Phosphorus is an important mineral that plays an essential role in different bodily functions, including nerve conductions, muscle mass, the structure of teeth and bone[i] , filtering waste from the body, balancing the use of some vitamins and RNA, and DNA synthesis. About 85% of the body’s phosphate is found in teeth and bones. The remaining 15% is found in soft tissues.
In the human body, phosphorus exists as a phosphate, the salt form of phosphorus. For this reason, health physicians use the terms “phosphate” and “phosphorus” interchangeably. We can get most of the phosphorus that the body needs in body, as it’s plentiful in various diets[ii]. As a result, there are very few people that really need supplements.
Phosphorus is an essential mineral, which has numerous roles. It is a structural component of teeth and bones and plays a crucial role in strengthening bone mass. It’s also actively involved in RNA, and DNA synthesis helps in storage and energy production and supports the growth of tissues during individual development or through lactation and pregnancy.
Phosphate supplements help treat constipation. Sodium phosphate can be found in oral medications and over-the-counter enemas. These laxatives aid bowel movement by drawing more water in the bowel, which further softens the stool, making it easy to pass. It’s also important to note that laxatives that contain sodium phosphates also have label warnings that caution consumers to only take one per day, and the laxatives should never be used for more than three days.[iv]
Treatment Of Indigestion
Some of the antacids that are used in the treatment of indigestion or heartburn contain phosphate salts.
Treatment Of High Calcium Levels In The Blood
Some phosphate salts might help treat high levels of calcium. Furthermore, potassium phosphate might help prevent calcium from forming kidney stones in people with high calcium levels in their urine.
Increased Weight Loss And Athletic Performance
Phosphate salts, especially sodium phosphate, have been found to increase athletic performance. A study showed that taking sodium phosphate supplements increased performance among cyclists.
Some studies show that taking potassium, which also contains calcium (like dicalcium phosphate or tricalcium phosphate), might help reduce the risks of osteoporosis and maintain strong bones.[v]
Treatment Of Refeeding Syndrome
Some evidence suggests giving potassium, and sodium phosphate might help treat the refeeding syndrome among very malnourished people or haven’t eaten for an extended period.
Phosphate deficiency is rare in the United States mainly because it’s found in various foods[iii]. However, the shortage can sometimes happen, particularly in anorexia, an eating disorder, and starvation.
If you take antacids containing aluminum for a long period, these can drain the body of phosphorus, ultimately making you deficient. Also known as hypophosphatemia, phosphorus deficiency might happen because of increased alcohol use, certain inherited disorders, or diabetic ketoacidosis.
Symptoms Of Phosphate Deficiency
You might experience several bone-related signs if you have phosphate deficiency. For instance, you might have fragile bones or bone pain. Another common symptom is loss of appetite, making it more difficult for you to improve your phosphorus levels through a healthier diet. Other common symptoms include:
- Changes in body weight
- Joint stiffness
- Irregular breathing
Moreover, children who lack sufficient phosphorous might experience growth issues or patterns with tooth and bone development.
We gain our recommended daily intake of phosphorus from food. If you do not have enough diet or have some conditions that might affect your body’s ability to store and utilize this mineral, you risk developing hypophosphatemia. Common causes of phosphorus deficiency include:
- Inherited disorders
Possible Side Effects
Phosphorus intake is rarely associated with any side effects. This is because healthy kidneys help eliminate extra phosphate from the body to keep the blood levels balanced[vi]. Nevertheless, different types of medical conditions could make the body less efficient at removing additional phosphate from the blood, leading to hypophosphatemia.
Hypophosphatemia is a condition accompanied by lower levels of calcium that might lead to numbness or tingling, perioral, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps. Other common symptoms include joint and bone pain, rash, and pruritus (itchiness)[vii].
At times individuals with high phosphate levels experience feelings of sleep disturbances, vomiting, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and some cases, eating disorders. A few causes of elevated phosphorus levels might include:
- Acute or chronic kidney disease
- Low levels of parathyroid hormone
- Cell damage
- High levels of vitamin D
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Serious body infections
Also, if you have any underlying conditions, especially chronic kidney disease, you might have to check your phosphorus intake. The best thing you can do is to discuss with your doctor and a dietician. Individuals with chronic disease should have their blood regularly monitored to keep a watchful eye on the phosphorus levels.[viii]
Remember phosphorus isn’t only found in fresh foods, but it’s also present in sodas like colas, processed cheeses, baked goods, packaged cereals, frozen foods, processed meats, and fast food. Nevertheless, keep in mind that processed foods should be consumed in moderation for your well-being.
Dosage And Preparation
According to the US Department of Agriculture Food Survey, 96% of Americans consume enough daily amounts of phosphates. 20% comes from food sources like ice cream and milk and others from different types of foods like pizza, burritos, vegetables, chicken, baked goods, rolls, bread, and more.
