Phosphorus (phosphate) is a vital mineral and, together with calcium, is the main component of bone tissue. Phosphorus is also indispensable for the structure of the teeth and is involved in many metabolic processes.
Find out more about phosphorus for healthy bones and what amount the body needs and when a phosphorus deficiency can threaten.
What is phosphorus
The element phosphorus is one of the so-called non-metals. It is mainly found in the body as phosphate – a combination of phosphorus and oxygen. The largest storage of phosphate in the body are the bones.
About 85 percent of the mineral is accumulated in the human skeleton and teeth, the rest in tissue and blood.
Nutritionists also speak of inorganic phosphate. Organic phosphate is found in all cells of the body. Both inorganic and organic phosphate are also present in the blood plasma – bound to calcium and proteins, among other things. The body stores around 600 to 700 grams of phosphorus.
What are the tasks of phosphate in the body?
Phosphate fulfills a number of important tasks in the body. Phosphorus is an important building block for the stability of the bones – together with calcium. Phosphorus also serves as an energy source for the cells, is important for storing genetic information as part of DNA and RNA and acts as a buffer system to maintain the pH value in plasma, urine and body cells.
How much phosphorus do people need?
The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends a daily phosphorus intake of 700 milligrams for adults aged 19 and over. For adolescents between ten and 19 years of age, the recommended intake is 1250 milligrams per day due to their growth. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also consume a little more phosphorus with 800 to 900 milligrams per day.
Osteoporosis risk: fear of bone loss
The bones, like the teeth, need sufficient phosphorus in order to remain resilient and stable. Fear of osteoporosis due to a phosphorus deficiency, however, is not necessary. Since practically all foods contain phosphorus, a diet-related phosphorus deficiency is not known (as reassured by the German Nutrition Society (DGE).
How to recognize phosphorus deficiency
According to the nutritionist, a phosphorus deficiency only occurs in certain diseases such as kidney dysfunction, vitamin D deficiency, anorexia nervosa (anorexia), sepsis (blood poisoning), intestinal diseases or serious injuries. For these diseases, a blood test will show whether there is a lack of phosphorus. If there is a lack of phosphorus, this should be treated accordingly after consultation with a doctor.
Which foods are rich in phosphorus?
In healthy people, a diet rich in protein and calcium also automatically fills the phosphorus stores, as phosphorus is bound to calcium and protein. The body is adequately supplied with a varied diet. Animal foods such as liver, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are particularly rich in phosphorus. But bread also contains phosphorus.
Phosphates: popular food additives
In addition, phosphates are often processed as additives in food, for example as melting salts (polyphosphates) or as loosening agents for baked goods. The quantities achieved are often high.
According to the Hessian Ministry for the Environment, Climate Protection, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, 100 grams of boiled ham can contain a good 130 milligrams of phosphate, and 100 grams of crisp bread even up to 300 milligrams. At 500 milligrams per liter, a cola drink is a real “phosphate bomb”, according to the ministry.
Side effects of too much phosphorus?
Phosphorus deficiency is very rare. On the contrary: the recommended intake of phosphorus is exceeded on average by most people. While excess phosphate is excreted through the kidneys in healthy people, too much phosphate can accumulate in kidney patients, for example. Then, among other things, deposits in the blood vessels are possible, which can lead to vascular calcification and vascular damage.
In principle, you should only take minerals in addition to food if there is a physiological deficiency. There is a medical need to take phosphorus in the case of familial hypophosphatemic rickets, for example. Then the doctor should prescribe an appropriate drug.