In this post, we will have a look at the second last of the seven essential macro elements. It is the macro element phosphorus. Here we will find an answer to the question “What is the Role of Phosphorus in the Body? – The Power Station”. You will also get to know what phosphorus is, how much you need of it, from where you can get it and what else might be interesting about this macro element.
What is Phosphorus doing in the body and why can you call it “The Power Station”?
Phosphorus has two main functions in our body. On the one hand, it is a building block of the genetic information, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and the information transcribing RNA (Ribonucleic acid). There it is found in phosphate compounds. On the other hand, it is a building block in the energy carrier ADP/ATP (adenosine di- and triphosphate). Here it is also found as phosphate. ADP/ATP are very important molecules in the cellular energy supply.
So phosphorus not only plays an important role in the structure of the genetic information and therefore is a requirement for the organization and the development of all structures and organs in our body. But it also is essential so that our cells are provided with the energy they need to work well.
What is Phosphorus?
Phosphorus is a pnictogen (belongs to the nitrogen group), highly reactive and is just as toxic as chlorine is in its free form. About 50 mg of free phosphorus is deadly to humans. The free element phosphorus exists for example as white and red phosphorus. As it is highly reactive, it is mostly found in compounds as phosphate.
Phosphorus is an essential macro element for us, as we have to get our amount through nutrition.
What is the demand of Phosphorus?
Depending on the age, health and lifestyle the daily demand for an average and healthy adult for phosphorus is about
700 milligrams (mg) per day.
Where can you get Phosphorus from (Top foods)?
Here are the Top foods, which are rich in Phosphorus:
1. Bran (up to 1.300 mg/100g),
2. Soybeans, cheese, fish (up to 600 mg/100g)
3. Walnuts, pulses, eggs (up to 400 mg/100g)
4. Oat, rice (up to 350 mg/100ml)
5. Cocoa (up to 250 mg/100ml)
Fact: Processed food can contain high amounts of phosphate, which are able to displace calcium out of the bones. Coke is a well-known example.
Phosphorus can be found in at least a low amount in nearly all foods.
What are the functions and benefits of Phosphorus?
The two main functions of phosphorus are its participation in the structure of the genetic information, the DNA and in the structure of the RNA, the information transcription and its role in the energy supply with ADP/ATP. Besides, it has several other very important and essential functions in our body.
Within the phosphate groups, it is bound to phospholipids, sugar phosphates and phosphoproteins. Phospholipids are a fundamental component of the cell membranes to give them stability and structure. Sugar phosphates are the building blocks of nucleotides, which are the building blocks of nucleic acids, which are the building blocks of the DNA and the RNA. Phosphoproteins are molecules, which don´t belong to the other two groups and they normally form compounds within the amino acids serine, threonine and tyrosine.
Moreover, phosphate is often at presence in coenzymes, formed with one of the water-soluble vitamins, namely vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. Another function of phosphate is found in the compound NADPH (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate), which is necessary in biosynthesis reactions, for example in the fat synthesis, and oxidation-reduction reactions. We already talked about NADPH in the blog post about vitamin B3 or niacin, which is also known as nicotinamide or niacinamide.
At last, phosphorus works in its compound as a phosphate as a pH-buffer in the blood to help to maintain the acid-base balance.
What deficiency symptoms of Phosphorus exist?
As nearly all food is containing phosphorus, a lack of it is seldom. Some possibilities of a deficiency are given due to malnutrition or malabsorption or a kidney disorder.
Symptoms caused by a lack of phosphorus can be as followed:
- neurological dysfunctions
- disruption of muscles and blood cells
- lack of ATP and therefore weakness or fatigue
- lack of calcium
What overdose symptoms of Phosphorus exist?
Surplus phosphorus normally is excreted through the kidneys. An overdose of phosphorus is possible due to a high consume of it and is more likely if your kidneys don´t work properly or there is a subfunction of the thyroid gland. The symptoms can be:
- calcification of organs and soft tissue
- block of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc
What else may you have to consider about Phosphorus?
The amount of phosphorus in our body is about 1%, which is 700 g for a person with 70 kg and can make up 4% of our body mass.
Although phosphate is a very helpful and versatile compound, an overdose of it should be avoided as it has the ability to displace calcium in our bones and to complicate the absorption of calcium in our gut, as it builds calcium phosphate. Particularly critically is “free” phosphate, which is found in processed foods, such as processed cheese, sausage and coke. In processed foods, it can be used as a preservative, an acidity regulator or a stabilizer.
Phosphorus was first isolated from urine through the oxidation of white phosphorus in 1669.
The word phosphorus comes from the greek word “phos – phorus”, which means light – bringing. The glow after effect of white phosphorus was first named phosphorescence and is now also called chemiluminescence.
Fact: If you are losing much water and electrolytes coke is not the best choice. Choose black tea instead with a bit sugar and salt or a vegetable broth.
Today we learned that phosphorus plays indeed a very important role in our body. In fact, it helps to support the cells with its function in the energy supply of ADP/ATP and it is a component of the DNA and the RNA. Besides it is found in many molecules as the compound phosphate, which is necessary for the biosynthesis and is there to form the cell membranes and coenzymes. As there is phosphorus in nearly all food, plenty of it is available. But be sure to not eat too much free phosphate, as it binds calcium.
In the next blog post of this category, we will have a closer look at the last remaining essential macro element, namely sulfur.
Now it is your turn. What do you think? Was something new or interesting here for you or do you want to tell us something? Let us know in the comments.