Trisodium Phosphate – side effects

What are the side effects of trisodium phosphate?

Trisodium phosphate (TSP), also referred to as trisodium orthophosphate or sodium phosphate, is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula Na3PO4.

It is a white, granular or crystalline solid, highly soluble in water.

When you mix it with water, this compound forms an alkaline solution.


TSP finds usage in commercial and domestic use products, like – cleaning agents (toilet cleaners), stain removers, food additives, dishwashing soaps, and industrial solvents.

For instance, it is used as a mildew remover, degreasing agent, and lead abating agent and to clean exterior and interior walls before painting. However, according to government studies, this chemical is bad for the environment, and, as such, trisodium orthophosphate was phased out of common household cleaning products in 2011.

Cereals and Other Foods

But, it can serve as a food additive (E339) because it modifies cereal color, provides phosphorus fortification and helps cereals flow through the extruder.

Other uses as a food additive include:

  • added to cheese to help keep its shape and melting properties;
  • in canned tuna, phosphates help reduce crystal formation;
  • acts as a leavening agent to “fluff up” foods, such as – bread, cakes, and baked goods;
  • added to meat to retain moisture during cooking and storage.


It is also found in daily consumer products, like – dental cleansers, toothpaste, hair coloring, cosmetics, shampoos, mouthwash, and bleaching agents.

Is It Vegan?

Maybe. However, in the European Union, phosphate is obtained from animal bones. Therefore, please check the source of phosphate. “Suitable for Vegetarian and Vegans” label on the food package indicates that it is obtained from a mineral source.

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Is It Gluten-Free?

Yes. This food additive is gluten-free and widely used in gluten-free food to provide better mouthfeel and stronger texture.

Improves Performance in Athletes

It has gained a following as a nutritional supplement because it can improve certain parameters of exercise performance. The basis of this belief is the fact that trisodium orthophosphate is needed for the energy-producing Krebs cycle central to aerobic metabolism.

Side Effects of Trisodium Phosphate (E339)

The United States Food and Drug Administration lists this food additive as “generally recognized as safe.” The daily limit is recommended to be 70 mg. But, since E339 is found in thousands of products, it reaches upwards of 500 mg per day.

Common side effects may include:

  • muscle pain or weakness;
  • diarrhea;
  • tired feeling;
  • increased thirst;
  • dizziness;
  • numbness or tingly feeling;
  • stomach pain;
  • headaches;
  • bone or joint pain;
  • vomiting;
  • nausea.

Acute exposure to this chemical may cause irritation of the respiratory system with subsequent coughing and pain. In severe exposures, pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the tissue and air spaces of the lungs) may develop.

Cardiovascular Problems

If you have hypertension, you may want to limit the number of foods you eat containing this food additive due to the fact that it is a source of sodium, and high sodium intake increases your risk for heart disease and hypertension.

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Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

There are no well-done studies to determine the safe use of this food additive by pregnant or nursing women. Better consult with your healthcare provider if you would like to consume foods with E339.

Drug Interactions

The substance can negatively interact with other non-prescribed or prescribed medications in the body. For instance, it can interact with certain diuretics to increase the levels of potassium in the body. Dangerously high potassium levels disrupt the normal heart rhythm, which can be fatal.


In general, phosphate additives are very well absorbed – occasionally up to 100% – which can lead to elevated blood levels. In some patients with chronic kidney disease, high phosphate levels cause a drop in calcium levels in the blood.

Symptoms of low calcium include:

  • itchy skin;
  • rash;
  • weak bones;
  • bone and joint pain;
  • numbness and tingling in the mouth;
  • muscle cramps or spasms.

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Things You Can Do About High Phosphate Levels

  • keep yourself well hydrated;
  • try to exercise and maintain your optimal functioning;
  • make sure you tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking;
  • remind your doctor if you have a history of type 2 diabetes mellitus, kidney, liver, or heart disease.

How Can You Minimize Food Additives In Your Diet?

Always Read Food Labels

It may seem obvious, but only a small number of people take the time to read labels.

Go Organic

Foods that bear the ”100 Percent Organic”’ label are made with all organic ingredients.

Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables

Washing your vegetables and fruits before you eat them will help remove some of the chemical residues as well as bacteria and other germs.

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