The mineral phosphorus is an essential part of the diet. In the human body, it is almost always found in an oxidized form known as phosphate. Bone contains the bulk of the body's phosphate. However, innumerable other substances in the body, such as cell membranes, contain phosphate as part of their structure. In addition, phosphate plays a central role in the fundament energy-producing processes of all life. Indeed, some biochemists believe that phosphate-based reactions in volcanic vents may have occurred before life itself developed, later to be incorporated into the first living cells.
In general, most people consume more than enough phosphorus in the diet.3 It is present in high quantities in milk, other protein sources and grains. Additionally, it is added to many beverages and packaged foods.
Phosphorus deficiency may develop in certain circumstances, however. People with severe alcoholism may become deficient in phosphorus as well as other basic nutrients; deficiency may also occur in people with kidney failure, parathyroid dysfunction or poorly controlled diabetes.4
In studies of phosphate for enhancing sports performance, a one-time dose of one gram of tribasic sodium phosphate has been the most common dose.
For ongoing use as treatment for osteoporosis, advocates recommend that phosphate be taken as part of a calcium product that includes phosphate, such as milk products or the supplement tricalcium phosphate.
Because phosphate plays a fundamental role in the body's energy-producing pathways, it has been suggested that taking high doses of phosphate (phosphate loading) prior to athletic activities might enhance performance. Phosphate-containing chemicals are also part of the process that allows oxygen release from hemoglobin, and this too has intrigued researchers looking for ergogenic aids. However, while some studies have found that phosphate loading improves maximum oxygen utilization, others have not, and flaws in study design cast doubt on the positive results.1-2,6-7
Although it has long been stated that high phosphorus intake due to consumption of soft drinks might lead to osteoporosis, there is no solid evidence for this claim; in fact, elevated intake of phosphorus may help prevent osteoporosis.5 The reason for that is that bone contains both calcium and phosphate.
In general, phosphorus is a safe nutritional substance.
Some evidence hints that excessive consumption of phosphorus in the form of soft drinks might increase kidney stone risk, but study results are contradictory, and if there is an effect it appears to be small.9-11
Individuals with severe kidney disease should avoid phosphorus supplements, just as they must avoid taking too much of many other minerals.
Galloway SD, Tremblay MS, Sexsmith JR, Roberts CJ. The effects of acute phosphate supplementation in subjects of different aerobic fitness levels. Eur J Appl Physiol 1996;72:224–30.
Tremblay MS, Galloway SD, Sexsmith JR. Ergogenic effects of phosphate loading: physiological fact or methodological fiction? Can J Appl Physiol 1994;19:1–11.
Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997, 181–6.
Workman ML. Magnesium and phosphorus: the neglected electrolytes. AACN Clin Issues Crit Care Nurs. 1992;3:655-63.
Heaney RP. Advances in therapy for osteoporosis. Clin Med Res. 2003;1:93-9.
Kreider RB, Miller GW, Schenck D et al. Effects of phosphate loading on metabolic and myocardial responses to maximal and endurance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr. 1993;2:20-47.
Kreider RB, Miller GW, Williams MH et al. Effects of phosphate loading on oxygen uptake, ventilatory anaerobic threshold, and run performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990;22:250-6.
Bour NJS, Soullier BA, Zemel MB. Effect of level and form of phosphorus and level of calcium intake on zinc, iron, and copper bioavailability in man. Nutr Res 1984;4:371–9.
Curhan GC, Willett WC, Rimm EB, et al. Prospective study of beverage use and the risk of kidney stones. Am J Epidemiol 1996;143:240–7.
Rodgers A. Effect of cola consumption on urinary biochemical and physicochemical risk factors associated with calcium oxalate urolithiasis. Urol Res 1999;27:77–81.
Shuster J, Jenkins A, Logan C, et al. Soft drink consumption and urinary stone recurrence: a randomized prevention trial. J Clin Epidemiol 1992;45:911–6.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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