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Eur J Cancer Prev. 2020 Mar;29(2):191-200. doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0000000000000534.

Phytol and its metabolites phytanic and pristanic acids for risk of cancer: current evidence and future directions.

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Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis.
Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis.
Division of Hematology/Oncology, Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.
Department of Urology, Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.
Department of Urology, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.
OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.
College of Public Health and Human Sciences, School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA.


This review summarizes the current evidence on the potential role of phytol, a microbial metabolite of chlorophyl A, and its metabolites, phytanic and pristanic acids, in carcinogenesis. Primary food sources in Western diets are the nut skin for phytol and lipids in dairy, beef and fish for its metabolites. Phytol and its metabolites gained interest as dietary compounds for cancer prevention because, as natural ligands of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α and -γ and retinoid X receptor, phytol and its metabolites have provided some evidence in cell culture studies and limited evidence in animal models of anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-metabolic-syndrome properties at physiological concentrations. However, there may be a narrow range of efficacy, because phytol and its metabolites at supra-physiological concentrations can cause in vitro cytotoxicity in non-cancer cells and can cause morbidity and mortality in animal models. In human studies, evidence for a role of phytol and its metabolites in cancer prevention is currently limited and inconclusive. In short, phytol and its metabolites are potential dietary compounds for cancer prevention, assuming the challenges in preventing cytotoxicity in non-cancer cells and animal models and understanding phytol metabolism can be mitigated.

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