Phosphorus is an essential mineral which was discovered in 1669. It is important for the normal functioning of the body and is required by every cell. Most of the phosphorus in the body is present in the teeth and bones. It exists in several forms, the common from being white phosphorus, which is a waxy, white solid, colorless and transparent in its pure state.
Phosphorus plays an important role in building strong teeth and bones, in the form of a calcium phosphate salt. It is involved in the production of collagen, which is an integral part of bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Phosphorus makes up the structure of cell membrane in the form of phospholipids, contributes to the function of many enzymes and is an important component of nucleic acids.
Other functions of phosphorus include a role in energy metabolism, kidney function, activation of B complex vitamins, nerve conduction and maintaining regular heartbeat. Thus, phosphorus has a wide range of functions which maintain life in all organisms.
Phosphorus is present in all natural foods as it is a component of all living cells. Good sources of phosphorus include meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, milk and cheese. Fruits and vegetables contain small amounts though vegetables such as carrots, corn, apples and broccoli are good sources of phosphorus.
Phosphorus in plant sources such as cereals, beans and nuts is in the form of phosphate called phytate or phytic acid. Humans do not possess the enzyme to liberate phosphorus from phytate, and as a result, only half of phosphorus from this source can be utilized by the body.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for phosphorus was based on the maintenance of normal serum phosphate levels in adults.
According to Institute of Medicine recommendations, the RDA for phosphorus are as follows:
- 0 to 6 months: 100 mg/day (Adequate Intake)
- 7 to 12 months: 275 mg/day (Adequate Intake)
- 1 to 3 years: 460 mg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 500 mg/day
- 9 to 18 years: 1,250 mg
- Adults: 700 mg/day
- Pregnant or lactating women: Younger than 18 years: 1,250 mg/day ;and older than 18 years: 700 mg/day
Phosphorus deficiency is not very common as phosphorus is found in abundance in the diet. However, certain medical conditions can lead to its deficiency. Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency include loss of appetite, signs of weakness and lack of energy, anxiety, skin sensitivity, numbness and irritability. Bone related problems are observed, such as pain in the bones, stiff joints, rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
The kidneys are efficient at removing excess phosphate from the circulation. However, in case of kidney failure, ecessively high levels of phosphorus in the blood can combine with calcium and form deposits in the soft tissues of the body. This leads to hardening and damage of the organs, specially kidneys. Very high phosphorus levels can also interfere with calcium uptake and the ability of the body to utilize other minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc.
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