dairy foods are a source of phosphorus

Phosphorus: function, foods, deficiency and supplements

Find out all about phosphorus, including what it does, how much you need, where to find it and who might need to supplement their diet

Written by Jack Feeney on January 4, 2019 Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on January 29, 2019

Overview

What is phosphorus and what does it do?

After calcium, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral in your body, making up around 1% of your body weight.1 It has a number of roles in the body, and in particular, it’s crucial for:2
  • energy metabolism, or in other words releasing energy from food
  • maintaining the structure of cells
  • building strong bones and teeth
Phosphorus is found in a range of foods, for example fish, brown rice and oats, so most people’s diet will provide them with all they need.3 However, you can have too much of a good thing – it can be toxic in very high doses, so it’s important to limit how much you get from supplements.4

Phosphorus is available in multivitamins, or as a homeopathic remedy.

Function of phosphorus

What does phosphorus do in the body?

It helps build bones and teeth

Bones and teeth are actually made of a mineral called calcium phosphate. This means our bodies need a dietary intake of phosphorus in order for it to be converted into phosphate to help form new bone cells.5

Releasing energy from food

Phosphorus – when converted to phosphate – is also an essential component of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a store of immediate energy in our cells.6

Making cell membranes

The mineral is also used to make a type of fat called ‘phospholipids’, which we need to make our cell membranes. Phospholipids help strengthen our cell membranes, while also giving the cells enough internal space for essential cell structures, like the nucleus.7,8

How much phosphorus do I need?

Both women and men need 550mg of phosphorus each day.9

Do children need phosphorus?

  • 1-3 years – 270mg a day
  • 4-6 years – 350mg a day
  • 7-10 years – 450mg a day
  • 11-18 years – 625mg a day for girls, and 775mg a day for boys10

Phosphorus foods

Which foods are the best sources of phosphorus?

Phosphorus is found in a range of foods, including fizzy drinks and processed meats. However, healthier choices include animal sources such as:11
  • salmon
  • yoghurt
  • milk and cheese
  • halibut
  • turkey and chicken
  • beef
  • eggs
Phosphorus is also in the following plant foods, although the body finds it harder to absorb this mineral from plants:12
  • legumes, like lentils and peas
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • wholegrains

Phosphorus deficiency

Who is at risk of phosphorus deficiency

Phosphorus deficiency is known as hypophosphatemia, but it’s very rare because most people are able to get all the mineral they need in their diet.

However, poor diets, eating disorders, alcoholism and problems absorbing phosphorus can deplete your phosphorus levels, leading to a deficiency.13

What are the symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency?

  • bone pain
  • bone fractures
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • anxiety14
There is also a risk of calcium deposits (calcification) in soft tissue.15 If you think you may be deficient, ask your GP for a phosphate test to determine phosphorus levels in your blood.16

What happens if I consume too much phosphorus?

It’s more common to have too much phosphorus in the body than too little.

Too much phosphorus can be toxic, so this means you should be careful about how much you get from supplements and also keep an eye on processed foods as many contain phosphate additives. Unlike natural phosphorus in unprocessed foods, phosphate additives are very easily absorbed by the body which means you can end up taking in too much. Foods with large amounts of added phosphate include:17
  • processed meats, like ham and sausages
  • tinned fish
  • shop-bought cakes and biscuits
  • fizzy drinks, including cola
At more than 1000mg of phosphorus a day, it can cause:18
  • diarrhoea
  • calcification inside organs and blood vessels
  • poor absorption of other minerals, including iron and calcium
When taken over a long period, excess doses can also upset the balance of calcium in your bones, increasing your risk of fractures19 and may be associated with kidney and heart disease.20

Phosphorus supplements

When should I take phosphorus supplements?

As phosphorus is so widely available, your diet should provide you with the amount you need each day.

However, if you think you may not get enough phosphorus, then you could take a supplement. However, stick to 250mg or less of phosphorus a day from supplements – plus whatever you get from your diet – to avoid toxicity, according to the NHS.21

Should women take a phosphorus supplement during pregnancy?

No, there’s no need to take a phosphorus supplement during pregnancy. You can get all you need from your diet.22

What are the potential benefits of phosphorus?

Phosphorus is mainly needed for strong bones, but a 2010 study in Hypertension found it can help lower blood pressure, too.23 Shop Multivitamins Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

Sources

1. HSIS. Phosphorus 2. European Commission. EU register on nutrition and health claims made on foods 3. NHS. Others: vitamins and minerals

4. As above

5. Penido MG, Alon US. Phosphate homeostasis and its role in bone health 6. Oregon State University. Phosphorus 7. ScienceDirect. Phosphorus 8. David H. Nguyen. Sciencing. What Structural Role Do Phospholipids Play in Cells? 9. Public Health England. Government Dietary Recommendations

10. As above
11. As Source 6

12. McCarty MF. Lower bioavailability of plant-derived phosphorus 13. Ashley Marcin. Healthline. Phosphorus Deficiency

14. As above
15. As Source 1

16. NHS. Phosphate test 17. Ritz E, et al. Phosphate Additives in Food – A Health Risk

18. As Source 1
19. As Source 3

20. Uribarri J, Calvo MS. Dietary Phosphorus Excess: A Risk Factor in Chronic Bone, Kidney, and Cardiovascular Disease?

21. As Source 3

22. Ladipo OA. Nutrition in pregnancy: mineral and vitamin supplements 23. Alonso A, et al. Dietary phosphorus, blood pressure and incidence of hypertension in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)