Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer

Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer
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Phytic acid (phytate), concentrated in food such as beans, whole grains, and nuts, may help explain lower cancer rates among plant-based populations.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Cancer prevention strongly acknowledges the importance of diet, as dietary factors are the most important environmental risk factors for cancer. Within recent years, a large number of naturally occurring health-enhancing substances of plant origin have been recognized” to have beneficial effects on cancers, known as phytochemicals. Yes, beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils are packed with all sorts of nutrients we need.

But, the reason they may protect against several degenerative diseases may be due to non-nutritive compounds in plants, or even so-called “antinutrient” compounds, like phytates. “The reputation of [phytate] has had a roller coaster ride ever since its discovery; it has undergone alternate eminence and infamy.” What everyone can agree on though is that phytates, also known as phytic acid, “is one of the most fascinating bioactive food compounds and is widely distributed in plant foods.”

In the U.S., colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. But, in some parts of the world, they’ve had just a tiny fraction of our rates, with the highest rates reported in Connecticut, and the lowest in Kampala, Uganda. The famous surgeon Dr. “Burkitt spent 24 years in Uganda,” and most of the hospitals in Uganda he contacted “had never [even] seen a case of colon cancer.” Noting they live off diets centered on whole plant foods, he figured that maybe it was the fiber that was so protective.

Studies like this, though, called that interpretation into question. Danes appear to have more colon cancer than Finns, yet “Danes consume almost twice the dietary fiber.” What else, then, could explain the low cancer rates among plant-based populations? Well, fiber isn’t the only thing only found in whole plant foods, missing from processed and animal foods. Maybe it’s the phytate.

“[D]ietary phytate, rather than fiber per se, might be the most important variable governing the frequency of colon[ic] cancer,” as we know phytate is “a powerful inhibitor of [the] iron-mediated production of hydroxyl radical[s], a particularly dangerous” type of free radical. So, the Standard American Diet may be a double whammy—the heme iron in muscle meat, plus the lack of phytate in refined plant foods to extinguish those iron radicals.

This may account for what was found in the Adventist study. They found excess risk of cancer for higher intakes of “both red meat and white meat,” suggesting “all meats contribute to…colon [cancer formation].” About twice the risk for red meat eaters, and three times the risk for those eating chicken and fish. But, those eating meat could reduce their risk in two ways—by cutting down on meat, or by eating more beans, an excellent source of phytates.

So, it’s not just how much meat we eat, but our meat-to-vegetable ratio. “Between the two extremes (high-vegetable, low-meat diet[s] versus high-meat, low-vegetable diet[s]), a risk ratio of about 8 appears to exist, sufficient…to explain a substantial part of [that] international variation in the incidence of colorectal cancer.” Those with the worst of both worlds—high meat and low vegetable—were at eight times the risk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to cookbookman17 and vanhookc via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Cancer prevention strongly acknowledges the importance of diet, as dietary factors are the most important environmental risk factors for cancer. Within recent years, a large number of naturally occurring health-enhancing substances of plant origin have been recognized” to have beneficial effects on cancers, known as phytochemicals. Yes, beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils are packed with all sorts of nutrients we need.

But, the reason they may protect against several degenerative diseases may be due to non-nutritive compounds in plants, or even so-called “antinutrient” compounds, like phytates. “The reputation of [phytate] has had a roller coaster ride ever since its discovery; it has undergone alternate eminence and infamy.” What everyone can agree on though is that phytates, also known as phytic acid, “is one of the most fascinating bioactive food compounds and is widely distributed in plant foods.”

In the U.S., colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. But, in some parts of the world, they’ve had just a tiny fraction of our rates, with the highest rates reported in Connecticut, and the lowest in Kampala, Uganda. The famous surgeon Dr. “Burkitt spent 24 years in Uganda,” and most of the hospitals in Uganda he contacted “had never [even] seen a case of colon cancer.” Noting they live off diets centered on whole plant foods, he figured that maybe it was the fiber that was so protective.

Studies like this, though, called that interpretation into question. Danes appear to have more colon cancer than Finns, yet “Danes consume almost twice the dietary fiber.” What else, then, could explain the low cancer rates among plant-based populations? Well, fiber isn’t the only thing only found in whole plant foods, missing from processed and animal foods. Maybe it’s the phytate.

“[D]ietary phytate, rather than fiber per se, might be the most important variable governing the frequency of colon[ic] cancer,” as we know phytate is “a powerful inhibitor of [the] iron-mediated production of hydroxyl radical[s], a particularly dangerous” type of free radical. So, the Standard American Diet may be a double whammy—the heme iron in muscle meat, plus the lack of phytate in refined plant foods to extinguish those iron radicals.

This may account for what was found in the Adventist study. They found excess risk of cancer for higher intakes of “both red meat and white meat,” suggesting “all meats contribute to…colon [cancer formation].” About twice the risk for red meat eaters, and three times the risk for those eating chicken and fish. But, those eating meat could reduce their risk in two ways—by cutting down on meat, or by eating more beans, an excellent source of phytates.

So, it’s not just how much meat we eat, but our meat-to-vegetable ratio. “Between the two extremes (high-vegetable, low-meat diet[s] versus high-meat, low-vegetable diet[s]), a risk ratio of about 8 appears to exist, sufficient…to explain a substantial part of [that] international variation in the incidence of colorectal cancer.” Those with the worst of both worlds—high meat and low vegetable—were at eight times the risk.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to cookbookman17 and vanhookc via flickr

Nota del Doctor

This is the first video in a three-part series describing how phytates may play a role in both cancer prevention and treatment. Stay tuned for Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells and Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.

I previously touched on the surprising new science about phytates in Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis.

For more on colon cancer, see Stool Size Matters.

Here are a few of my latest videos on the latest wonders of the musical fruit:

What about that music, though? See my blog Beans & Gas: Clearing the air.

What about soybeans and cancer? See Breast Cancer Survival & Soy and BRCA Breast Cancer Genes & Soy.

Other ways to mediate the effects of meat intake can be found in Reducing Cancer Risk in Meat-Eaters.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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