Phosphorus: Exploring This Important Compound

Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in your body, after calcium. It exists in every living cell and makes up around 1% of your total body weight.

The mineral has many physiological functions, and it is essential to consume enough each day.

Fortunately, it is in most foods, and deficiencies are rare among healthy individuals.

Here is all you need to know about this vital nutrient, including its benefits, side effects, and how much to consume daily.

Uses and Benefits

Phosphorus is the eleventh most common element on Earth and the second most abundant in the human body.

It is a crucial component of bones and teeth, and 85% of phosphorus in the body is found within these structures. It is also part of DNA, RNA, cell membranes, and our primary energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

The mineral is involved in over 2000 different cellular reactions. It influences gene transcription, enzyme activation, energy metabolism and storage, and pH maintenance.

phosphorus-uses-and-benefits

Some key processes that rely on phosphorus include kidney function, muscle contractions (including the heartbeat), and nerve signaling.

It also works closely with calcium to keep the bones healthy and strong. The two minerals combine to form hydroxyapatite, the main structural material in tooth enamel and bone. Phosphorus and calcium metabolism is jointly regulated by parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D.

Other common uses of phosphorus include as an agricultural fertilizer and food additive. It occurs naturally in meat, vegetables, dairy products, and cereals and is also available as a supplement. 

Side Effects

Getting too little or too much phosphorus can be harmful.

Fortunately, most people have more than enough of the mineral in their diets, and deficiencies are rare. However, some medical conditions can make it more challenging to regulate.

Let’s look closer at some of the side effects of phosphorus deficiencies and excesses and why they occur. 

Low Phosphorus Side Effects

Consuming too little phosphorus is unusual in the United States. When deficiencies occur, it tends to be due to an underlying condition rather than low dietary intake. Some common examples include hyperparathyroidism, kidney tubule defects, and diabetic ketoacidosis.

Other groups of people at risk of phosphorus deficiency include:

  • Preterm infants
  • People with genetic phosphate regulation disorders
  • Severely malnourished individuals
  • Alcohol-dependent individuals
  • People undergoing refeeding programs for anorexia or starvation

The symptoms of phosphate deficiency include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Altered sensations or numbness of the hands and feet
  • Disorders of coordination, balance, or speech (ataxia)
  • Confusion

Most of these symptoms are non-specific and could occur for numerous reasons. Therefore, anyone suspecting they may be lacking phosphorus should consult a physician for further guidance. 

Side Effects of Too Much Phosphorus

Consuming too much phosphorus can also be harmful, especially for people with chronic kidney disease.

The kidneys have a vital role in maintaining phosphorus balance. If these organs are not functioning well, the mineral can build up to dangerously high levels in the body.

Phosphorus retention can lead to calcium imbalances and weakened bones, known as chronic kidney disease mineral and bone disorder.

Very high phosphorus levels could also cause calcium deposits to accumulate in soft tissues, such as the muscles.

There also seems to be a link between excess phosphorus and cardiovascular disease. However, the current evidence on this subject is inconclusive, and it is unclear whether phosphorus restriction helps. 

Dosage

In the United States, most people exceed the recommended daily doses for phosphorus. This is because it occurs naturally in so many foods and is used as an additive in others.

The recommended daily intake is 700mg for most healthy adults, and the tolerable upper limit is 4000mg for teens, pre-teens, and adults. This figure falls to 3000mg for children under nine and adults over 71, and 3500mg during pregnancy. 

How Much Phosphorus Do I Need?

The recommended daily intake of phosphorus is as follows:

  • Birth to six months: 100mg
  • 7–12 months: 275mg
  • 1–3 years: 460mg
  • 4–8 years: 500mg
  • 9–13 years: 1250mg
  • 14–18 years: 1250mg
  • 19 years and over: 700mg

Below we explore some of the best sources and how to ensure you are getting enough phosphorus each day. 

Sources of Phosphorus

Almost all foods contain some phosphorus in organic or inorganic forms.

Organic phosphorus is found in whole foods and has an absorption rate of 40–60%. Meanwhile, processed foods contain inorganic phosphorus, with a higher absorption rate of 80–100%.

sources-of-phosphorus

Therefore, people whose diets include lots of processed foods are likely to have a higher-than-average phosphorus intake. This could potentially be harmful, especially for those with impaired kidney function.

Some of the best natural food sources of phosphorus include:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Grains

Our bodies can absorb phosphorus from animal sources more efficiently than phosphorus from plant-based sources. This is because, in plants, it often occurs as part of phytic acid, which we cannot digest.

Processes such as fermentation, soaking, and sprouting can help to break down phytic acid and improve nutrient availability. 

Phosphorus Supplement Options

Since it is so abundant in our diets, phosphorus supplements are generally only necessary for people with specific medical conditions.

Products may contain phosphorus alone or in combination with other minerals or vitamins.

The most common forms are phosphate salts, such as dipotassium phosphorus or disodium phosphorus. These salts have a bioavailability of around 70%.

Phospholipids, such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine, are another option. However, their bioavailability has not yet been confirmed.

Anyone considering supplementation should consult a knowledgeable healthcare professional to ensure it is suitable for them. Individuals should also conduct thorough research before purchasing to find a safe and reliable brand.

Final Thoughts on Phosphorus

There are many uses of phosphorus, and it is essential to get enough each day. However, too much of the mineral could be harmful, especially for people with kidney disease.

Fortunately, it is easy to consume adequate amounts by eating a healthy diet, and most people do not require supplements. Anyone who believes they may be deficient should consult a physician for further advice.

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