Women who consume the most high-phytate foods (whole grains, beans, and nuts) appear to have better bone density.
Images thanks to Cookbookman17 via Flickr and John W. Hellstein, University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Hardin MD, University of Iowa. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.
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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Eating healthy can help us avoid other drugs as well. See, for example:
Alkaline Diets, Animal Protein, & Calcium Loss is another surprising video on bone health.
How might one counteract some of the mineral blocking effects? See New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found.
Beans might not just help our skeleton last longer, but the rest of us as well. See Increased Lifespan From Beans.
I have a bunch of other videos coming up about the surprising benefits of phytates—stay tuned! If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.