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Too Much Consumed Phosphorus May be Bad for Your Bones

Updated on May 3, 2011

Americans have doubled their average daily intake of phos­phorus over the past forty years, from less than 800 milli­grams to over 1,400 milligrams. During the same period of time, the average daily intake of other essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium have declined, leaving the dietary calcium to phosphorus ratio far short of the optimum 2.5 to 1.

Those who drink soft drinks consume even more phos­phorus. Soft drinks—regular, sugar-free and/or caffeine-free—contain phosphoric acid. This phosphoric acid is a form of phosphorus, and excess phosphorus can upset the delicate mineral balance and cause a calcium deficiency.

It would seem logical to simply add extra calcium to the diet to bring the ratio back to normal. But in fact, as both calcium and phosphorus are increased, a strange thing hap­pens. Phosphorus will be absorbed efficiently even at very high intakes, but the efficiency of calcium absorption at high intakes decreases sharply. As the level of both elements is in­creased proportionally, the ratio of absorbed calcium to phos­phorus shifts in favor of the latter, and the minerals are upset all over again.

When a person upsets his or her body chemistry by con­suming more phosphorus than the body can handle, an excess of phosphorus gets into the bloodstream. The calcium that is there forms an insoluble complex with the phosphorus. This causes less functioning calcium in the blood, so the parathyroid is stimulated to secrete its hormone, which can pull cal­cium out of the bones.

A delicate balance must be maintained between the calcium and the phosphorus. If too much calcium is consumed, it will become toxic. If too much phosphorus is consumed and gets into the bloodstream, there will not be enough calcium in the blood to balance the phosphorus, so more calcium is pulled from the bones. Not only can phosphorus bind calcium in the intestines and make it unavailable, but it can also bind other essential trace minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, and copper.

There is a widespread use of phosphorus additives in the food industry today. These substances consist mainly of such salts as orthophosphates, pyrophosphates, and polysulphates. These are used as chelators, emulsifying agents, and binders. Start reading your labels to find out how much phosphorus you are getting from non-food sources. You will be amazed.

There is one study of interest that shows what phosphate additives can do. One group of adults, the control group, was fed a normal diet consisting of 700 milligrams of calcium, 95 grams of protein and 2,200 calories. This diet included fresh meat, yeast bread, and natural cheese. A second group of adults was fed the same normal diet, but with a few crucial changes. Processed meat was substituted for the fresh meat, refrigerator rolls for the yeast rolls, and processed cheese for the natural.

This resulted in an increase in phosphorus intake of 1.1 grams per day. There was a rise in serum phosphate, a de­crease in serum calcium, a decrease in urinary calcium, and indications of parathyroid stimulation, meaning that calcium was probably pulled from the bone.

The contribution of food additives to the total intake of phosphorus is not well documented, but it could represent a large source of phosphorus in our food supply. The use of food additives has grave implications for calcium and bone metabolism.

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