How Your Body Uses Phosphorus

Chances are, you’ve heard the words phosphate and phosphorous mentioned when it comes to food. But what are they, and what do they have to do with dinner? Read on to find out.

What Is Phosphorus?

Phosphorus is a mineral found in many foods, ranging from beer to cheese and beans to fish. But phosphorus isn’t just in food: It’s one of the most common substances in your everyday environment — and in your body. Phosphorus makes up about 1 percent of our total body weight.

What Are Phosphates?

Phosphates are the most common form of phosphorus. You can find phosphates in dish detergents, baking ingredients, and processed cheeses. It’s also the drug form of phosphorus, and can be taken as a dietary supplement when you can’t naturally get enough phosphorus due to certain illnesses and diseases.

How Phosphorous Works in the Body

Phosphorus works with calcium to help build bones. Like any good relationship, the most important thing is balance. Your body needs the right amount of both to be at its best and strongest. With too much calcium, your body absorbs less phosphorus, and vice versa. Like calcium, you need vitamin D to absorb phosphorus properly.

Did You Know?
  • Phosphates work with calcium to make your bones strong.
  • Too much phosphorus is called hyperphosphatemia.
  • Too little phosphorus is called hypophosphatemia.
  • Phosphates work with calcium to make your bones strong.
  • Too much phosphorus is called hyperphosphatemia.
  • Too little phosphorus is called hypophosphatemia.

Symptoms of Too Little Phosphorus

Hypophosphatemia occurs when phosphorus levels in your blood get too low. This causes your energy levels to drop, and can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and a low tolerance for exercise. When not enough phosphorus coincides with low levels of calcium and vitamin D can lead to weaker, softer bones over long periods of time. This causes joint and muscle pain.

Phosphorus levels are tightly controlled in the body. Low levels can be a sign of another disorder.

Symptoms of Too Much Phosphorus

A high level of phosphates in the blood is called hyperphosphatemia. Some of its symptoms overlap with those of low phosphorus, like joint and muscle pain, and muscle weakness. People with high phosphorus levels can also experience itching and red eyes. In more severe cases, symptoms like severe constipation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur.

If your phosphorus levels are either too high or too low, you should consult with your doctor to determine the cause

How to Get the Right Amount of Phosphorus

To lower phosphorus levels, doctors will often prescribe phosphate binders. These are taken with meals and snacks and limit the amount of phosphorus that your body can absorb. If you have high levels of phosphorus, lifestyle choices can help balance them out. Get enough exercise, stay well hydrated, and eat a low-phosphorus, but balanced diet.

Foods with High Levels of Phosphorus

Finding foods with high phosphate levels isn’t hard. Pork, cod, salmon, and tuna are all high in phosphorus. Good dairy sources include:

  • milk
  • chocolate
  • yogurt
  • eggnog
  • ricotta and American cheese
  • instant pudding

Bran cereal, blueberry muffins, and nachos are also especially high in phosphorous too.

Foods That Are Low in Phosphorus

Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables are low in phosphorus, not to mention an important part of your daily diet. Popcorn, saltines, cornflakes, bread, and eggs also have very low levels of phosphorus.

How It Affects the Kidneys

When your kidneys are working normally, they help remove excess phosphorus from your blood, keeping your levels balanced and normal. When your kidneys aren’t working correctly, your phosphorus levels can get too high, which can cause calcium levels to rise as well. This can cause dangerous calcium deposits to form in your blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. People with this condition often need dialysis to help their kidneys clean out the excess phosphorus.

Supplements and Medications

Phosphorus supplements and medications can be used in many ways. They have been proven to work as laxatives, as a treatment for urinary tract infections, and to treat too-low levels of the mineral that develop in people with advanced malnutrition.

Phosphorus supplements might also be used as an exercise performance enhancer, to help with bone restoration, and to treat too-high levels of calcium in the body due to overactive parathyroid glands.

The Takeaway

Phosphorus is integral to healthy bones and a healthy body. Sometimes, health conditions like kidney disease can affect the levels of phosphorus in the body. If you feel any symptoms of high or low phosphorus, speak to a doctor.