Some mineral/multivitamin supplements contain over 15% of the current recommended daily allowance for phosphate. And because phosphorous is commonly found in different foods, phosphorus deficiencies are uncommon, with the exception of continued avoidance of near-total starvation.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the Upper Limit (UL) and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for phosphorus are 4000 milligrams and 700 milligrams every day for adults, respectively.[ix]
Ways To Get Your Phosphate
As mentioned above, the amount of phosphate you need depends on age. Today you can get your RDA for phosphorus from food sources or supplements. We recommend that you get your phosphorus from food because you also get more benefits than when taking supplements. With phosphorus supplements, you only get phosphorus, nothing else.
Foods Rich In Phosphorus
Since many types of food contain phosphorus, meeting your RDA is easy. When searching for foods high in phosphorus, you should choose foods that are slightly processed because they will help enhance your health and also optimize your nutrition.
Essentially, whole foods are rich in minerals, vitamins, and other valuable nutrients, whereas processed foods may be full of added sugar, and unhealthy sodium. Choose foods like:
- Protein – tofu, lean red meat, tuna, sardines, oysters, turkey, chicken, eggs, salmon
- Whole grains – quinoa, oat bran muffins
- Fruits – fruits (looks for unsweetened)
- Seeds and nuts (unsalted)
- Vegetables – Brussels sprouts, corn
- Legumes – Peas, beans
- Low-fat dairy – kefir, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk
- Beverages – milk, canned ice teas, drinks (with added milk), dark colas, chocolate or cocoa, or beer.
- Dairy – cream soups, yogurt, ice cream, pudding and custard, liquid non-dairy creamers, and cheese.
- Protein – chicken liver, salmon, beef liver, legumes and nuts, eggs, fish roe, sardines, and oysters
- Garlic cloves
- Dried fruits
- Hard potatoes
- Whole grains
- Brewers yeast
- Oat bran muffins
- Most processed foods
- Caramel candies
- Chocolate candies
Always remember that the phosphorus in vegetables such as seeds, nuts, peas, and beans isn’t properly absorbed from animal products. This is because phosphorous in plant seeds is present in the form of phytate or phytic acid. The phosphorus present in whole grains, incorporated into the leavened bread, is pretty easy to absorb than flatbreads and cereals because the bread contains yeast which possess phytases.
Most people won’t need phosphorus supplements unless they are trying to replace some lost phosphorus because of a medical condition or taking medications like a diuretic to prevent kidney stones and make the urine more acidic.
Incase your doctor suggests phosphorus supplements for whatever reason, the health physician might recommend a powder, capsule, or tablet form. In most cases, phosphorus should be mixed with water. Make sure you closely follow the instructions to avoid any side effects. Also, consult the physician or dietician before you start taking any medications or supplements as they lead to nutrient/drug interactions.
What is the main benefit of phosphate?
What foods are rich in phosphate?
What are the symptoms of phosphorus deficiency?
What is phosphorus used to treat?
Is phosphate bad for you?
What are the side effects of disodium phosphate?
- [i] Heaney RP, Recker RR, Watson P, Lappe JM. Phosphate and carbonate salts of calcium support robust bone building in osteoporosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;92(1):101-105. DOI:10.3945/ajcn.2009.29085
- [ii] Moshfegh AJ, Kovalchik AF, Clemens JC. Phosphorus Intake of the U.S. Population: What We Eat in America. NHANES 2011-2012. Food Surveys Research Group Dietary Data Brief No. 15. September 2016.
- [iii] Moshfegh AJ, Kovalchik AF, Clemens JC. Phosphorus Intake of the U.S. Population: What We Eat in America. NHANES 2011-2012. Food Surveys Research Group Dietary Data Brief No. 15. September 2016.
- [iv] C. P. Brewer, B. Dawson, K. E. Wallman & K. J. Guelfi (2015) Effect of sodium phosphate supplementation on repeated high-intensity cycling efforts, Journal of Sports Sciences, 33:11, 1109-1116, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2014.989536
- [v] Heaney RP, Recker RR, Watson P, Lappe JM. Phosphate and carbonate salts of calcium support robust bone building in osteoporosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;92(1):101-105. DOI:10.3945/ajcn.2009.29085
- [vi] National Kidney Foundation. Phosphorus and Your CKD Diet.
- [vii] Brewer CP, Dawson B, Wallman KE, Guelfi KJ. Effect of sodium phosphate supplementation on repeated high-intensity cycling efforts. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2014;33(11):1109-1116. DOI:10.1080/02640414.2014.989536
- [viii] Vorland CJ, Stremke ER, Moorthi RN, Hill Gallant KM. Effects of Excessive Dietary Phosphorus Intake on Bone Health. Current Osteoporosis Reports. 2017;15(5):473-482. DOI:10.1007/s11914-017-0398-4
- [ix] Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, Vitamin D, and fluoride. Washington, D.C: National Academy of Sciences; 2001. pp. 1678–82.