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What is phosphorus?

Phosphorus in food or in the body is usually in the form of phosphate (PO4). Thus, phosphorus and phosphate are often used interchangeably. After calcium, phosphate is the most abundant mineral in our body. Similar to calcium, phosphate bears a strong charge; only in this case it is negative. Calcium and phosphate therefore interact with each other nicely in bone and teeth due to their strong, opposite charges. Approximately 85 percent of the phosphorus found in the body is in the skeleton and teeth and is found in every cell in the body serving a vital role in energy operations.


What foods provide phosphorus?

Those foods with a higher content of phosphorus include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and milk products, cereals, legumes, grains, and chocolate. Coffee and tea contains some phosphate as do many soft drinks contain phosphorus in the form of phosphoric acid. On the other hand, aluminum-containing substances ingested with a meal can decrease phosphorus absorption. Aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide are common ingredients in antacids.



What are the recommendations for phosphorus intake?

The recommended intake for phosphorus is similar to those for calcium and even exceeds one gram daily for teens. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults is 700 mg including pregnant and lactating women. However, pregnant or lactating females 18 years old or younger the RDA for phosphorus is 1250 mg daily matching recommendations for teens and pre-teens.


What roles does phosphorus (phosphate) play in bone and teeth?

Phosphorus found in the body is in the skeleton and teeth as a component of calcium phosphate [Ca3(PO4)2] and hydroxyapatite [Ca10(PO4)6OH2]. These complexes function to make bone and teeth hard. In addition, the phosphate found in bone can serve as a resource of this mineral to help maintain adequate amounts of phosphate in other tissues.


What role does phosphorus play in energy system?

Phosphate is also vital to the processes that allow our cells to capture the energy released in the breakdown of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. As mentioned several times, when energy is released from carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol some of it is trapped in chemical bonds involving phosphate of special molecules such as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Other phosphate-containing energy molecules are creatine phosphate (CP) and guanosine triphosphate (GTP). It is important to keep in mind that while carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol are endowed with energy, the body’s cells cannot directly use that energy. Thus, these substances are broken down as needed to produce ATP and GTP, which then can be used to power cell operations.




What other roles does phosphate play in our body?

Phosphate is used by the cells to help regulate the activity of key enzymes. For instance, a key enzyme involved in the breakdown of glycogen stores is activated when a phosphate is attached to it. It is like an on/off switch for that enzyme as well as others. In addition, phosphate is a vital component of phospholipids in cell membranes and also nucleic acids (RNA and DNA). Phospho­lipids are the primary structural components of cell membranes, while DNA serves as the instruction manuals for building proteins in cells.


Can too little or too much phosphorus be consumed?

Because most foods contain phosphorus, a deficiency is somewhat rare under normal circumstances. Toxicity is also rare perhaps with the exception of infants who receive a high phosphorus-containing formula. However, most commercially available infant formulas are not a threat in regard to their phosphorus content.



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