Phosphorus is a vital part of human nutrition.
- The outer layer of human cells is made up of two layers of molecules composed of lipids and phosphorus, in a form called phosphate, which means that it is bound with oxygen and hydrogen. So phosphorus is an integral part of the cell membrane.
- Phosphate is also part of the cell’s inner fluid, and is essential for several of the cell’s processes – ADP and ATP are the units of energy that the cell uses for converting oxygen and glucose into energy. So without phosphate, there would be no cellular activity.
- DNA and RNA contain phosphorus in their chemical structure, it is often thought of as the glue that holds them together.
- Most of the phosphorus in our body is found in the bones. The main crystalline structure in bone, hydroxyapatite, consists of phosphorus, calcium, oxygen and hydrogen. Without phosphorus, our bones wouldn’t be strong enough.
- Phosphorylation is a chemical process by which phosphorus is linked to an amino acid, signaling proteins that stimulate bone growth. Together, they balance bone growth with breakdown and remodeling.
- It’s a key player in the hormonal process that controls calcium and bone metabolism. High levels of phosphorus (as phosphate ions) in the blood increase the level of parathyroid hormone (PTH). This hormone decreases calcium loss in the urine, increases calcium absorption from foods (via activation of vitamin D) and pulling calcium from bones. This is only a concern if phosphorus levels are dangerously high, as with kidney disease – see below.
- Phosphorus is one of the buffers that maintains correct pH balance in the body. This is crucial because, as Otto Warburg found in 1931, cancer can only thrive when the body’s pH (acid / alkali balance) is lower than 7.36, (in other words, relatively acidic); cancer thrives at a pH level of 6.0. An article about this on sparkpeople.com is HERE. The pH of blood is 7.35-7.45. Lower pH leads to less oxygen in the cells, higher pH leads to more oxygen in the cells. If the cell cannot get oxygen through normal means, it starts to ferment in order to produce nourishment for itself. This destroys the ability of the DNA and RNA to control cell division, leading to excessive proliferation. However, most of the population has more than enough phosphorus.
Phosphorus in vegetables is in the form of phytic acid. Phytic acid binds together with minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc and lowers their absorption from the digestive tract. In plants, phytic acid is used as storage of phosphorus, to be released at the correct time in plant growth. This is regulated in the plant by phytase enzymes. Bacteria living in the human digestive tract can produce phytases. What this means is that the amount of phosphorus (and calcium, iron and zinc) we get from food depends on our gut health. This bacteria evolves over time, so if you are not in the habit of eating a lot of vegetables, but you are starting to go more along that route, it takes time for the biome to adapt.
Fermented foods such as tempeh, miso soup, pickles and yoghurt can increase phosphorus bioavailability from phytic acid.
Also, soaking of beans and legumes, seeds and grains breaks down the phytic acid to about half. Sprouting breaks down phytic acid even more and makes the phosphorus totally bioavailable.
Yeasts also contain phytase enzymes, so including whole grains in bread with yeast increases the phosphorus’ (and other nutrients’) bioavailability.
In the US, adult men tend to consume about twice the amount of phosphorus that they need each day. Deficiency is very uncommon. At risk from deficiency are children at times of rapid growth.
Relationship with other nutrients
Phosphorus and calcium compete for absorption.
Many processed foods and drinks contain added phosphorus as a preservative. Cola-type drinks contain 400-600 mg of phosphorus per can. This is over half the daily requirement for phosphorus. In the US, the Tolerable Upper Intake Limit of 4000mg per day was set for adolescents and adults. Most processed food and drinks contain inorganic phosphorus, for example, it’s found in leavning, anti-caking agents, stabilizers, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, moisture binders etc.. This is much easier to absorb than organic phosphorus. So it’s quite easy to exceed the UI limit on a regular basis if you eat a lot of junk food. Toxicity is not an issue on a mainly whole food diet.
Toxicity is linked to kidney problems, as the kidneys are responsible for removing phosphorus in excess from the body. Toxicity is also a possible factor in cardiovascular events and ironically bone loss:
““there is accumulating evidence that phosphorus added to the food supply may be contributing to the burden of osteoporosis in the population,” according to another paper from the symposium, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Several studies have noted a link, for example, between cola consumption and low bone density and fractures, possibly due to the cola’s high phosphorus content. The mineral is needed for healthy bones, but excess amounts may disrupt calcium absorption as well as hormonal regulation of phosphorus, calcium and vitamin D.” Berkeleywellness.com.
Not only that, but additives are not always clearly labeled as including phosphorus.
Sources from food: Animal
Fish and seafood, especially silver-skinned fish and scallops. Meat, yoghurt, milk.
Crimini (brown) mushrooms, soy products, oats, peas, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, greens, and beans
World’s Healthiest Foods Article HERE