Phosphorus is the second-most abundant mineral in your body, after calcium. Although your bones and teeth contain the majority of your body’s phosphorus, all your cells require this mineral to function properly. Fortunately, phosphorus is abundant in a variety of foods, and therefore a well-balanced diet helps ensure sufficient quantities of this essential nutrient to support bone health, energy needs and production of physiological molecules.
Your bones and teeth contain roughly 85 percent of your body’s total phosphorus. Phosphorus combines with calcium, also present in bones and teeth, to form a chemical complex that lends strength and rigidity to your skeletal system. Known as hydroxyapatite in bone and fluorapatite in the enamel of your teeth, these mineral complexes are important not only during periods of growth but also during times of bone repair and normal bone maintenance. A diet containing sufficient phosphorus, balanced with an adequate calcium intake, helps keep your skeletal system strong and healthy while reducing your risk of osteoporosis, states the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Phosphorus is an integral component of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, found within your cells. An ATP molecule contains three phosphate groups, one of which is attached with a high-energy chemical bond. When the high-energy bond breaks, releasing the phosphate, the energy contained in the bond is also released and becomes available to fuel any number of biological processes. The released phosphate can then be recycled when, typically through an enzymatic reaction, it reattaches to a molecule of adenosine diphosphate, or ADP, and begins the process again. Your dietary phosphorus therefore helps in the production of energy throughout the cells of your body.
The phosphorus you consume supports the manufacture and maintenance of a variety of physiological molecules necessary for optimal health. The genetic molecules RNA and DNA are rich in phosphorus, as are the phospholipids required for structurally and functionally sound cell membranes. Many of the proteins in your body, such as hormones and enzymes, depend on phosphorus for proper activation. In addition, phosphorus serves as an important physiological buffer in helping to maintain acid-base balance in your body. Inadequate phosphorus in your diet can compromise these vital cellular components.
With phosphorus readily available in foods such as animal proteins, legumes, nuts and whole grains, deficiency is rarely a problem. However, phosphorus dietary requirements are dependent on calcium intake, and an imbalance in the consumption of these minerals can lead to an excessively high intake of phosphorus that can compromise bone health. For example, soft drinks can contain high levels of phosphoric acid, and substituting these beverages for calcium-rich milk can potentially lead to poor bone density over time, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
A writer since 1985, Jan Annigan is published in "Plant Physiology," "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," "Journal of Biological Chemistry" and on various websites. She holds a sports medicine and human performance certificate from the University of Washington, as well as a Bachelor of Science in animal sciences from Purdue University.