Is High Phosphorus Intake in the U.S. Diet Hazardous?

Controversy arises as to whether or not a high dietary intake of phosphorus is hazardous to health because in the U.S. the typical diet tends to be high in phosphorus and low in calcium (1). But although the need for increasing calcium for bone health has been clearly established, reducing phosphorus to re-balance the calcium:phosphorus ratio has not been shown to have any additional benefits (1;2).

Serum phosphate levels, for example, when high can reduce vitamin D formation in kidneys reducing serum calcium (2). But high phosphorus also appears to reduce urinary calcium indicating a reversal of the prior detriment (2). In addition, the kidney is effective in maintaining normal phosphorus balance by increasing excretion of phosphorus when necessary (1).

At this time no research including at least one controlled trial has not found any adverse effect from a diet high in phosphorus at levels common in the U.S. (1;2). The exception is in those with impaired excretion such as those with kidney dysfunction (2).

It is worth noting that because calcium interferes with phosphorus absorption, a higher calcium diet would lower phosphorus intake naturally (1). And when intake of phosphorus is in the form of phytate—which is plentiful in grains, legumes and nuts—it just might be detrimental because phytate can interfere with absorption of minerals such as calcium (1).

Reference List

1. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.
2. Linus Pauling Institute. Phosphorus. Micronutrient Information Center. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/phosphorus/

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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