When bones ache, fatigue becomes normal and the immune system weakens, a phosphorus deficiency is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. Because in this country such a lack is rather rare. But what many people don’t know is that certain medications disrupt the body’s absorption of phosphorus.
In contrast to iron or calcium deficiency, phosphorus deficiency (hypophosphatemia) is not widespread. However, when it does, the deficiency affects performance, the immune system, and bones. Therefore, a phosphorus deficiency can be particularly harmful to children because it can cause growth retardation.
What is phosphorus?
Phosphorus is an important mineral for the human body. If it is ingested through food, it is called phosphate. These are the salts of phosphoric acid. Phosphorus is rarely found in its pure form.
What are the causes of phosphorus deficiency?
Since the mineral is found in almost all foods, a phosphorus deficiency is extremely rare. Artificial phosphate is also added to many foods, which is included in the supply. The supply is sometimes even above the required values. The main causes of a phosphorus deficiency are therefore side effects of medication and diseases that lead to increased phosphorus excretion or reduced absorption in the body.
These include alcoholism, which often entails malnutrition and thus a reduced intake of phosphorus, as well as a severe vitamin D deficiency. Because vitamin D is involved in the regulation of phosphorus levels. Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia can also impede the absorption of phosphorus.
Another cause of phosphorus deficiency is the long-term use of aluminum-containing medicines for heartburn (antacids). Aluminum and phosphorus form insoluble compounds that the body cannot absorb in this form.
Too high an iron concentration can also reduce the availability of phosphorus. The same applies to excessive calcium intake. Here, too, the two minerals can combine, which reduces the absorption of phosphorus.
What are the symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency?
A phosphorus deficiency can trigger various symptoms. They should always be clarified by a doctor, as there can also be other causes behind the symptoms. The main symptoms are:
- loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain and bone loss
- weakening of the immune system
- Numbness and tingling in your arms and/or legs
- Rickets (only in children)
Severe phosphorus deficiency can even lead to diseases of the heart muscle and deformed bones. A phosphorus deficiency in childhood that is not treated promptly can therefore result in growth disorders.
How is phosphorus deficiency treated?
To counteract a phosphorus deficiency, it is usually sufficient to eat a balanced diet. However, if nutrient deficiency occurs, a possible treatment with dietary supplements should always be discussed with the doctor. Too much phosphorus can have side effects. These include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In patients with kidney weakness, it can happen that the diseased organs can no longer adequately filter the additionally supplied phosphorus, which leads to an increase in the blood. Since too much phosphate damages the bones over time, this increases the risk of bone loss (osteoporosis). Thus, both an excess of phosphorus and a lack of phosphorus are harmful to health.