What Is the Main Function of Phosphorus in the Body?

Phosphorus is an essential mineral primarily used for growth and repair of body cells and tissues. According to the University of Maryland Medical

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Phosphorus is an essential mineral primarily used for growth and repair of body cells and tissues. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, all body cells contain phosphorus, with 85 percent found in bones and teeth. There, together with calcium, phosphorus provides structure and strength. Phosphorus is also required for a variety of biochemical processes including energy production and pH regulation.

Energy Production

Phosphorus is commonly found in the body as phosphate. Phosphates play an important role in energy production as components of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. ATP is readily used to fuel your body’s many functions. Structurally, ATP consists of adenosine, an organic compound, and three phosphate molecules. When bonding between one phosphate and adenosine is severed, energy is released which then fires cellular activity. According to the authors of “Nutrition,” energy released from ATP is used quickly, so your body contains only a small amount at any one time.

Protein Synthesis

Phosphorus is a component of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and ribonucleic acid, or RNA, long molecules which carry genetic information used to make proteins. Synthesis begins in the cell nucleus, where a portion of DNA serves as a template for RNA manufacture. RNA then carries specific coding instructions for building needed body proteins to the ribosomes, where proteins are assembled from amino acids. Without sufficient phosphorus, body protein manufacture is impaired, which eventually affects overall health.

Secondary Functions

Phosphorus also acts as a buffer, neutralizing acids to maintain normal pH in the blood. Many enzymes and hormones also contain phosphorus as a structural component. Hemoglobin, the important oxygen-carrying protein in the bloodstream, also depends upon phosphorus contained in its structure for proper function.

Food Sources and Requirements

Good food sources of phosphorus include protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, nuts and legumes, and also cereals and grains. Carbonated beverages supply significant amounts of phosphorus in the diet, too. Gordon Wardlaw and Anne Smith, in their book “Contemporary Nutrition,” report that between 20 and 30 percent of dietary phosphorus comes from food additives contained in processed foods. The Institute of Medicine’s Recommended Dietary Allowance for adults is 700 milligrams of phosphorus per day. The Tolerable Upper Intake Limit, or UL, also set by the Institute of Medicine, is 4 grams per day. Intakes above this are considered unsafe.


Because phosphorus is found in a wide variety of foods, deficiencies are rare, except in diseases that affect absorption, such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease. In children, phosphorus deficiency affects normal bone and teeth development. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, many individuals consume over twice as much phosphorus as they do calcium. Equal amounts of both minerals are necessary to avoid calcium depletion from bones. As your intake of phosphorus increases, so should your intake of calcium in order to prevent bone abnormalities.