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Phosphorous is both essential and lethal

Phosphorous is both essential and lethalPhosphorous was discovered in the 1600s by an alchemist, who manage to make it from large quantities of urine. Ever since, phosphorous and similar compounds have been used to make matches, fireworks, nerve gas, bombs, manure, and pesticides. We hardly ever read or hear about phosphorous and its role in human health, but it is actually one of the most vital minerals, and it is important that we make sure to balance our levels of this mineral with calcium.

Phosphorous is a chemical element with the symbol P. It was discovered by the German alchemist Henning Brand in 1669 in a process where he distilled various salts by evaporating urine. The processes resulted in a white material that glowed in the dark and burned with a pretty flame.
Phosphorous is an element in many different compounds. The mineral is also essential for all living cells and tissues, and it is important for our DNA and for producing energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Without phosphorous, life could not exist. The reason we don’t hear all that much about phosphorous is that it is found in a variety of foods, and deficiencies are rare. Nonetheless, elevated phosphorous levels may affect our calcium balance, and calcium supplements taken for bone health do not have the optimal effect if you lack phosphorous.

You need the right balance between phosphorous and calcium

An adult contains around 800-1,200 grams of phosphorous. Next to calcium, phosphorous is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, and it is essential to balance it correctly with calcium. Around 90 percent of our phosphorous is stored in our bones and teeth. Phosphorous is also involved in a variety of biochemical processes, and it is part of the chemical compound called phosphate.
Phosphorous is regulated the same way as calcium, where vitamin D is involved in the uptake of the mineral in the digestive tract. Afterwards, blood levels of phosphorous are regulated with help from a hormone that is produced by the parathyroid gland. The kidneys control the excretion of phosphorous, and the bones serve as a storage facility for the nutrient.

The entire body needs phosphorous. The mineral supports the following:

  • Our genetic coding (DNA)
  • ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is chemically stored energy – the P stands for phosphorous
  • Cell membranes (as a constituent of phospholipids)
  • Strong bones and teeth. Together with calcium and magnesium, phosphorous constitutes the solid material.
  • Muscles
  • The brain and nervous system

Sources and recommended daily dosage for adults and young pregnant women

Phosphorous is bound to protein and is found in all types of food, especially protein-rich foods like meat, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, and kernels. Phosphorous is one of the minerals that we need the most. For adults, the reference intake (RI) level is 700 mg daily. According to the American recommendations, a pregnant woman younger than 18 years of age needs 1,250 mg of phosphorous per day in order to secure enough for herself and her unborn baby.

Phosphorous and phosphates are added as preservatives to certain foods, for instance Coca-Cola, certain cheeses, ice cream, breakfast cereals, sausages and bacon.

Too much phosphorous increases your risk of early death and atherosclerosis

It is easy to get enough phosphorous from your diet, but it is important not to get too much. According to a scientific article, studies show that the risk of premature death increases if your daily intake of phosporous exceeds 1,400 mg. Too much phosphorous causes calcium to accumulate in the blood vessel walls, and that increases the risk of atherosclerosis. However, several studies suggest that the problem is caused by having an imbalance between phosphorous and calcium. People with kidney problems are at particularly increased risk of a phosphorous overload. Normally, it is the kidneys’ job to excrete excess levels of the mineral.

Consuming too much calcium from food and supplements may block the uptake of phosphorous

According to an article that is published on WebMD, taking calcium supplements can be a waste of money, if you don’t get enough phosphorous from your diet. If you take large quantities of calcium, it may upset the body’s phosphorous uptake. Women trying to prevent osteoporosis typically take 1,000-1,500 mg of calcium daily in supplement form, but scientists have found that such great quantities can bind up to 500 mg of phosphorous, which means that the body misses out on the benefits of this mineral. Robert P. Heany from the University of Creighton in the United States says that it may be a particularly big problem for women older than 60 years of age, who eat a low-protein diet with less than 700 mg of phosphorous.

Bones also need vitamin D and magnesium

Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D, which works by embedding calcium in the bone cells and making sure to keep calcium out of the cells in soft tissues. If you lack magnesium, you risk that calcium is not properly embedded in the bone tissue. Not only does that increase your risk of osteoporosis, it also increases the risk of calcium flooding the cells in soft tissues, which can stress them. It may also cause inflammation and tension, cramps and an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
Make sure to maintain the right balance between phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium. Normally, a balanced diet can do this for you, but if you take supplements, make sure never to take calcium without taking magnesium, as well.


Kristian Sjøgren. Fosfor er måske det vigtigste mineral. juni 2018

Bones Need Calcium and Phosphorus. WebMD 2002

Gerry K. Schwalfenberg and Stephen J. Genuis. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Cairo) 2017

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