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Osteoporosis: Taking Calcium and Vitamin D


What is an Actionset?

Bone thinning occurs as part of the natural process of aging. If the thinning continues to the point that your bones become fragile and in danger of breaking, you have osteoporosis. However, osteoporosis is considered a preventable disease.

Key points

  • After age 30, men and women naturally begin to lose bone mass. You can slow bone loss and possibly prevent osteoporosis by eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is especially critical for women in the first few years after menopause, when bone mass is lost more rapidly.
  • If you do not get enough calcium and vitamin D from the foods you eat, change your diet or take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
  • If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, it's important to get enough calcium and vitamin D and take prescribed medicine for the disease.
  • Calcium is found in many foods, including dairy products such as milk or yogurt, fortified orange juice, and many vegetables.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighting pen to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

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Calcium should always be taken with vitamin D, because vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium.

Recommended calcium and vitamin D by age1, 2
Age Recommended calcium intake (milligrams a day)Recommended vitamin D intake (international units a day)
1–3 years700600
4–8 years1,000600
9–18 years1,300600
19–50 years1,000600
Males 51–70 years1,000600
Females 51–70 years1,200600
71 and older 1,200800

Pregnant or nursing women need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

Test Your Knowledge

If I am a woman older than age 50, I need about 1,200 mg of calcium a day to keep my bones strong and healthy.

True
False

Calcium, combined with vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise, keeps bone loss from getting worse or helps reduce the rate of bone loss that occurs with osteoporosis. Your bones need vitamin D to absorb calcium. Taking vitamin D along with calcium can help strengthen your bones.

Test Your Knowledge

Calcium increases bone mass and reduces the risk for developing osteoporosis.

True
False

Many foods contain high amounts of calcium. It is important that you also get enough vitamin D along with calcium to help your body absorb the calcium.

Calcium is in foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage have calcium. You can get calcium eating canned sardines and canned salmon from the soft edible bones. Foods with added (fortified) calcium include some cereals, juices, soy drinks, and tofu. The food label will show how much.

Vitamin D is in foods such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. These are some of the best foods to eat when trying to get more vitamin D. Other foods with vitamin D, but in small amounts, include cheese, egg yolks, and beef liver. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods such as milk and some cereals, orange juices, yogurts, margarines, and soy drinks.

For example, a good source of calcium is fat-free milk fortified with vitamin D. Four cups a day provide about 1,200 mg of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include shrimp, blackstrap molasses, calcium-fortified tofu, and almonds.

Everyone who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis should try to eat a diet rich in these nutrients. People who do not get enough calcium from their diet may need to take a calcium supplement with vitamin D.

Types of calcium supplements include:

You can get calcium supplements at most grocery stores and pharmacies. They come in tablets, chewables, and capsules. Not all supplements contain the same amount of calcium or contain vitamin D, so read the label to see which one is best for you.

Consider how much calcium and vitamin D you normally get in your diet. Then each day take the number of tablets that satisfies your daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D based on your age and health condition. Be careful not to take too much. Calcium supplements with vitamin D may slightly increase your risk of kidney stones.3

Test Your Knowledge

I am 35 years old and drink 2 cups of milk a day. That's enough calcium to reduce my risk of bone loss.

True
False

I am a woman older than 65, and I do not eat dairy products. I can get enough calcium by taking a good calcium supplement along with getting enough vitamin D to help my body absorb the calcium.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you can feel confident that you know how to get enough calcium daily to prevent or treat osteoporosis and reduce your risk for bone loss.

Citations

  1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.

  2. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, vitamins. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.

  3. Jackson RD, et al. (2006). Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and the risk of fractures. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(7): 669–683.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerCarla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
Last RevisedJanuary 14, 2011

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