Why You Should Care About Phosphates In Your Body

Why You Should Care About Phosphates In Your Body

By Neesha Desai, Pharmacist (GPhC 2071387)

How familiar are you with the mineral phosphorus? As one of the less mentioned nutrients that is vital for healthy bodies, many aren’t aware of the role of phosphates in helping with the ‘release energy from our food’ and creation of strong bones and teeth. 

Getting enough phosphorus is, for most people, easy enough to do with ‘a varied and balanced diet.’ However, there are a number of conditions and diseases that can result or be exacerbated by an imbalance in the amount of phosphorus in the body. 

Here, we look at how the right levels of phosphates are maintained and which diseases have an effect on those levels (and vice versa).

Note: When we talk about phosphorus in the body, scientific studies will, more often than not, refer to the chemical phosphate, which contains phosphorus. 

Too Much Phosphorus In More Likely Than A Deficiency

traffic light under water

A phosphate deficiency is uncommon. Unlike with some nutrients, like vitamin D where a lack is much discussed, with phosphorus there is much more concern around too much in the body than not enough. 

Medications That Lower Phosphate Levels

However, there are some medications which can lower phosphorus levels in the body, such as:

  • ACE inhibitors – commonly used to treat heart failure or high blood pressure
  • Antacids – used to neutralise excess stomach acid and relieve heartburn
  • Anticonvulsants – an anti-seizure medication used for various conditions
  • Corticosteroids – an anti-inflammatory medication used for various conditions
  • Insulin – used with pancreatic conditions, such as diabetes

What Causes Too Much Phosphorus In The Body?

Without these medications, you are more likely to have too much phosphorus in your body than too little. So, how do you end up with an abundance of this mineral? There are a couple of ways you can end up with too much phosphorus:

  1. As a result of a disease or other condition
  2. As a result of consuming too much phosphorus and not enough calcium – which is needed for the body to process the phosphorus.

With a balanced diet, you are unlikely to consume too much phosphorus. However, you should be careful when supplementing. Making sure that you are getting the right amounts to meet recommended doses of whichever vitamins and minerals you are supplementing with is very important. We always recommend speaking to a nutritionist or GP before taking regular supplements.

So, on the basis that high levels of phosphates are more likely, what are the consequences and in which diseases does it occur?

Hyperphosphatemia

green lake in kidney shape

Hyperphosphatemia is the medical term for too many phosphates in the body. It is a condition that: ‘occurs because of insufficient filtering of phosphate from the blood by poorly functioning kidneys. This means that a certain amount of the phosphate does not leave the body in the urine, instead remaining in the blood at abnormally elevated levels.

Although hyperphosphatemia can occur on it’s own, it is more likely a comorbidity (secondary condition) resulting from a disease, such as Chronic Kidney Disease or Cardiovascular Disease.

Phosphates & Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term condition where the kidneys don't work as well as they should.’ It has various stages, increasing in severity, and one of the conditions that can result from this disease is too many phosphates in the blood.

There are a few conditions that can cause CKD, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney infections
  • High cholesterol 

There are some ways to prevent CKD, such as a healthy diet and careful control of any underlying issues. But, there is no cure for CKD, though there are a few treatments which range from medicine to dialysis and kidney transplants.

Those with CKD do risk developing hyperphosphatemia because of the detrimental effect on the kidneys, but they also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, another condition that can result in too much phosphorus.

Phosphates & Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.’ It comes in four types, all with varying effects on not just the heart but the body as a whole. 

In recent studies, ‘Higher serum phosphate levels consistently associate with cardiovascular disease’. What this means is that correlation has been noted between CVD and elevated levels of phosphorus. As a result, it has been suggested that lowering these levels may reduce the effects of cardiovascular conditions and so be used in treatment. 

This isn’t simply about too many phosphates in the blood, it is what happens because of these elevated levels, namely ‘vascular calcification and modulation of circulating serum hormones, specifically PTH, FGF-23, and calcitriol.’ 

These specific effects from an imbalance of phosphorus can themselves cause heart issues but also kidney disease. It can seem like a cyclical set of dominos when you look at how levels of phosphates can lead to one disease then another, or how a cardiovascular condition can lead to hyperphosphatemia and then CKD. 

Phosphate Testing Is Available

pipette with pink liquid

Anyone with an existing condition should be aware of the potential ways in which their disease or ailment might develop, including how their nutritional intake can make it worse. Thankfully, for those with concerns about phosphate levels, there is a phosphate test which can determine the quantities in the blood. A GP can then make recommendations based on the findings and help you to stay in control of your health.

Phosphate testing can also help to identify other conditions, such as ketoacidosis, which can affect those with diabetes, and various digestive system conditions that interfere with the absorption of other key minerals like magnesium and calcium. 

If you have any conditions that could result in hyperphosphatemia or are concerned about the development of a disease, then you should speak to a medical professional as soon as possible. 

More About Minerals

If you want to learn more about the power of various minerals in the body, you should check out the information in our Minerals Glossary and our articles on each nutrient.