While many people are aware that fast foods and processed foods are not generally sources of good nutrition, and they can contain chemical additives that could contribute to health problems, added phosphates are rarely among the list of concerns, but they should be. Chronic kidney disease and a potential causal link to cardiovascular disease are topping the list of health risks associated with hyperphosphatemia-a condition of having an elevated level of phosphates in your system.
Phosphates do occur naturally in foods, but naturally occurring phosphates are not a high risk for most people, as these phosphates are organically bound and are not easily absorbed into the digestive system. However, phosphates that have been added to foods such as sodas, processed and canned meats, including many ingredients found in fast food chains or hot dog brands, cold cuts and commercial baked goods are of concern. In these products the chemical phosphate has been added to serve as a preservative, and these phosphates (inorganic) are easily absorbed through the digestive system and can lead to hyperphosphatemia.
While hyperphosphatemia has largely thought to have been a problem specific to kidney disease, research published by the National Institute of Health in January 2012 stated that more recent studies have shown that the association between high phosphate concentrations and higher mortality is not restricted to persons with renal disease. Researchers Eberhard Ritz, Prof. MD; Kai Hahn, MD; […]; and Johannes Mann, Prof. MD reported, “It can also be observed in persons with cardiovascular disease and even in the general population. High-normal serum phosphate concentrations are associated with coronary calcification in young, healthy men and were found to be a predictor of cardiovascular events in the Framingham study. Elevated mortality in association with high-normal serum phosphate concentrations was seen mainly among persons with cardiovascular disease who had normal renal function. In the Framingham study, 375 of the 4127 subjects died within 60 months; the adjusted mortality risk was 22% for each 1 mg/dL elevation of the serum phosphate concentration.”
These published results were so alarming that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked by the European Commission to undertake a scientific assessment of the association between “high intake of phosphates as food additives and increased cardiovascular risk in the general population.” While the preliminary research published in 2013 reports inconclusive evidence, the evidence did suggest that there is a possibility of a causal link that needs to be explored. The research of the EFSA is ongoing.
In America, while the FDA considers phosphate additives to be dangerous, and it has even issued a warning: using more than one dose in 24 hours of over-the-counter (OTC) sodium phosphate drugs to treat constipation can cause rare but serious harm to the kidneys and heart, and even death;” phosphate additives are not required to be specifically included on food labels. Instead, a common phrase such as “artificial preservatives” is used.
The most effective way to prevent dangerous effects of hyperphosphatemia is to ensure that you and your family stick to a natural whole foods diet, consisting of fresh vegetables, fruit and fresh meats and fish while drinking purified water, tea and fresh raw vegetable and fruit juices. Eating organic foods as often as possible is also recommended. While a small amount of phosphate additives consumed on rare occasion is not likely to cause any health problems for most healthy adults, making attempts to avoid it completely is highly recommended.