You're Not Getting Enough Phosphorus If This Happens To You

When it comes to the nutrients in our food and in our bodies, some are far more well-known than others. Iron, potassium, and sodium are common enough, while other nutrients are known by name but are otherwise mysteries. And in the case of phosphorus, the unknown nutrient is something of an unsung hero. The National Institute of Health states that many of the proteins in the human body are related to phosphorus, such as those that make up our bones, teeth, and DNA. Phosphorus also helps regulate key internal processes like enzyme activation, gene transcription, and how our cells store energy.

Given all the important work phosphorus does, developing a deficiency can be bad news. Thankfully, such deficiencies are uncommon in America. The recommended daily adult intake is 700 mg, while the average American woman takes in roughly 1,300 mg and the average American man 1,700. When a deficiency does develop, it is usually due to an underlying medical condition. The most common of these are kidney tubal defects, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), and hyperparathyroidism.

None of these conditions are spontaneous and all come with their own symptoms. DKA, for example, occurs when a diabetic person enters ketosis. Ketones build up and begin to poison the body, increasing the risk of nutrient deficiency and diabetic coma (via ADA). And hyperparathyroidism is caused by overactivity in the parathyroids, and can cause joint pain, kidney stones, and fatigue, among other symptoms, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Severe symptoms

As worrisome as the causes of phosphorus deficiencies sound, they are relatively rare and can be caught through noting their own unique symptoms. In the event a deficiency does occur, however, additional conditions can develop that will aggravate whatever is preventing a person from absorbing phosphorus.

As the NIH explains, symptoms of phosphorus deficiency can be as mild as confusion, bone pain, and an increased risk of infection. Because of phosphorus' key role in bodily functions, however, there are many symptoms that are significantly more severe. These include conditions like anorexia and anemia, which many are familiar with, as well as other conditions that may be new to many people.

One such condition is rickets, a disease that softens a child's bones (via Mayo Clinic). In adults the condition is known as osteomalacia and it is usually connected to a Vitamin D deficiency, though a lack of phosphorus can also trigger its development, according to MedlinePlus.

Another possible symptom of phosphorus deficiency is proximal muscle weakness, or weakness of the muscles that control the torso, shoulders, and pelvis (via Britannica). Ataxia, another possible symptom, can lead to similar symptoms like lack of coordination and trouble walking. However, ataxia comes with other issues like slurred speech, trouble speaking, and difficulty with eye movement, as it is a degenerative nervous system condition, according to the National Ataxia Foundation.

Such symptoms may sound dire. However, phosphorus deficiencies are extremely uncommon in people who eat a varied diet.