Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells

Image Credit: Avi / Flickr. This image has been modified.

How Phytates Fight Cancer Cells

Phytate is a compound 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, which may help explain their low cancer rates. Aside from helping to prevent cancer, dietary phytate has been reported to help prevent kidney stone formation, protect against diabetes mellitus, dental cavities, and heart disease.

Do all these potentially beneficial effects sound too good to be true? Are there other examples of compounds made by plants that can have benefits across multiple diseases? Why yes! Aspirin, for example, which is found throughout the plant kingdom may also account for a variety of plant-based benefits (See Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods).

But of all the things phytates can do, the anticancer activity of phytate (also known as phytic acid, IP6, or inositol hexaphosphate), is considered one of its most important beneficial activities.  Dietary phytates are quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly taken up by cancer cells throughout the body, and have been shown to inhibit the growth of all tested cancerous cell lines in vitro. 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: the ability to only affect cancerous cells and to leave normal cells alone.

In my video, Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells, you can see how leukemia cells taken from cancer patients are killed by phytates, whereas normal bone marrow cells, are spared. This may explain why bean extracts kill off colon cancer cells in vitro, but leave normal colon cells alone.

What are the mechanisms of action by which phytates battle cancer? In other words, how do phytates fight? How don’t they fight? Phytate targets cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing activities, detox, differentiation, and anti-angiogenesis. In other words, phytate appears to affect all the principal pathways of malignancy.

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 fat oxidation that begins at the moment of slaughter. Phytates can also 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 phytates starve tumors as more of a last line of defense. Not only can phytates block the formation of new blood vessels that may be feeding tumors, but disrupt pre-formed capillary tubes, indicating that phytates may not just help blockade tumors, but actively cut off existing supply lines.

What’s really remarkable about phytate, though, is that unlike most other anti-cancer agents, it not only causes a reduction in cancer cell growth but also enhances differentiation, 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.

For more on the cancer and phytate connection, check out Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer and Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.

This video reminds me of my video on the spice, turmeric, Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

What else can we eat to improve the cancer-fighting front of our immune system? See Boosting Natural Killer Cell Activity.

More on the concept of starving tumors of their blood supply in Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines.

Is there clinical evidence of plants actually reversing cancer progression? You won’t believe your eyes:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


51 responses to “How Phytates Fight Cancer Cells

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  1. Dear Dr. Greger,
    Why is the phosphorus in pyhtic acid good for us but the phosphorus in phosphorus food additives bad for us?
    (The consumption of phosphorus preservatives in junk food and injected into meat may damage blood vessels, accelerate the aging process, and contribute to osteoporosis., from Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola)
    Thank you, Paula

    1. That’s a good question, PaulaE. You mentioned Dr. Greger’s video on phosphate additives and there are some answers there. I think of this kind of like beta-carotene supplements vs. beta-carotene from foods. Whereas the beta-carotene from foods are beneficial, but the supplements are harmful. Once nutrients are extracted by themselves their efficacy becomes more unstable and often harmful. Whole food is the way to go! Another example are naturally occurring nitrites in vegetables like celery. They are perfectly fine in vegetables, but once extracted and used to treat processed meats, nitrites can form dangerous compounds knows as nitrosamaines.

      1. Your body uses phosphorus in every energy reaction it makes. Most of the energy you use in a day is used by your brain or in maintaining your body temperature at 98 degrees. Phosphorous is very in demand by your body. So any phosphorus that is bonded to something else, like calcium or an organic, carbon based chemical organo phosphates, or in phosphoric acid as in dark soda, is going to at least slow your body down or get pasted into bones or mitochondria as a compound at worst. So getting clean phosphorus is very important to your body’s homeostasis. Beans have a lot of phosphorus, thank you for pointing this out to me, this is what I should be eating, as does whole grain. Developing a phosphorous deficiency is very dangerous because one of the only ways to see if you have one is if the body has already started leaching phosphorus from your bones and is putting it in the blood stream. Many people already have one. Too much phosphorus in the blood could mean you need more, not less. People who had diets rich in Phosphorus had great bone health later in life. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25856461

  2. I have been baking my own whole grain bread for several years. Before I bake my bread, I take care to let the dough rise for long time by natural fermentation. Many years ago I was taught, that by doing this, the enzyme phytase will break down the phytate in the grain, thereby making the mineral content more available for our digestive system. But does that mean, that I am going to miss some of the cancer prevention from the phytate? Anyway, in my (and several of friends opinion) this slow food process makes a delicious bread. I also guess, that other processes during the rising of the dough is enhancing the food value.

    1. Great question. I don’t think all phytates will be removed. Keep in mind phytates are found in so many plant-based foods! I think what you’re doing is just fine, as homemade bread sounds delicious and perhaps even more healthy than store-bought depending what’s in it.

