The body uses phosphorus to keep the bones strong and healthy. Phosphorus also helps remove waste and repair damaged tissues.
Most people get enough phosphorus through their diet. However, people with certain health conditions, such as kidney disease or diabetes, may need to adjust their phosphorus intake.
In this article, learn more about dietary sources of phosphorus and its role in the body.
What is dietary phosphorus?
Dietary phosphorus contributes to a range of bodily functions, including kidney function.
Phosphorus is a mineral that the body uses to build bones and teeth and to make proteins that grow and repair cells and tissues.
Phosphorus also plays a role in how the body processes carbohydrates, or sugars. In addition, it contributes to bodily functions that involve:
- the nervous system
- kidney function
- muscle contraction
- heartbeat regulation
Dietary phosphorus is phosphorus that a person can consume via food and drink. Most people can get all of the phosphorus that they need from dietary sources.
Phosphorus offers numerous health benefits because it affects many different systems in the body. Some of the benefits of phosphorus include:
- keeping the bones and teeth strong
- helping the muscles contract
- aiding muscle recovery after exercise
- filtering and removing waste from the kidneys
- promoting healthy nerve conduction throughout the body
- making DNA and RNA
- managing the body’s energy usage and storage
Foods that contain phosphorus
Foods high in phosphorus include seafood, chicken, and seeds.
Most people get enough phosphorus in their diet, especially if they eat plenty of foods that contain protein and calcium.
Most protein-rich foods are excellent sources of phosphorus. These foods include:
- low fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese
Other foods that are less high in protein may also be good sources of phosphorus, but the body does not absorb the phosphorus in these foods as easily. These include:
- whole grains
- dried fruit
Phosphorus requirements vary by age and depend on whether a person has any underlying medical conditions.
People generally need the following amounts of phosphorous per day:
- infants (0–6 months): 100 milligrams (mg)
- infants (7–12 months): 275 mg
- children (1–3 years): 460 mg
- children (4–8 years): 500 mg
- children (9–18 years): 1,250 mg
- adults (19 years and older): 700 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding women do not need extra phosphorus.
Risks of too much phosphorus
Getting too much phosphorus is not a problem for most people. However, for people with chronic kidney disease or whose bodies have problems processing calcium, it is possible to have a buildup of too much phosphorus.
When a person has excessively high levels of phosphorus in their blood, the phosphorus can pull calcium from the bones, leaving them weak. It can also combine with calcium to form deposits in the soft tissues of the body. These deposits can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death.
Recent studies have suggested that too much phosphorus in the body can be more dangerous to a person’s health than experts initially thought.
The authors of a 2017 study note that excessively high phosphorus consumption can cause the following negative effects in animals:
- calcifications in the vascular and renal systems
- injuries to tubes within the kidneys
- abnormal protein in the urine, which can indicate kidney damage
- premature death
More research is necessary to determine the risks of too much phosphorus in humans.
Risks of too little phosphorus
A person with low levels of phosphorus may experience fatigue, joint pain, or confusion.
Most people get enough phosphorus in their diet, but some groups of people may need more phosphorus than others.
People who require more phosphorus include those with diabetes who take insulin to regulate their blood sugar. People with alcohol use disorder may also need to increase their phosphorus intake.
Other medications can also lower the levels of phosphorus in the body, including:
- ACE inhibitors
- some antacids
- some diuretics
- some anti-seizure drugs
People who have diabetes or are taking any of the above medications should be aware of the symptoms of having low phosphorus levels. These symptoms can include:
- loss of appetite
- joint pain
- bone pain
- breathing problems
- electrolyte imbalances
In rare cases, people with dangerously low phosphorus may experience a coma or other life-threatening complications.
A doctor can usually correct low phosphorus levels by treating the underlying condition. The doctor may recommend that people make dietary changes or take supplements to ensure that they get enough phosphorus.
The body needs the mineral phosphorus to perform many of its basic functions. Most people get plenty of phosphorus through their diet.
People who have certain health conditions or are taking specific medications may need to increase or decrease their phosphorus intake.
Anyone who is concerned about their phosphorus intake or is experiencing symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency should speak to their doctor.