Phosphate: Are We Secretly Overdosing On It?


The last 10 years has seen an extraordinary push towards food that people feel is “clean.”

No funny sounding ingredients on the label.

Animal treatment that’d make us feel comfortable dropping off our pets there.

Rugged farmers with squared jaw lines and taut, muscular bodies that remind us of Robert Redford.

That’s right………..we’re sick of McFood.

Curiously enough, did you know ALL OF THESE THINGS point towards a common enemy that’s rarely acknowledged?

There’s a mineral causing metabolic madness that’s hiding in plain sight.

That’s right folks….I’m talking about phosphate.

Why Phosphate?

Lots of people have the impression that phosphate is this trace mineral we only get after nibbling on some caviar or slurping down raw oysters.

That’s not the case.

Phosphate is ubiquitous in the food supply and has the following curious facts about it:

  • It’s very well absorbed.  70% of dietary phosphate makes it out of the GI tract after a meal.
  • Calcium gets a reputation as being the primary constituent of bone, but it’s actually calcium and phosphate that comprise 70% of its material.
  • Most people have levels of circulating phosphate that are chronically high.  The median adult has phosphate levels 150% above what the RDA recommends.
  • Practically all food additives, regardless of their purpose, are phosphate based.

The Trouble In Paradise

Having higher than normal levels of a nutrient isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  After all, nutrients by definition are safe in large quantities.

So should persistently high phosphate levels really be a cause of concern?

Not necessarily, but there are three side effects of phosphate over-consumption we ought to be wary of:

  • Kidney health.  Phosphate is primarily metabolized in the kidneys, and persistently high phosphate intake can impair kidney function.  When kidneys stop filtering toxins from the blood you get a condition called Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and inhibiting the absorption of phosphate is the primary way CKD drugs work.  Over 26 million people have CKD in the USA.
  • Antiquated RDA’s.  Up to 50% of your phosphate intake comes from food preservatives.  The RDA’s for phosphate intake were set in the 1940’s when they weren’t a prominent part of the food supply.
  • Calcium in your arteries.  High phosphate levels lead to arterial calcification. which is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  When your body starts dropping calcium in your blood vessels it’s a good bet that a visit with your neighborhood cardiologist is right around the corner.

Somewhat surprisingly the details of phosphate metabolism are not very well studied.  Strong associations have been made between phosphate and kidney/vascular function, but the birds and the bees of why it happens is still a bit of a black box.


What’s The Impact of High Phosphate Food Additives?

The big outlier in our phosphate intake is the consumption of food additives, which pushes it into the red zone.

What this exactly means for your health isn’t entirely clear, but a study was recently published in the Journal of Endocrine Metabolism that examined the effect and the results were……..interesting.

They took a group of 10 people, fed them a tightly monitored preservative free diet, then substituted in levels of high-phosphate additives that mirror what people typically get in their diet and compared the levels of different markers for mineral metabolism.

The interesting results were the changes in compounds that promote arterial calcification.

Three proteins called osteocalcin, osteopontin, and FGF23 were all significantly higher, which signals an enhanced tendency to deposit calcium in your arteries.  Not good for your heart.

The good news is there are a lot of reasons to cast doubt on the significance of these findings.  10 people isn’t a large sample, most of them were men (women handle phosphate differently), and adherence to the intended diets is impossible to measure entirely.

The bad news is they conducted a much more tightly controlled experiment on mice and the results were a lot worse.  They monitored the mice for almost 4 months and doing experiments on rodents allows you to completely control their environment.

The same calcifying proteins were increased, but to an amount 10X found in the humans, as you can see here:

phosphate markers


That’s pretty striking, especially when you consider the amount of phosphate used is what people typically get in their day-to-day diet.  Lots of times these studies will use a deliberately large dose in order to establish the effect.

But this was just a snapshot of what happens when you properly isolate one aspect of their food intake.

Hmmmm……….take heed folks.

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