Phytase enzymes are phosphorus compounds found in many grains. There is much debate as to whether a diet high in phytic acid is healthy or whether phytase is an antinutrient that slowly releases minerals from our bodies.
While phosphorus is necessary for the growth of most plants, it is essential for plant growth. When phosphorus is taken up by plant roots, plants accumulate this mineral in the form of a complex inorganic compound known as phytic acid. This is the main mechanism by which phosphorus is accumulated and transported throughout the plant.
Phytase enzymes are not only responsible for transporting phosphorus, but they are highly complex with calcium, magnesium, and other divalent metals and transport them throughout the plant to facilitate growth. Foods high in phytate include most whole grains, with the highest levels found in bran. Nuts, soybeans, and many grains are also rich sources of phytate.
Proper digestion of phytase compounds requires enzymes known as phytase enzymes. This enzyme is only present in ruminants and therefore phosphorus ingested from grains is not bioavailable to humans, birds, or pigs.
Therefore, the phytic acid derivatives consumed by this species pass through the digestive tract intact, resulting in high levels of phosphorus in the feces. This can cause water purity problems in large farms due to the removal of phosphorus from groundwater. Excess phosphorus in groundwater causes heavy algae growth and kills fish.
Human phytase derivatives have also been implicated in reducing the availability of calcium and other minerals due to their predisposition to calcium complexes.