The second most abundant mineral in a person’s body after calcium, phosphorus, like calcium, is important for building strong teeth and bones.

Recommended Dietary Allowances of Phosphorus

In the first 6 months of life, an infant should ingest roughly 100 milligrams (mg) of phosphorus daily.  From 7 months to 12 months, this amount increases to 275 mg.  Young children (ages 1 year to 3 years) should consume about 460 mg, and older children (ages 4 years to 8 years) should get 500 mg each daily.  Between the ages of 9 years and 18 years, children and teens should receive 1,250 mg of phosphorus because of its importance for growth and development during this period.  Females who are under age 18 years and are pregnant or nursing need the same amount (1,250 mg).  Adults and seniors over the age of 19 years, including women of this age group who are currently pregnant or nursing an infant, need 700 mg of phosphorus on a daily basis.

The Role of Phosphorus in the Body

Phosphorus in the form of phosphates may be used to treat hypercalcemia (too much calcium), kidney stones caused by calcium, and hypophosphatemia (too little phosphorus).  Phosphates can sometimes also be found in enemas for laxative use.  Although the actual research on the topic is not conclusive, some athletes and bodybuilders supplement with phosphates prior to workouts or competitions with the belief that it enhances performance while simultaneously decreasing fatigue and muscle pain.

Foods that Contain Phosphorus

In general, good sources of protein tend to also be good sources of phosphorus: fish, chicken, turkey, meats, eggs, nuts, milk and milk products, and legumes.  Additional ways to make sure phosphorus is in your diet include dried fruit, carbonated beverages, potatoes, garlic, and whole grains.

How to Spot a Phosphorus Deficiency

Most people get more than enough phosphorus from their daily diets, but certain individuals – including the malnourished, alcoholics, and people with diabetes, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease – are more vulnerable to obtaining insufficient amounts of this micronutrient.  Among the symptoms of a insufficient phosphorus are irritability, weight changes, fatigue, stiffness in the joints, bone pain, poor appetite, weakness, irregular breathing, numbness, fragile bones, and anxiety.  Children who do not get enough phosphorus may show evidence of growth retardation as well as impaired development of teeth and bones.

How to Spot Phosphorus Toxicity

Having an excessive level of phosphorus is more likely to affect the majority of the American population than is having a phosphorus deficiency.  High levels of phosphorus (and sometimes correspondingly low levels of calcium) can contribute to kidney disease and possibly cardiovascular disease too.  Eating more phosphorus-containing foods requires that you also eat more calcium-containing foods. It is important to maintain a healthy balance of phosphorus and calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis as well.  Toxic levels of phosphorus can harden soft tissues and organs (calcification) and can also cause diarrhea.  In addition, very high levels of phosphorus can impair the body’s ability to process magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron.