Phosphorus is a mineral that’s found in the bones and processed by the kidneys. In fact, 85 percent of the phosphorus found in the body resides in the bones and teeth.

While calcium often gets the spotlight for protecting bone health, phosphorus is just as important. The mineral also exists in smaller amounts in cells and other tissues for growth and repair. It’s part of a bigger picture — a balance of other vitamins and minerals in the body, like vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.

A phosphorus deficiency is uncommon. It happens when the body has low levels of this vital mineral. Poor diets or eating disorders may contribute to a deficiency. Other medical conditions or situations that cause levels to fall include diabetes, inherited disorders, and alcoholism.

What are the symptoms?

You may experience a number of bone-related symptoms if you have a phosphorus deficiency. For example, you may have bone pain or fragile bones that break more easily. Loss of appetite is another symptom that may make it difficult to boost your phosphorus levels through a healthy diet.

Other symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • irregular breathing
  • irritability
  • joint stiffness
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • changes in body weight

In addition, children who don’t have enough phosphorus in their bodies may experience poor growth patterns or issues with bone and tooth development.

Common causes

You gain phosphorus through the foods you eat. If you don’t have an adequate diet or have conditions that affect your ability to store and use this mineral, you may develop a phosphorus deficiency (hypophosphatemia).


Phosphorus deficiency is rare. Even when people don’t get enough of this mineral in their diets, the body can compensate by reabsorbing what’s already in the bloodstream. That said, severe starvation cases can result in hypophosphatemia.

If you are deficient in other vitamins — like vitamin D — you may also have more trouble absorbing phosphorus and other minerals, like calcium, because of how they work together.


Diabetes can also lead to a deficiency, especially for people recovering from an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis. This means that the body isn’t producing enough insulin and can’t break fat down as fuel. As a result, acids build up in the blood, which can cause a phosphorus deficiency.


Alcoholism may lead to malnutrition as well. As a result, people with alcoholism may develop nutritional deficiencies, including hypophosphatemia. Deficiency may be particularly likely in people who are hospitalized due to alcohol abuse.


Individuals who are in treatment for eating disorders like anorexia may be on refeeding treatments. If these treatments are high in calories but too low in phosphorus, a deficiency may arise.

Inherited disorders

There are also certain genetic disorders that affect the body’s ability to store phosphorus. These disorders are often the result of excreting too much phosphorus in the urine or not absorbing the mineral from foods.

How it’s diagnosed

Your doctor can evaluate your phosphorus levels through blood work or urine tests. For most healthy adults, the range of phosphorus in the blood should be between 2.5 and 4.5 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL).

At your appointment, your doctor will also ask you to explain your symptoms and provide your family medical history. They may also ask for details about your lifestyle, such as what you eat and drink on a daily basis. From there, you’ll likely have a physical exam. Your doctor may also order other tests for conditions that cause phosphorus deficiency.

Treatment options

Most people don’t need to supplement their phosphorus. Usually, foods give the body enough of this mineral. That said, if you suspect you have a deficiency, contact your doctor. You may have an underlying condition that affects your ability to store phosphorus. Treatment of the condition and eating a healthy diet may help get your levels back to normal.

The recommended daily intake values are as follows:

AgeAmount per day
0 to 12 months275 mg
1 to 3 years460 mg
4 years and older1,250 mg
Pregnant or breastfeeding women1,250 mg

Some people also need supplementation to get their levels back on track. Supplements should only be taken under medical supervision, as a surplus of phosphorus can also have health implications. How much you take will be determined by your doctor.

Complications of a long-term deficiency

Without treatment, low phosphorus levels may lead to complications, especially if there is also a calcium imbalance. If the deficiency is severe enough, it may become life-threatening. If you’re experiencing signs of deficiency, seek medical help.


This disease is more common in children. It’s also related to vitamin D deficiency, which inhibits the body’s ability to absorb both calcium and phosphorus. Symptoms include delayed growth, spinal pain, muscle weakness, and skeletal deformities.


This condition is seen in both children and adults. It refers to the softening of the bones related to vitamin D deficiency. Again, a deficiency in vitamin D can also lead to absorption issues with phosphorus and calcium. You may have no symptoms in the early stages. As it progresses, you may experience a dull aching pain, particularly in the lower back, pelvis, hips, legs, or ribs.

Foods rich in phosphorus

If you’re looking to boost your levels without supplements, you can focus on foods rich in phosphorus. However, not all phosphorus-rich foods are part of a healthy diet. Most processed foods do contain high amounts of this mineral, for example. Work with a dietician if you’re in need of more phosphorus in your diet.


  • beer
  • cocoa or chocolate drinks
  • dark colas
  • drinks made with milk
  • canned iced teas
  • milk


  • cheese
  • liquid nondairy creamers
  • custard and pudding
  • ice cream
  • yogurt
  • cream soups


  • oysters
  • sardines
  • fish roe
  • eggs
  • nuts and legumes
  • beef liver
  • salmon
  • chicken liver
  • other organ meats

Other foods and prepared foods

  • chocolate candies
  • caramel candies
  • most processed foods
  • oat bran muffins
  • pizza
  • brewer’s yeast
  • whole grains
  • hard potatoes
  • dried fruits
  • garlic cloves

Other names for phosphorus on food labels

What’s the outlook?

Phosphorus deficiency is uncommon, but it may be caused by certain genetic conditions or diabetes, alcoholism, or malnutrition. If you suspect you may have a deficiency, contact your doctor for a blood test and physical exam. Treating any underlying conditions is important to your overall health. Your doctor can also suggest other modes of treatment, like taking phosphorus supplements, to get you feeling better soon.

From our medical expert


What is the relationship between vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus?


Vitamin D’s main purpose is to ensure that phosphorus and calcium levels remain in normal ranges that are optimal for humans. Both phosphorus and calcium are absorbed from foods in a person’s diet through the small intestine. Without enough vitamin D, the small intestine would not be able to properly absorb the phosphorus and calcium. After phosphorus and calcium are absorbed form the small intestine into the bloodstream, they are stored in a person’s bones.

Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.