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What Is Phosphorus Good For?

By Karen S. Garvin

Phosphorus is a nonmetallic element found throughout the world in the form of phosphate rocks. Phosphorus is vital both as a plant nutrient and in animal and human nutrition, and is the second most abundant mineral in the human body. Phosphorus works synergistically with calcium to make your teeth and bones healthy, helps your kidneys function effectively and is involved in the production of energy for your body’s cells.

The Element

Phosphorus is element No. 15 on the periodic table and was discovered in 1669 by Hennig Brand. Phosphorus comes in at least four main types, called allotropes. These are red, white, yellow and black phosphorus. Pure phosphorus is extremely volatile and is not found by itself in nature. Instead, phosphorus occurs naturally bound with other minerals. Large phosphorus deposits can be found in Russia, Morocco and parts of the United States. Pure phosphorus can spontaneously ignite, and the pure chemical is also highly poisonous. Nevertheless, in combination with other minerals, it is necessary for life.

Human Nutrition

Phosphorus is a macromineral necessary for human health. The mineral is used in the production and maintenance of your body’s cells. According to the USDA, phosphorus makes up nearly 1 percent of your body, and 85 percent of that is found in your skeleton. Phosphorus is also used by your body in the production of red blood cells and is present in both DNA and RNA. It also plays a key role in the production of many enzymes and hormones, and balances the pH of your body. Phosphorus is also necessary for the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Adenosine triphosphate is what fuels your body’s cells and gives you energy. Phosphorus helps regulate and balance other minerals in your body as well.

Balancing Phosphorus

It’s rare for people to have a phosphorus deficiency because the mineral is present in most food sources, including animal and plant sources. However, people who have diseases that interfere with their ability to absorb nutrients might develop a deficiency, and some medications can also deplete phosphorus from the body, such as diuretics. Phosphorus deficiency symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, bone pain and stiff joints, breathing difficulties, fatigue and weakness, among others. Excessive phosphorus in the body upsets the balance of phosphorus and calcium, which is essential to maintaining healthy bone structure. Too much phosphorus in the body might also indicate kidney disease.

Phosphorus in Diet

Phosphorus is found in most human food sources. In plant seeds, phosphorus is present as phytic acid. Peanuts, lentils and nuts such as almonds contain phytic acid, but because humans lack an enzyme to release phosphorus from phytic acid, only about half of the phosphorus is bioavailable. Leavened breads are a good source of the mineral because the yeast has enzymes called phytases that make phosphorus available. Milk, cheese and yogurt are all excellent sources of phosphorus. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, adults age 19 and older should consume approximately 700 milligrams of phosphorus per day to meet their recommended daily allowance of the mineral. An 8 ounce serving of nonfat yogurt provides more than half of this RDA. Meat sources of phosphorus include beef, poultry and fish, as well as eggs. Phosphorus is also present in soda as phosphoric acid.

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