Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral after calcium in your body. This mineral works with calcium to help build healthy bones. However, phosphorus plays additional roles in your body that make it necessary for the functioning of every cell. For this reason, a lack of phosphorus in your diet can be a cause for concern.
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Because phosphorus is important to bones, children and adolescents ages 9 to 18 years old need 1,250 mg of phosphorus per day for healthy development, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Adults ages 19 and older need slightly less, about 700 mg per day. Consuming less than this amount could affect your body’s ability to build and maintain healthy bones.
Having low amounts of phosphorus in your blood is a condition called hypophosphatemia. This condition can decrease your appetite and cause bone weakness that leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia, both forms of bone-wasting disease. Because your body uses phosphorus in communicating with other cells, you also can experience side effects such as numbness and tingling in your body, especially in your arms and legs. Other symptoms include increased susceptibility to infection because phosphorus plays a role in building nucleic acid that helps your body produce immune cells. In severe cases of phosphorus starvation, a person can die from lack of phosphorus.
Because phosphorus is found in a variety of foods, most men and women do not experience difficulty getting enough phosphorus in their daily diets. Examples of phosphorus food sources include dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, milk and ice cream. Meat products also contain phosphorus, including beef, chicken, turkey and fish such as halibut and salmon. Eggs also can be a phosphorus source in your diet.
Non-protein sources of phosphorus such as nuts, grains and seeds contain phosphorus in the form of phytin, or phytic acid. This compound requires the enzyme phytate for the body to be able to obtain the phosphorus. Because your body typically lacks these enzymes, you may only be able to absorb about half the phosphorus found in these food sources, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. For this reason, dairy products and meat are considered preferable sources. If you do not include these food types in your daily diet, you may wish to consider taking a phosphorus supplement. Talk to your doctor if you have a concern about your phosphorus level.