Transcript: Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis
Health authorities from all over the world universally recommend increasing consumption of whole grains and legumes—beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils—for health promotion. But what about the phytates?
Phytate is a naturally occurring compound found in all plant seeds, meaning all beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, which over the decades has been badly maligned as a mineral absorption inhibitor. That’s why, for example, you hear advice to roast, sprout, or soak your nuts—to get rid of the phytates so we can absorb more minerals like calcium.
The concern about phytates and bone health arose from a series of laboratory experiments performed on puppies published in 1949, suggesting high phytate diets have a bone softening and anti-calcifying effect. Subsequent studies on rats, in which they fed them the equivalent of 10 loaves of bread a day, confirmed phytate’s status as a so-called anti-nutrient. But more recently, in the light of actual human data, phytate’s image has undergone a makeover.
If you put people on a high phytate diet and measure their calcium balance, their bodies appear to become accustomed to the extra phytate over time and it all worked out, but this study was done on only 3 people. So I was glad to see this study published, which asked the simple question, do people who avoid high phytate foods—legumes, nuts, and whole grains—have better bone mineral density? No, in fact just the opposite. Those that consumed more high-phytate foods had stronger bones, as measured in the heel, spine, and hip. The researchers conclude that dietary phytate consumption had protective effects against osteoporosis and that low phytate consumption should be considered an osteoporosis risk factor. This is consistent, with reports that phytate can inhibit the dissolution of bone similar to anti-osteoporosis drugs like Fosamax.
A follow-up study found the same thing: improved bone density in those that consumed the most phytates, but this is the most convincing study to date, actually measuring phytate levels flowing through women’s bodies and following bone mass over time. And women with the highest phytate levels had the lowest levels of bone loss in the spine, and the hip, and so no surprise that those who ate the most phytates were estimated to have a significantly lower risk of major fracture, and lower risk of hip fracture specifically.
This is thought to be in part because phytates help block the formation of bone-eating cells, and their bone-eating activity. You can see how much more bone is eaten away in the nonphytate group on the left.
Now the drug Fosamax can have a similar beneficial effect, but phytates don’t have the side effects associated with bisphosphonates, like osteonecrosis.
There’s a rare side effect associated with this class of drugs called osteonecrosis of the jaw. The whole reason people take these drugs is to protect their bones, but by doing so, also risk rotting them away.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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