Phosphorus is a very plentiful mineral in your body and second only to calcium in abundance. In fact, calcium and phosphorus work together to maintain strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus deficiency from the standard American diet is relatively rare, but it does happen in alcoholics and diabetics. Accumulating too much in the body is much more of a concern and usually related to kidney disease or consuming large amounts.
Most of your body’s phosphorus is in your bones and teeth. The remaining amount is distributed among all your other tissues, because the mineral is also important for energy production, cellular repair and DNA formation. You need about 700 milligrams of phosphorus daily, and you shouldn’t exceed 4,000 milligrams in any 24-hour period. Phosphorus-rich food includes beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, legumes, dried fruit and whole grains. Carbonated beverages also contain quite a bit of phosphorus. Consuming too much phosphorus from your diet or via supplementation overwhelms your kidneys and leads to a variety of health issues.
In a healthy state, phosphorus is carefully balanced with calcium throughout your body. When the phosphorus levels in your blood rise too high, your body liberates calcium from bones to offset the increase. The result is that your bones become weaker and your risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures increases. The typical American diet is between two- and four-times higher in phosphorus compared to calcium, so any supplements you take should be high in calcium and without phosphorus in order to balance out the ratio. Too much phosphorous also interferes with your body's use of iron, magnesium and zinc.
Hardening of arteries, called atherosclerosis, and calcification of the tissues in the heart due to excess phosphorus levels significantly increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. The excess calcium and magnesium that’s drawn into the blood to balance out the phosphorus also causes problems with muscle tone and may lead to cramping, twitching and/or weakness, as well as irregular heartbeats.
Other Potential Issues
If your dietary phosphorus intake is modest or normal, but your blood levels are high, then that’s likely an indication of kidney disease. Diseased and damaged kidneys are unable to properly filter excess phosphorus out of the blood and get rid of it through the urine. Aside from the various symptoms related to kidney disease, high blood phosphorus levels can specifically cause diarrhea, itchy skin, irritated eyes and joint pain.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Textbook of Functional Medicine; David S. Jones
- Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine; A. Fauci et al.
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.