Consequences of phosphate imbalance

Annu Rev Nutr. 1988;8:121-48. doi: 10.1146/


Phosphorus is the sixth most abundant element in the body after oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and calcium. It comprises about 1% of the total body weight of humans. Eighty-five percent of it is stored in the bone in the form of hydroxyapatite crystal; 14% is in the soft tissues in the form of energy-storing bonds with nucleotides (ATP, GTP), nucleic acids in chromosomes and ribosomes, 2,3-DPG in the red blood cells, and phospholipids in the cells' membranes. Less than 1% is in the extracellular fluids. Phosphate balance is maintained by multiple systems. The gut is responsible for the absorption of two thirds of the 4-30 mg/kg/day of phosphate intake. Absorption sites are all along the gut; in humans the most active site is the jejunum. The kidney filters 90% of the plasma phosphate and reabsorbs it in the tubuli. In states of hypophosphatemia the kidney can reabsorb the filtered phosphates very efficiently, reducing the amount excreted in the urine virtually to zero. The healthy kidney can excrete high loads of phosphate and rid the body of phosphate overload. Through the vitamin D-PTH axis the endocrine system regulates the phosphate balance by influencing the kidney, gut, and bone. Other hormones, including thyroid, insulin, glucagon, glucocorticosteroid, and thyrocalcitonin, play a lesser role in regulation of phosphate metabolism. Because of the complex control of phosphate homeostasis, various clinical conditions may lead to hypophosphatemia. These include nutritional repletion, gastrointestinal malabsorption, use of phosphate binders, starvation, diabetes mellitus, and increased urinary losses due to tubular dysfunction. The clinical picture of phosphate depletion is manifested in different organs and is due mainly to the fall in intracellular levels of ATP and decreased availability of oxygen to the tissues, secondary to 2,3-DPG depletion. The various manifestations of phosphate depletion are listed in Table 2. The treatment of hypophosphatemia consists of administering enteral or parenteral phosphate salts. An important aspect of dealing with the potentially serious effects of phosphate depletion is to prevent the depletion from happening in the first place. Hyperphosphatemia can occur in renal failure, hemolysis, tumor lysis syndrome, and rhabdomyolysis. The treatment of hyperphosphatemia usually consists of fluid administration (in the absence of kidney failure). In chronic hyperphosphatemia, phosphate binders such as aluminum and magnesium salts can reduce the phosphate load. The use of these phosphate binders is limited by their potential side effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phosphates / blood
  • Phosphates / metabolism*
  • Phosphates / physiology


  • Phosphates