If you compiled a list of nutrients the body could not live without, phosphorus would certainly be near the top. Although its main function is building strong bones and teeth, this mineral is needed by virtually every cell in the body. Fortunately, the chance of deficiency is very small.
What it is?
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body (after calcium), and up to 680 grams of it are found in the average person. Although 85% of this mineral is concentrated in the bones and teeth, the rest is distributed in the blood and in various organs, including the heart, kidneys, brain and muscles. Phosphorus interacts with a variety of other nutrients, but its most constant companion is calcium. In the bones, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is around 2:1. In other tissues, however, the ratio of phosphorus is much higher.
What it does?
There's hardly a biological or cellular process that does not, directly or indirectly, involve phosphorus. In some instances, the mineral works to protect cells, strengthening the membranes that surround them. In other cases, it acts as a kind of biological escort, helping a variety of nutrients, hormones and chemicals to do their jobs. There's also evidence that phosphorous helps to activate the B-vitamins, enabling them to provide all their benefits.
One of the most important functions of phosphorous is to team up with calcium to build bones and help to maintain a healthy, strong skeleton. The phosphorus-calcium partnership is also crucial for strengthening the teeth and keeping them strong. In addition, phosphorus joins with fats in the blood to make compounds called phospholipids, which, in turn, play structural and metabolic roles in cell membranes throughout the body. Furthermore, without phosphorous, the body could not convert the proteins, carbohydrates and fats from food into energy. The mineral is needed to create the molecule known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which acts like a tiny battery charger, supplying vital energy to every cell in the body.
Phosphorous serves as a cell-to-cell messenger. In this capacity, it contributes to the coordination of such body processes as muscle contraction, the transmission of nerve impulses from the brain to the body, and the secretion of hormones. An adequate phosphorous supply may therefore enhance your physical performance and be effective in fighting fatigue. In addition, the mineral is necessary for maintaining the pH (the acid-base balance) of the blood and for manufacturing DNA and RNA, the basic components of our genetic make-up.
How much you need?
Because phosphorus is found in so many foods, supplements are very rarely needed. The RDI for phosphorus in men and women is the same: 1000 mg daily. In the past, many nutritionists recommended that phosphorus and calcium be taken in a 1:1 ratio, but most recently experts have advised that the ratio has little practical benefit. Most people today consume more phosphorus than calcium in their diets.
If you get too little:
Although rare, a deficiency of phosphorus can lead to fragile bones and teeth, fatigue, weakness, a loss of appetite, joint pain and stiffness, and an increased susceptibility to infection. A mild deficiency may produce a modest decrease in energy.
If you get too much:
There are no immediate adverse effects from getting too much phosphorus. However, some experts caution that over the long term, excessive phosphorus intake may inhibit calcium absorption, though it's uncertain whether this can result in a calcium deficiency that threatens bone health.
- Builds strong bones and maintains skeletal integrity.
- Helps to form tooth enamel and strengthens teeth.
- The greater risk associated with phosphorus may be getting too much, which some experts caution may lead to a calcium deficiency. Never take phosphorus supplements without discussing it with your doctor.
- In a rare event of a phosphorus deficiency – such as from kidney or digestive disease or severe burns – phosphorus supplementation must be medically supervised.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
Most people get all the phosphorus they require in their daily diet. in addition, a small amount of phosphorus may be included in daily multivitamin and mineral supplements. If you have a medical condition that depletes this mineral, such as a bowel ailment or failing kidneys, your doctor will prescribe an appropriate dose.
Guidelines for use:
Never take individual phosphorus supplements without a doctor's supervision.
High-protein foods, such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy products, contain a lot of phosphorus. The mineral is also added to many processed foods. Soft drinks, particularly cola-based drinks, often contain large amounts. Phosphorus is present in grain products as well, though wholegrain breads and cereals may also include ingredients that reduce its absorption to some extent.
Facts and Tips
- The aluminium present in some antacids can diminish levels of phosphorus and calcium in the body. if you habitually take antacids, talk to your doctor about the need for phosphorus supplements.
- One US study showed that teenage girls who regularly drink large quantities of phosphorus-rich of bone fractures than non-cola drinkers. Experts disagree, however, on whether it's the phosphorus at work. They point out that cola drinkers are much less likely to drink milk – and so don't get enough of the bone-building mineral calcium in their diets.
- Swiss researchers report that phosphorus supplementation may be especially beneficial for burn victims, who were found to have low phosphorous levels within a week of suffering severe burns. Thus supplements may be necessary to restore patients to full health after a major burn injury.