoides L.” Fitoterapia. 2014 Mar;93:216-25. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2014.01.013. Epub 2014 Jan 21. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24462958
5 Thompson LU, Button CL, Jenkins DJ. “Phytic acid and calcium affect the in vitro rate of navy bean starch digestion and blood glucose response in humans.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1987 Sep;46(3):467-73. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3630965
6 Dilworth LL, Omoruyi FO, Simon OR, Morrison EY, Asemota HN. “The effect of phytic acid on the levels of blood glucose and some enzymes of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.” West Indian Med J. 2005 Mar;54(2):102-6. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15999878
7 Muraoka S1, Miura T. “Inhibition of xanthine oxidase by phytic acid and its antioxidative action.“ Life Sci. 2004 Feb 13;74(13):1691-700. Web; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14738912
8 Xu Q, Kanthasamy AG, Reddy MB. “Neuroprotective effect of the natural iron chelator, phytic acid in a cell culture model of Parkinson's disease.” Toxicology. 2008 Mar 12;245(1-2):101-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2007.12.017. Epub 2007 Dec 27. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18255213
9 Anekonda TS, Wadsworth TL, Sabin R, Frahler K, Harris C, Petriko B, Ralle M, Woltjer R, Quinn JF. “Phytic acid as a potential treatment for alzheimer's pathology: evidence from animal and in vitro models.” J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(1):21-35. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-101287. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20930278
10 F. O. Omoruyi; et al. “The Potential Benefits and Adverse Effects of Phytic Acid Supplement in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats” Advances in Pharmacological Sciences
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 172494, 7 pages. Web: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/aps/2013/172494/fig3/
11 Grases F, March JG, Prieto RM, Simonet BM, Costa-Bauzá A, García-Raja A, Conte A. “Urinary phytate in calcium oxalate stone formers and healthy people–dietary effects on phytate excretion.”Scand J Urol Nephrol. 2000 Jun;34(3):162-4. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10961468
12 Grases F, Garcia-Gonzalez R, Torres JJ, Llobera A. “Effects of phytic acid on renal stone formation in rats.” Scand J Urol Nephrol. 1998 Jul;32(4):261-5. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9764452
13 López-González AA, Grases F, Roca P, Mari B, Vicente-Herrero MT, Costa-Bauzá A. “Phytate (myo-inositol hexaphosphate) and risk factors for osteoporosis.” J Med Food. 2008 Dec;11(4):747-52. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2008.0087. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19053869
14 López-González AA, Grases F, Marí B, Vicente-Herrero MT, Costa-Bauzá A, Monroy N. “[The influence of consumption of phytate on the bone mass in postmenopausal women of Mallorca].” Reumatol Clin. 2011 Jul-Aug;7(4):220-3. doi: 10.1016/j.reuma.2010.07.004. Epub 2011 Mar 8. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21794821