The long held view that phytate (aka Phytic acid or IP6) can reduce mineral absorption and potentially adversely affect general health and possibly bone development be traced back a long way. In fact a paper published in 1942 in the Journal of Physiology clearly set the mineral-phytate ball rolling with it’s comments that ” In children the demand for calcium is particularly great and since their diet may contain considerable amounts of phytate, which is known to impair calcium absorption in adults…”
Now, 68 years later the rule book looks like it may need to be re-written. Researchers from the Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, USA have just published some fascinating results in the Journal of Paediatric Gastroenterology that could turn the whole mineral-phytate argument on its head. In their study, 10 Malawian children ages 3 to 5 years and at risk of zinc and receiving a habitual maize based (high-phytate) diet, received maize after phytate reduction for 40 days and had their faecal zinc measured using before and after phytate reduction. The results clearly showed that the zinc levels were similar before and after dietary phytate reduction; zinc was not affected by dietary phytate in this population!
Given that phytate may no be such a risk factor for mineral absorption it’s effect on bone health needs revision. We know of several risk factors that play a role in the development of osteoporosis and a healthy diet rich in grains dos not appear to be one. However, phytate is a naturally occurring compound that is ingested in significant amounts by those with diets rich in whole grains so there does appear to be a some conflicting messages here. Interestingly, in 2008 a study (Journal of Medicinal food)was performed to evaluate phytate consumption as a risk factor in osteoporosis. Dietary information relating to phytate consumption was acquired by questionnaires conducted on two different occasions, the second between 2 and 3 months after performing the first one and it was noted that bone mineral density increased with increasing phytate consumption. Further analysis indicated that body weight and low phytate consumption were the risk factors with greatest influence on bone mineral density. Phytate consumption had a protective effect against osteoporosis, suggesting that low phytate consumption should be considered an osteoporosis risk factor.
Prompted by this and his own labs findings that IP6 actually stimulated osteoblasts and inhibits bone-destroying osteoclast cells Professor of Pathology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore Dr. AbulKalam M. Shamsuddin MD, PhD filled a patent regarding his IP6 and Inositol blend as an agent for preventing tooth and other bone degeneration.
Dr Shamsuddin’s work on IP6 and bone health could help ease a growing burden with our ever growing and ageing population. It’s often forgotten that while bone may appear deceptively lifeless, it is a living tissue, for it is being continually broken down or resorbed by cells called osteoclasts, and at the same time it is being built or reconstructed by cells called osteoblasts. It is the balance between these cells that determines whether we gain or lose bone. During childhood and adolescence, bone formation is dominant. The bone length and girth increase with age, ending at early adulthood when peak bone mass is attained. In males after the age of 20, bone resorption becomes predominant, and bone mineral content declines by about 4% per decade. Females on the other hand tend to maintain peak mineral content until menopause. After that time, the bone mineral content declines at a rate of about 15% per decade. Thus, women tend to lose. the bone mineral at a very accelerated rate after menopause.
With the growing worry over the long term use of the bone-strenghtening drugs known as bisphosphonates recently published and posted on this blog the use of a safe and effective natural alternative may be just around the corner.
IP6 (Phytate) historical 1942 article (The effects of phytic acid on the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in children)
IP6 (Phytate) as a protective factor against osteoporosis (Phytate and risk factors for osteoporosis)
IP6 (Phytate) does not reduce zinc levels (A reduced phytate diet does not reduce endogenous faecal zinc in children on a habitual high phytate diet)