Phytate is the major storage form of phosphorus in seeds and so is a common dietary constituent. Excessive ingestion of undegraded phytates can cause mineral deficiencies in humans. In addition, phytic acid is antineoplastic in animal models of both colon and breast carcinoma. There have been no previous studies quantifying phytase activity in the human small intestine although it is present in animals. Small intestinal phytase and alkaline phosphatase activity and distribution was measured in vitro in mucosal homogenates from two human small intestinal specimens obtained from transplant donors. Rat intestine was also studied for comparison. Phytase activity was found in human small intestine at low values (30 times less than that in rat tissue and 1000-fold lower than alkaline phosphatase in the same tissue). The activity was greatest in the duodenum and lowest in the ileum. In conclusion, the normal human small intestine has very limited ability to digest undegraded phytates. Although this may have adverse nutritional consequences with respect to metabolic cation imbalances, the presence of undigested phytate in the colon may protect against the development of colonic carcinoma.
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