        1. Hi Harriet I am not sure. Want to dig around and find out for us? I know you are research savvy :-) It would probably be in the introduction or discussion section of any of these studies. My guess is broken down.

          1. Your guess is correct. The phytic acid is actually degraded—hydrolyzed, or converted to
            inositol and phosphate, its component parts, explained Dr. Aaron Cowieson, professor of animal nutrition at the University of Sydney. (Dr. Barbara Harland, US expert on phytates in human nutrition, suggested I
            speak with Cowieson.)

            Structurally, phytic acid is composed of 6 phosphate groups attached to an inner ring of
            inositols. It’s the inositols that are so important. They help control blood sugar and have exhibited many
            anti-cancer properties. The phosphate groups, however, must be sequentially removed for the inositols to be available, said Cowieson.

            Proper soaking techniques, he said, can activate phytase enzyme, which initiates the removal of several phosphate groups. When that partially degraded phytate reaches the small intestine, other
            enzymes break down the remaining phosphate groups, leaving the inositols exposed.

            What soaking techniques does Cowieson recommend? Foods high in phytase enzyme (rye, barley, buckwheat, wheatbran, ricebran) can be soaked overnight at low pH (2-4, which you can achieve by adding some lemon/citric acid). Most foods with phytic acid, however, don’t have much endogenous phytase enzyme. Cowieson suggests soaking those foods overnight at low pH with a source of phytase enzyme (one of those mentioned above)—and slightly cracking any hard outer shells so that the phytase can travel from one source to another.

              1. Hi, Dorange,

                Yes, it does seem that soaking beans in an alkaline solution would not lead to the activation of phytase enzyme, according to what Cowieson says.

                If gas is your concern, Brenda Davis, the dietitian who wrote “Becoming Vegan” and whom Dr. Greger often quotes, suggests cooking beans in kombu to counteract gas. She has lots more suggestions for gas here. http://zesterdaily.com/cooking/healthy-way-good-fortune-new-years/ (Oh, how I wish somebody would explain how to hyperlink in these comments!)

                I’m not sure what you mean by your last question.

                1. Thanks, Harriet! So I’d better keep soaking my beans in an acidic solution! I don’t have any concern with gas, but good to know about kombu. Interesting that I used to cook my beans with it to benefit from its mineral content! Have to go back to doing this! Thanks for the article!
                  My second question refers to whether soy ” behaves” as all the other legumes. I believe it does?
                  PS: I believe hyperlinking is not possible in this platform… :(

    1. Perhaps soaking does more then just reduce phytates? Dr. Greger mentions how soaking or adding baking soda to beans helps reduce raffinose, which can increase flatulence (gas). That said, beans and gas are not all cracked up to be what most people claim (i.e. if you eat beans you have tons of gas). There are still phytates that remain after soaking, just fewer. Keep in mind we obtain phytates from many foods if eating a healthy fiber-rich diet.

  3. Great read!! Sorry to change the subject but just want to let all migraine sufferers know what’s worked for me. I have suffered from chronic migraine for over 20 years now and pain killers and medication had stopped working, with these headaches I would also get a high temperature, I read on cure zone a possible cure using Apple cider vinegar and honey and water, so in desperation I decided to try it and wow it has made a massive difference, I have never felt better, no migraine or temperature since I started 2 months ago, it’s a miracle cure I’m glad I found just wish I knew about it 20 years ago!! I should be grateful if u would discuss the benefits of acv Dr Gregor as I believe it deserves lots of credit. Thanks a mill

  4. But what about beans and legumes being relatively high in methionine and methionine’s ability to worsen cancer? I am fighting advanced Stage IV prostate cancer and I have been restricting methionine to 2mg/kg per day so it doesn’t leave a lot of room for delicious beans. I had been vegan for most of my life but jumped on the Paleo Bandwagon for two years – long enough for my PSA to go from 6.0 before to 150.0 after and Gleason Score 8 in 12/12 specimens with mets all over so I believe that I unmasked a latent prostate cancer which went wild in the presence of all that animal protein. After treatment and having returned to my vegan diet the PSA went to 0.039 so I am pleased but want to KEEP it that way with a methionine restriction. Incidentally, my parents raised me as vegan since about age 11(with a very, very strong family history of cancer on both sides). I started treatment and returned to a vegan diet at the same time. There was no big drop after starting treatment (Lupron) but a slow and steady decline of the PSA over the past 18 months. In other words, I am not sure I got some jolting good effect from treatment so much as staying on a vegan diet. But I cut beans out about two months ago and wonder if I did the right thing. I am figuring 150mg methionine per day, which doesn’t allow for many beans.

