One of the fascinating things about phosphorus is that it glows in the dark, and indeed its name is Greek for "light bearer." Phosphorus isn’t just found on the heads of matches, it is also the second most abundant mineral in the human body. Phosphorus is an element whose chemical symbol is P. It has an atomic number of 15. It was discovered in 1669 by Hennig Brand, a German chemist.

Forms of Phosphorus

The most common form of phosphorus is as yellow crystals that smell like a burning match. It burns at room temperature and melts at 111 degrees F. Because of this, phosphorus is usually stored under water. It's toxic when out of water and will cause severe burns if handled without proper skin protection.

Red phosphorus, which is made by heating yellow phosphorus, is a brownish red powder that’s not poisonous. Yet another form of phosphorus has a violet color.

Phosphorus in the Body

Phosphorus is found in every cell in the body and so plays a crucial role in nearly every bodily function. It helps the body use fats, protein and carbohydrates and is important in cell maintenance and repair. It supports muscle contractions, which include the necessary contractions of the heart muscle. The B-complex vitamins riboflavin and niacin can’t be digested without phosphorus. Phosphorus is crucial in reproduction as it is part of the nucleoproteins that regulate cell division and the passing down of traits from parents to children. Phosphorus also supports growth of the skeleton and teeth, as well as the health of nerves and kidneys.

Phosphorus in the form of phospholipids help break up fats and fatty acids and makes sure that the body is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. Phosphorus also helps chemicals pass in and out of cells and helps the body secrete hormones.

Phosphorus is an absolutely vital component in the method in which chemical energy is transported within cells, as it is one of the elements that make up a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is recycled so it is only necessary to ensure the body has enough phosphorus in total, rather than needing constant top-ups, but it is never the less still vital that the body is provided with enough to build up adequate levels.

The partner of phosphorus in the body is calcium and the body works to make sure that there’s a balance between the two minerals in the bones. The ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus is two and half parts calcium to one part phosphorus, though there’s more phosphorus in the organs and other soft tissues. Any imbalance is corrected by excess mineral being excreted.

Supplemental phosphorus can be used to help repair broken bones and to help reduce the loss of calcium in people with broken bones. It has also shown some efficacy in treating osteoporosis, a disease where the bones become less dense, sometimes leading to fractures.

Phosphorus Deficiency

Phosphorus deficiency can lead to such conditions as both anorexia and obesity, mental and physical exhaustion, irregular breathing and disorders of the nervous system. It can also lead to bone loss, arthritis, rickets and tooth decay.

Food Sources

For westerners, phosphorus deficiency is quite rare as it is found in so many types of food. It can be found in red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Phosphorus Absorption

Although the body has a hard time absorbing calcium, phosphorus is readily absorbed into the blood from the intestine. A person will absorb about 70 percent of the phosphorus found in their food. The overwhelming majority of phosphorus is then stored in the bones and the teeth along with calcium.

The absorption of phosphorus not only depends on calcium but on Vitamin D, one of the few vitamins that a human being can manufacture. However, too much aluminum, iron and magnesium in the system can interfere with the absorption of phosphorus. People who take a great many antacids should also be aware of their phosphorus levels. The aluminium in these antacids might bind with the phosphorus and make it difficult to absorb. Refined sugar also disturbs the balance between calcium and phosphorus, as can diets high in fat.


Dietary experts recommend that both men and women get about 800 mg of phosphorus every day. If a woman is pregnant, she should increase her intake of phosphorus to about 1,200 mg per day. Interestingly, there seems to be no toxicity level for phosphorus supplements, as dangerous as yellow phosphorus is to handle and eat.