How Phytates Fight Cancer Cells

NF-May26 Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells.jpg

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 free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Avi / Flickr

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Starving Tumors of Their Blood Supply

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NF-Mar25 How Plants May Help Stop Cancerous Tumors.jpg

About a third of common cancers may be prevented by eating a healthy, plant-based diet; being physically active; and maintaining a healthy weight. One of the ways plants may help is by cutting off the supply lines to cancerous tumors.

A tumor cannot grow without a blood supply. Currently, it is believed that a tumor mass cannot exist in a volume greater than about the size of the ball at the tip of a ballpoint pen without a proper blood supply. This indicates that angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels, is critical to tumor growth.

Each one of us has cancer cells in us right now. One study describes how "by age 70, microscopic cancers are detected in the thyroid glands of virtually everyone. Most of these tumors never cause problems or become clinically significant, leading to the concept of 'cancer without disease' as a normal state during aging." Cancer cells are commonly present in the body, but they can’t grow into tumors any bigger than that tiny dot size–no more than 10 million cancer cells–before needing to get hooked up to a blood supply. One way cancer turns on the tap is silencing certain tumor suppressor genes. How do we turn them back on? See, for example, Apple Skin: Peeling Back Cancer.

Another way tumors commandeer a blood supply is by diabolically releasing angiogenic factors, chemicals that cause new blood vessels to sprout into the tumor. The most important one is called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). But we may be able to suppress VEGF with veggies.

Many of the phytonutrients we know and love in tea, spices, fruit, berries, broccoli, and beans can block cancer’s stimulation of new blood vessels. They’re ideal for prophylactic long-term use against breast cancer because of their reliability, availability, safety, and affordable price. A recent review concluded that we now have "convincing evidence that dietary plant constituents possess the unique ability to affect tumor angiogenesis, which may be deemed advantageous in the prevention and treatment of human breast cancer and other tumors."

Most of these studies have only been done in a petri dish, though. Researchers stimulate human blood vessel cells and they start forming tubular structures trying to make new capillaries to feed the tumor. This tube formation can be substantially blocked by adding add plant compounds such as apigen or luteolin, found throughout the plant kingdom in foods such as citrus, celery, and peppers. In a study outlined in my video, Anti-Angiogensis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, you can see the effect of fisitin, a phytonutrient found in strawberries, shrinking the beginnings of new blood vessel formation. How else can strawberries smack on the cancer kibosh? See Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer and Cancer Fighting Berries.

Where do researchers get their hands on human blood vessels? They get them from discarded umbilical cords or, more controversially, from the eyes of aborted fetuses. Either way, we can stimulate blood vessel formation with the tumor compound VEGF and then abolish that effect with plant compounds. Therefore, "the daily consumption of natural foods containing adequate flavonoids could be beneficial for the prevention of cancer metastasis or could improve cancer prognosis." Given the power of plants, one might speculate that the foundation of an anti-angiogenic approach to cancer might be a whole food vegan diet.

Because we all likely have cancer cells inside us, Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing. To die with cancer rather than from cancer, we need to slow down cancer doubling time. Check out one of my oldie-but-goodie video Slowing the Growth of Cancer.

The cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1 is another angiogenic factor, helping tumors turn on the gravy train. This may be another reason plant-based diets protect against cancer, since as few as two weeks on a healthy diet can lower IGF-1 levels. If you’re interested, check out my video series on the elegant experiments that discovered this:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: David Eriksson-Wigg / Flickr

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