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  • Osteoporosis: Taking Calcium and Vitamin D

Osteoporosis: Taking Calcium and Vitamin D

Introduction

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. But 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 and/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, cheese, or yogurt, fortified orange juice, and many vegetables.
 

Calcium should always be taken with vitamin D, because vitamin D is needed 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 years 700 600
4–8 years 1,000 600
9–18 years 1,300 600
19–50 years 1,000 600
Males 51–70 years 1,000 600
Females 51–70 years 1,200 600
71 and older 1,200 800

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding 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
    This answer is correct.

    The recommended daily amount of calcium for women older than 50 is 1,200 mg. Postmenopausal women need to increase the calcium in their diets to reduce the effects of bone loss, which naturally occurs after menopause. Osteoporosis develops as a result of bone loss. Calcium helps slow the rate of bone loss.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    The recommended daily amount of calcium for women older than 50 is 1,200 mg. Postmenopausal women need to increase the calcium in their diets to reduce the effects of bone loss, which naturally occurs after menopause. Osteoporosis develops as a result of bone loss. Calcium helps slow the rate of bone loss.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

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 osteoporosis.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Calcium helps build strong bones. The stronger your bones are, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis. Getting enough daily calcium when you have osteoporosis will help reduce bone loss.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Calcium helps build strong bones. The stronger your bones are, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis. Getting enough daily calcium when you have osteoporosis will help reduce bone loss.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

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 if you eat the soft edible bones in canned sardines and canned salmon. Foods with added (fortified) calcium include some cereals, juices, soy drinks, and tofu. The food label will show how much calcium was added.

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:

  • Calcium carbonate, which is 40% elemental calcium.
  • Calcium citrate, which is 21% elemental calcium. While lower in elemental calcium than calcium carbonate, calcium citrate is easier to digest and does not cause constipation as much as other types of calcium supplements.
  • Calcium gluconate and calcium lactate, which contain a low amount of elemental calcium.

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 more than you need.

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
    This answer is incorrect.

    Drinking milk fortified with vitamin D can be a great way to get calcium. But you would have to drink 3 to 4 cups a day to get the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium a day. You may need to add additional foods such as a cup of yogurt or some salmon to get the recommended daily amount for your age.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Drinking milk fortified with vitamin D can be a great way to get calcium. But you would have to drink 3 to 4 cups a day to get the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium a day. You may need to add additional foods such as a cup of yogurt or some salmon to get the recommended daily amount for your age.

  •  

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
    This answer is correct.

    Taking 1,200 mg of calcium supplements combined with 600 IU of vitamin D a day can provide all the daily calcium you need. You may also want to consider supplementing your daily diet with other foods rich in calcium so your body can absorb small amounts of calcium throughout each day.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Taking 1,200 mg of calcium supplements combined with 600 IU of vitamin D a day can provide all the daily calcium you need. You may also want to consider supplementing your daily diet with other foods rich in calcium so your body can absorb small amounts of calcium throughout each day.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

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.

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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References

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/7_%20Nutrients%20Summary.pdf.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
Last Revised November 6, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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