Phytic acid is an inositol derivative:
There was a time when phytate was mostly associated with disease states. All those phosphates make a fine metal binder, and people who lived on plants nigh-exclusively were often short on essential minerals.
We eat less plants these days, and phytate has shown itself to be capable of playing a number of different roles.
You could find worse ways to guess how prevalent diseases than to count drug commercials. By this technique, you might come to the conclusion that the bulk of the might of the American pharmaceutical industry is focused on herpes and the metabolic syndrome.
You’d have come to a frighteningly accurate one. The prevalence of each has been reported as one in four or five. But let’s save herpes for another day!
Plant metabolism is astonishly varied, bacterial metabolism even more so. Any chemist who’s baffled at an arsenic-containing buffer that grew bacteria, or, once, astonishingly, neat acetic acid, can attest to this. Plants and bacteria may play a more nuanced role in the metabolic syndrome than was once appreciated.
Phytic acid, in a low-mineral, low-protein, high-plant diet, can cause mineral deficiencies, but many people these days live on a high-mineral, high-meat, low-plant diet. It turns out phytate isn’t just an antinutrient, and fiber isn’t just a bulking agent. Lots of these nutrients have potential effects on colon cancer and markers of the metabolic syndrome.
Hear me right: plants make a lot of nasties (Uncle Al will, no doubt, supply some if you ask nicely). Coumarin’s bad, substituted isocoumarin’s good. We don’t understand the metabolic syndrome completely, not all plants are medicines, and meat’s not poison. I will say this: it is one of the singular ironies of the modern age that enough people are making themselves sick through diet that we are prompted to learn some exciting, underexplored aspects of human nutrition – which seemed solved, in many ways, years ago.