    1. Hi Chiron. Thanks for sharing your story. Glad to hear your PSA is going down. Thanks for pointing out methionine. Dr. Greger addresses this in his video on methionine restriction. The recommended dietary allowance for methionine and cysteine are 1209 mg per day in a person weighing about 140 pounds. So 150mg seems a bit low. Check with your doctor for clarification but I see no problem with eating beans. When I think of PSA numbers dropping I think of Dr. Ornish’s work. Beans have so many healthful components (fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients) and have been shown to help fight cancer. Warm thoughts.

      Sincerely,
      Joseph

      1. Thanks, Joseph. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it, but it seemed that the seminal article was one you must be familiar with – Epner, Morrow, et al in Nutr Cancer – 2002(42)2:158:66 Nutrient intake and nutrient indexes in adults with metastatic cancer…etc. He demonstrated a 58% reduction in serum methionine when it was kept at 2mg/kg for research subjects. While the RDA is much higher for both methionine and cysteine (don’t you mean cystine in the case of cancer?), it seems the therapeutic range would be much lower. I figure I am in uncharted territory here, but I figure it’s like flossing your teeth. You can floss all you want at the normal RDA, but once you get cancer you need to do something more drastic than floss. From personal experience I can tell you that a patient can have a great and healthy diet on this severe methionine restriction. I just don’t want to be cutting out something that might be helpful.

        Secondly, and perhaps this is the wrong venue for this discussion, McCarty et al in Medical Hypotheses (The low-methionine content of vegan diets…etc) say that one can reduce one’s methionine levels by “ingesting ample amounts of fruit, wine, and/or beer.”. I can’t figure out why they said that can you? All I have been able to find is evidence that methionine restriction reduces Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) while alcohol seems to increase the presence of Insulin-like Growth Factor Binding Protein – 1 (IGFBP-1). Any ideas?

        I should disclose that I am a Naturopathic Doctor.

        1. Thanks for clarifying. Mentioning a fine point or study on this site is one of the main purposes of this interactive forum, so no worries there :-) I have not seen that study by Epner. I am not sure the correct spelling of the amino acid “cystine” I thought is was cysteine? At any rate you are of course in a situation where trying anything may help your prognosis. My only thought for eating beans was the fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that are found in beans. Every study I have read on beans seem to be very helpful. You could certainly avoid if you feel that’s the best choice. It may be? As a ND you probably know more about this research than me! I agree with you about the alcohol and IFG-I, not sure why that paper would mentions alcohol being helpful for prostate cancer? My research href=”http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24870117″ target=”_blank”>Applying the precautionary principle to nutrition and cancer shows “limiting or avoiding alcohol may reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, and breast.” So even though prostate cancer is not on that list I would be weary to too much booze, if any. Let me know if you want more links to Dr. Greger’s videos on IGF-I.

          Best to you,

          Joseph

          1. Wow, Joseph, I am touched that you responded so thoughtfully. Cystine is an amino acid made of two cysteines bonded in a more stable form. I don’t suppose it matters much really – you can’t easily absorb cystine so it’s not nearly as good a medicine. Cysteine is, of course, used in the body in many reactions such as making glutathione (which is a good thing), and is most familiar as N-acetyl-cysteine which has been proven to be a good medicine. The only thing is, there is an article by Liu, Zhang, Wang et al that describe how the dual deprivation of Methionine and Cystine has a powerful synergistic effect on glioma cells – it both prevents their proliferation and induces what they call “autophagy” which I presume to mean that the glioma cells eat themselves.

            And, it wasn’t necessarily my ND that made me familiar with the literature, it was cancer. And, for all readers I really urge you all to go to pubmed.gov which is the Library of Congress site which includes medical research from all over the world. It’s free and open to the public.
            As far as the alcohol, well, I concur with the conventional literature – particularly the Medscape article which declared “No amount of alcohol is safe”.

    2. As part of my research for an upcoming book on diet and cancer, I interviewed an Australian doctor who is studying methionine restriction and cancer. Due to an embargo on publication, he was not able to discuss some of his recent research but when I asked him what he’d do about methionine if he had cancer, he said he’d probably restrict methionine to 1 g/day.

      1. How would we *translate* 1g into food intake, Harriet? Avoiding protein altogether? Looking forward to know more about his findings and your book!

        1. Re: Protein and Cancer

          You can go to the Nutrition Data website and search under “Tools,” then “Nutrient Search,” for foods highest and lowest in methionine (or in many other compounds). You can also refine those searches according to food categories (legumes, fruits, grains, vegetables, etc.) Here’s the link: http://nutritiondata.self.com/tools/nutrient-search

          As you probably know, glutamine (glutamic acid) is another amino acid that some cancers feed on–in particular cancers in which the Myc oncogene is involved. (That includes many brain cancers–and other kinds too.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917518/ Glutamine activates mTORC1 signaling. It flips and then keeps open the switch that allows “grow” signals to be sent– telling cells, including cancer cells, to grow.

