Nutrition / Diet Urology / Nephrology

Is tricalcium phosphate bad for your health?

Tricalcium phosphate is a calcium salt found in many nutritional supplements. Many people wonder about the safety of tricalcium phosphate, including side effects and whether it causes cancer.

Some people take supplements containing tricalcium phosphate to supplement their daily calcium intake if they are not getting enough calcium from diet alone. However, tricalcium phosphate is a concentrated source of calcium and taking too much can cause high calcium levels or hypercalcemia.

High levels of calcium can cause:

  • constipation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • muscle pain
  • weakness
  • excessive urination

It may also cause dehydration, fatigue, loss of appetite, thirst, and mental confusion. Side effects may also occur if a person does not take it correctly, is taking certain medications, or has particular diseases.

What it is and its uses

Tricalcium phosphate in a bowl
People can find tricalcium phosphate in many nutritional supplements

Some calcium phosphates derive from phosphate rocks, calcium from plant sources, and ammonia.

These can be considered vegan. Most of the time, however, calcium phosphates are made from ground animal bones.

Calcium phosphate aids in cell functioning and plays a vital role in many different body processes, including bone growth and energy production.

Tricalcium phosphate is effective as a nutritional supplement because it is readily absorbed in the body. However, there is little evidence to show it is more effective than other calcium supplements, in particular, those containing citrate and carbonate.

Tricalcium carbonate also has many other uses. It is found in many household items, including baby powder, toothpaste, and antacids. A variety of industries use tricalcium carbonate. For example, the biomedical sector uses tricalcium phosphate to make cement or composite to repair bones.


What are the health risks?

Taking tricalcium phosphate may have a range of risks.

Hypercalcemia

One health risk of tricalcium phosphate is taking too much and developing hypercalcemia. Most often, the symptoms of high calcium levels are mild, but emergencies do occur, although this is rare.

However, it is important to note that someone would have to take a significant amount of tricalcium phosphate or have certain medical conditions to develop hypercalcemia.

The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine reported on the case of an 80-year-old man, who went to the emergency room showing signs of hypercalcemia, including:

  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • dry mouth
  • confusion

Most of his blood work was normal, but his total serum calcium numbers were higher than they should be at 14.4 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A healthy range is approximately 8.6 to 10.0 mg/dL.

The 80-year old had a variety of diseases, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, and hepatitis C that may have contributed to his hypercalcemic emergency.

Kidney stones

Taking tricalcium phosphate may also increase the risk of developing kidney stones. One report from the Oregon State University suggests that the risk for kidney stones is higher in women who take calcium supplements and multivitamin supplements, though the overall evidence is conflicting.

Cardiovascular problems

Several studies have reported an increased risk for cardiovascular events in people who take calcium supplements. One report in the journal, Australian Prescriber finds calcium supplements may increase the risk for heart attack by about 25 percent and the chance for stroke by up to 20 percent in women.

Most researchers, however, believe the positive effects of calcium supplements on bone health and reducing fracture risk outweigh the increased cardiovascular risk. The National Osteoporosis Foundation and American Society for Preventive Cardiology determined that as long as people do not exceed the daily recommended amount, calcium is considered safe.

Tricalcium phosphate and kidney disease

female gp in consultation with her patient
It is recommended to speak with a doctor about keeping calcium levels healthy.

Tricalcium phosphate is not a good option for people with kidney disease.

When a person has kidney disease, their kidneys are unable to remove phosphorus effectively.

This is important because high levels of phosphorus can affect the levels of calcium in the body, sometimes, making bones brittle and weak. High levels of phosphorus can also cause calcium to enter blood vessels, lungs, eyes and the heart.

Anyone living with kidney disease or limited kidney function should talk to a doctor about the best ways to keep calcium levels healthy, without further damaging their kidneys and other organs.

It is also essential that people with kidney problems know how much phosphorus they are consuming and where they are getting it from. A typical low phosphorus diet for a person with limited kidney function should not exceed 1,000 milligrams (mg) daily of phosphorus.


Tricalcium phosphate and cancer risks

Researchers suggest that diets high in inorganic phosphates, which are additives found mostly in processed foods, such as meats and cheese, stimulate the growth of small cell cancers.

One study from the American Thoracic Society that studied mouse models reports that diets high in these phosphates may accelerate the growth of lung cancer tumors and contribute to tumor development in people who have an increased risk for lung cancer.

Other studies have found a connection between inorganic phosphates and the development of a variety of cancer types.

One Swedish study reported in BMC Cancer measured serum levels of inorganic phosphate (Pi) of people aged 20 years or older to assess cancer risk. The Swedish researchers found increasing Pi levels was a higher cancer risk in men, while in women, low levels of Pi were associated with higher risk of certain cancers.


Takeaway

Individuals, especially those with risk factors for different types of cancers and kidney disease, should talk to their doctor before taking any calcium supplement, including tricalcium phosphate.

The safest and most effective way to increase calcium intake and maintain calcium levels is by eating calcium-rich foods. Excellent sources of calcium include:

  • low-fat dairy
  • tofu
  • leafy greens, kale, and spinach
  • canned fish (sardines)
  • soybeans

A doctor is in the best position to determine whether someone needs a supplement and can recommend a specific supplement and a safe dosage.

They can also advise people who have medical conditions or are taking other medications on the best supplements to take to avoid interaction.

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