About 1 percent of a human being’s total body weight is made up of phosphorous, making it the second most abundant mineral in the body, right after calcium.  Most of the body’s phosphorous is concentrated in one’s teeth and bones.  Approximately 80 to 90 percent of the body’s phosphorous is in the bones and teeth, with the rest being found in cells, blood and other body fluids.  While calcium has a 2 to 1 ration over phosphorous in human bones, phosphorous has a greater proportion in soft tissue than calcium.

Sources of Phosphorous

Phosphorous is common in many foods, particularly in animal tissues.  This means many foods high in protein are also high in phosphorous.  Good sources for consumption of phosphorous include turkey, chicken, fish, meats, milk, cheese and eggs.  While most red meats and poultry are good sources of calcium, these foods are typically even better sources of phosphorous. 

Dairy products tend to have a good balance between calcium and phosphorous.  Phosphorous can also be found in seeds and nuts, as well as in whole grains, wheat germ, bran and brewer’s yeast.  At least some trace amounts of phosphorous are also found in many fruits and vegetables.

Functions of Phosphorous

Aside from the obvious importance in the formation of teeth and bones, phosphorous assists in many functions within the human body.  For instance, phosphorous is an important component in the production and exchange of energy.  This mineral provides the phosphate in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is crucial to the body’s primary metabolic cycles.  Phosphorous also helps the body utilize carbohydrates and fats and synthesize protein for the proper maintenance and growth of cells and tissues. ATP is an essential part of the nucleic acid production in RNA and DNA.

A component of the fat molecules found in cell membranes, phosphorous assists in fat emulsification, which allows nutrients to pass through the cells.  Phosphorous is also involved in the conduction of nerves and is part of the enzyme system in the body.  Kidney function relies in part on phosphorous, and this mineral also serves as a buffer for the balance of acids and bases in the body.

Uses of Phosphorous

While phosphorous is not frequently used alone to treat a variety of medical conditions, this mineral is sometimes used to heal problems which center around the bones.  Phosphorous is known to help heal fractures in bones by minimizing the loss of calcium. 

Because phosphorous and calcium are substantial parts of the makeup of teeth, problems with teeth and gums can frequently be treated with the proper balance of these two minerals.  Some recent cancer research has shown that cancer cells do not maintain proper phosphorous levels, leading researchers to speculate that phosphorous may, in the future, be shown to be crucial in nutritional supplements for cancer patients.

Thanks to modern research, it is known that most of the phosphorous ingested by humans ends up deposited in the bones.  Some of the phosphorous consumed goes to the teeth, but the remainder goes to cells and other tissues, which a good deal going to red blood cells. 

Phosphorous Deficiency

An imbalance in the ratio of calcium to phosphorous in the body can lead to an increased incidence of colorectal cancer and hypertension.  While more research is needed in this area, the uneven ratios tend to point to problems of hypertension in pregnant women and in men for prostate cancer. 

Because phosphorous is so readily available in the average person’s diet, deficiencies in phosphorous are fairly uncommon.  However, one reason for phosphorous deficiency can be the taking of excessive amounts of antacids, which bind phosphorous in the body.  Too much calcium can lead to this condition, as well as low intake of vitamin D.

The absorption of phosphorous can also be hindered by iron, aluminum and magnesium.  It is known that caffeine causes the kidneys to excrete increased amounts of phosphorous.

Some of the symptoms of phosphorous deficiency are bone pain and fragility, stiff joints, anxiety, weight loss, irritability, weakness and anorexia. Problems with deficiencies of this mineral are more likely to occur in adults, with osteoporosis being at the top of this list.  Other problems common to adults with a phosphorous deficiency are arthritis, tooth decay and skin diseases.

The average person consumes between 1,500 and 1,600 mg of phosphorous every day.  If this holds true day after day, it probably means that person is a little deficient in calcium.  Recent evidence suggests that a continued scenario of low calcium intake and high phosphorous intake will eventually lead to osteoporosis. 

One study of female athletes concluded that those who drank carbonated beverages (which have large amounts of phosphorous) were prone to have twice as many fractures as the women who did not drink such beverages.

Based on the extensive consumption of carbonated beverages, many individuals have diets which have unhealthy amounts of phosphorous. Those people who are aware of consuming too many carbonated beverages should attempt to even out their calcium-to-phosphorous levels by cutting back on soft drinks and drinking more dairy products.

For children who are experiencing phosphorous deficiencies, symptoms can include rickets, as well as poor bone and tooth development.

Required Daily Amount

Some people have abnormally high amounts of phosphorous in their body and may need to reduce this mineral.  Typical culprits which aid in high amounts of phosphorous include meats and carbonated beverages. 

When phosphorous levels in the body are high, it may be necessary to increase calcium intake to maintain a more proper balance between these two mutually-important minerals.  Because the body’s ratio of calcium to phosphorous in the bone is 2 to 1, many health care practitioners suggest a slightly higher intake of calcium.

Many multi-minerals or multi-vitamins contain fairly small amounts of phosphorous, typically around 100 to 200 mg.   For people whose dietary sources are not providing enough phosphorous (such as the elderly, individuals with very restricted diets or menopausal women), 200-400 mg may be recommended.

However, anyone who is being treated for a medical condition should seek help from a health care professional before taking this supplement.


  1. Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff. The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals, Alpha A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2007)
  2. Brewer, S. The essential guide to vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements, Right Way (2010)
  3. Elson M. Haas, Md & Buck Levin, Phd, Rd. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to diet and nutritional medicine, Celestial Arts (2006)
  4. Holford, P. The optimum nutrition bible, Little Brown Group (2004)
  5. Holford, P & Lawson, S. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health, Piatkus Books (2008)
  6. Lieberman, S. & Bruning, N. The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, Avery, a Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2003)
  7. Rodale Health Books. Healing with vitamins : the best nutrients to slow, stop, and reverse disease, Rodale, (2009)
  8. Royston, A. Vitamins and minerals for a healthy body, Heinemann Library, (2003)
  9. The National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences (1989)
  10. Werbach, M. Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd ed, Third Line Press (1993)


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