          Leucine, an amino acid predominantly in dairy, does that, too. See http://eatandbeatcancer.com/2014/07/23/anti-cancer-diets-whats-the-deal-with-dairy/

          So in answer to your question, yes, if you have cancer, limiting protein seems to be a wise strategy. In fact, calorie restriction and periodic fasting may also be in order.

          And make sure you incorporate foods that inhibit mTORC signalling, including

          green tea

          crucifers

          turmeric

          organic, whole soy

          resveratrol (skins of red, purple and muscadine grapes,also blueberries and mulberries)

          Source: Dr. Bodo Melnik, German dermatologist who has published widely on dairy-acne-prostate cancer link. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408989/

          Metformin, a drug commonly used to control insulin levels in type 2 diabetics, also lowers mTORC signaling, he says. See http://www.jscimedcentral.com/Endocrinology/endocrinology-spid-antidiabetic-drug-metformin-1029.pdf

          1. Thanks, Harriet!
            Interesting about the role of the drug Metformin… have you ever heard of the Reverse Warburg effect, a theory by Dr. Michael Lisanti? Google “The Autophagic Tumor Stroma Model of Cancer Metabolism”. There’s a very interesting small talk by him here. Metformin, besides being a mTor inhibitor, it is a powerful antioxidant and autophagy inducer, and it’s being successful in reducing tumor mass when alternating with an autophagy inhibitor, like chloroquine (yes, the malaria medicine). N-acetylcysteine is another powerful autophagy inducer, like Metformin. Watch his talk, search his research, you’ll be fascinated.

  5. does this have anything to do with “phytic acid”? I’ve heard from some vegans that they soak their beans and grains to reduce this acid because it depletes some things like zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium and inhibits enzyme function. When they soak the beans and grains it neutralizes the acid. So, what is going on? Is it best to soak or not? Is this interfering with the health benefits listed above?

  6. Yay, Dr. Greger! Very glad you’ve written this article and posted several new videos – Thank you. Was speaking with someone just last week about all the IP-6/Phytates do to help against cancer, promote good health and the bad wrap they’ve gotten. Also glad that Dr. Shamsuddin, who’s pioneering research on phytates back in the 1990’s at the University of Maryland, has a chance to get more recognition for his great work. He indicates that IP6 breaks down in our systems to IP3, which facilitates cellular communication, so cancer cells can once again ‘hear’ the message to differentiate or die. He’s got a couple of books you can find on Amazon…Eat your beans!

  7. Have you come across any pediatric research using phytates to halt malignant tumor growth? My niece died from a very aggressive medulloblastoma, despite being stage 0 and 100% surgically removed, full rounds of chemo and intense radiation, it still grew back at the same site. We simply had no ways of halting the growth. If you have come across any brain research, pediatric or otherwise, with the use of phytates, would you please post? Maybe some other little one will be able to make it.

  8. I soak, sprout, then cook my beans. How much phytic acid is left after this? What is your recommendation regarding preparation?

  9. If phytates are good for us and help to prevent cancer, should we be soaking our nuts to remove the phytates as with earlier recommendations? Or how much/what forms of phytates are good for us?

  10. I am a raw vegan, so I don’t eat beans; I do eat raw buckwheat though which contains phytates. However, the phytates are reduced when soaked or sprouted, so is it ok to eat raw and unsoaked? It seems like something that might be hard on the digestive system, but I want to keep the phytates…

  11. I just came from a website talking about oats and preparing them, soaking them, etc.

    What they said was that phytic acid will bind with mineral nutrients in the gut and prevent their absorption and that people who ate a lot of grains, like oats, over time will get mineral deficiencies.

    Is there any truth to any of that? When you go around and read and listen to what people say about nutrition, and other things, they are all over the place with claims and warnings and suggestions? How can we possibly know who is right and who is wrong?

    Is phytic acid good for you or will it cause mineral deficiencies?

  12. Great videos and info on phytates, soy and cancer. My husband and I have been WFPB for a year and a half and we are not turning back. But it is driving me crazy that there are “reputable” doctors out there saying the exact opposite. How can Mercola say that Phytates are bad because they might block the uptake of minerals? And that soy is dangerous? Is he on somebody else’s payroll? I just don’t get it. :-( http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/01/21/soy-part-eight.aspx

    1. I think there are so many doctors, all trying to do something or another on the web, usually in some advertising way. Mercola sells a lot of over-priced vitamins on Amazon, so I suspect he has to carve out a niche for himself in the health and nutrition world that is unique and will appeal to those who he expects will be customers. Mercola says you must get nutrients from the best sources …. the same old spiel that every cheap salesman says.

      On the other hand he is not the only one talking about phytates …. so, what do you do, what are you supposed to think?

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