3 Lanthanum Carbonate Secrets: A Controversial Phosphate Binder with a Murky Future

Lanthanum carbonate, a powerful phosphate binder, plays a crucial role in managing hyperphosphatemia associated with chronic kidney disease (CKD). This medication works by preventing excess phosphate absorption in the body, which can cause bone problems, blood vessel hardening, and increased heart disease risk. However, despite its effectiveness, lanthanum carbonate’s future remains uncertain as questions arise about its long-term safety. Let’s delve into the pros, cons, and the potential place this phosphate binder holds in the management of hyperphosphatemia.

Close-up of lanthanum carbonate tablets, a medication used as a phosphate binder for patients with kidney disease.

Lanthanum Carbonate: The Basics

Lanthanum carbonate is a metallic compound belonging to the rare earth elements. It works by binding to phosphate in your gut, forming an insoluble lanthanum phosphate complex. This big lump can’t be absorbed, passing right through your digestive system. Result? Lower phosphate levels in your blood.

Pros of Lanthanum Carbonate

  • Powerful phosphate control: Lanthanum carbonate is particularly potent in lowering phosphate levels, making it useful for patients with severe hyperphosphatemia.
  • Flexibility for Short-Term Use: Due to its effectiveness, lanthanum carbonate may be suitable for short-term management of phosphate levels, potentially minimizing concerns about long-term accumulation.
  • No calcium: Unlike calcium-based binders, lanthanum carbonate does not increase calcium levels, making it a safer option for individuals with existing high calcium levels.

Cons of Lanthanum Carbonate

  • Potential for accumulation: While lanthanum carbonate effectively lowers phosphate, a small percentage is absorbed by the body. Over time, it can accumulate primarily in the bones, liver, and potentially the brain. Research is ongoing to determine the exact long-term consequences of this accumulation, with some studies suggesting potential effects on bone health, cognitive function, and liver function.
  • Cost and availability: Lanthanum carbonate is typically more expensive than other phosphate binders and may not be as widely available.
  • Side Effects: Gastrointestinal upset like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be a downside of therapy.
  • Comparative risks: It’s crucial to weigh the potential risks of lanthanum accumulation against the very real dangers of uncontrolled hyperphosphatemia. High phosphate levels can lead to bone weakening and fractures, dangerous calcification of blood vessels (increasing heart disease risk), itchy skin, and other complications. The decision to use lanthanum carbonate requires a careful risk-benefit analysis with a nephrologist.

Beyond Phosphate Binding

Interestingly, research hints at lanthanum carbonate possibly having applications outside of just phosphate control. Some studies suggest potential benefits in:

  • Slowing CKD progression
  • Improving bone health in dialysis patients
  • Treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Note: These potential uses are still under investigation.

A Brief History

Lanthanum carbonate’s journey as a phosphate binder began in the early 2000s. It was initially welcomed due to its potency and lower risk of calcium-related issues. However, as concerns about potential lanthanum accumulation surfaced, its popularity began to wane.

Has Lanthanum Fallen Out of Favor?

While it’s not the first-line choice in many cases, lanthanum carbonate hasn’t entirely disappeared. It can still be a helpful tool for specific scenarios, such as:

  • Short-term phosphate management
  • Patients with severe hypercalcemia
  • Hyperphosphatemia that doesn’t respond well to other binders

Should You Be Worried?

If you’re currently prescribed lanthanum carbonate, it’s crucial to have an ongoing conversation with your nephrologist. They’ll weigh the benefits and risks of this medication for your specific health situation.

Whether lanthanum carbonate’s story will see a resurgence or a final chapter remains uncertain. The future of phosphate control may shift further towards other binders or even novel therapies yet to be discovered.

Choosing the Right Phosphate Binder

Emphasize that the decision on which phosphate binder is most suitable is incredibly personalized. Here’s why:

  • Specific needs: Each patient’s phosphate levels, calcium levels, and other health conditions play a major role in the choice of binder.
  • Side effect tolerance: Some patients might be better suited to binders with fewer gastrointestinal side effects, even if they require a slightly higher pill burden.
  • Adherence: The number of pills to take, cost, and even taste can all influence how well a patient sticks to a medication regimen.

The Future of Phosphate Control

You could touch upon the following avenues of research and potential innovation:

  • Advances in existing medications: Scientists are looking at ways to modify existing binders, like sevelamer, to improve their phosphate-binding power and reduce side effects.
  • Novel binders: Researchers are investigating entirely new types of phosphate binders, some of which could potentially be even more effective or better tolerated.
  • Dietary strategies: Alongside medications, a great deal of research focuses on dietary strategies to restrict phosphate naturally and decrease the reliance on binders.


Hutchison, A. J., et al. (2013). Lanthanum carbonate for the treatment of hyperphosphatemia in CKD 5D: Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial in mainland China. BMC Nephrology, 14(29). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2369-14-29

Kalantar-Zadeh, K., Forfang, D., Bakris, G. L., Martin, K., Moe, S. M., & Sprague, S. M. (2023, October 23). Managing Phosphate Burden in Patients Receiving Dialysis: Beyond Phosphate Binders and Diet. Kidney360. https://doi.org/10.34067/kid.0000000000000262

Take Charge of Your Kidney Health

Call to Action: Talk to your doctor about the best phosphate binder options for your individual needs.