person on couch with tabletIf you’ve been living the couch potato life, it can be hard to start getting more active. But is it just habit or lack of will power getting in the way, keeping you from making exercise a part of your daily routine?

According to new research in Circulation, what you eat might be interfering, as well. The culprit? Too many phosphates.

Now, phosphorus is an essential mineral. It’s critical for bone and dental health, and plays a key role in how your body uses carbs and fats. It helps your cells generate ATP, an energy source. It’s needed to grow, maintain, and repair cells and tissues. It plays a role in nerve signaling, muscle contractions, and heart and kidney function.

In short, it’s important.

But you can get too much of a good thing, courtesy of the phosphate compounds commonly added to food.

These additives help baked goods rise, they act as emulsifiers in processed cheese and canned soup, they add flavor to cola and color to frozen french fries. They also can be added to meat, poultry and seafood to help the protein bind more water, making it juicier after freezing and reheating.

And most of it is absorbed by the body.

Earlier research has shown that phosphate overload may increase risk of mortality from chronic kidney disease and be “an independent predictor of cardiovascular events and mortality in the general population.” It may have a negative impact on bone health, as well.

What does more recent research say?

For the current study, scientists evaluated two sets of mice. One group was fed a diet high in inorganic phosphate, while the other ate a normal diet.

“We measured their oxygen uptake during exercise and found that their capacity for movement was much lower. The mice were unable to generate enough fatty acids to feed their muscles,” [co-author Dr. Wanpen] Vongpatanasin said. The researchers also looked for gene changes and found that many genes involved in skeletal muscle metabolism had changed levels after 12 weeks of the high phosphate diet.

In other words, the high level of phosphates appeared to make them less physically able to exercise normally.

“But that’s just in mice!” you say?

Well, the researchers also analyzed data from the Dallas Heart Study, in which participants had their activity monitored for a week.

Researchers examined blood test results in this group and verified that the response to phosphate in humans was similar to that in mice. Higher phosphate levels were linked to reduced time spent in moderate to vigorous exercise, while sedentary time increased as phosphate levels climbed.

While more research is needed, of course, to confirm these findings, if you find it tough to get up and moving, it wouldn’t hurt to take a hard look at your diet. Are you eating a lot of takeout food? Hyper-processed products? Try phasing them out – as gradually as you need to – in favor of real, minimally processed food.

Even if the current research were found to be totally wrong, you’d still benefit. After all, real food is what your body was designed to thrive on.


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