The Role of Calcium and Vitamin D in Bone Health

Nutrients for Osteoporosis Prevention

You probably already understand that calcium is good for your bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. The nutrient is essentially a building block of bone, and it helps maintain bone strength throughout your lifetime. But calcium can only reach its full bone-building potential if your body has enough vitamin D.

Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones—calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps your body effectively absorb calcium. So even if you’re taking in enough calcium, it could be going to waste if you’re deficient in vitamin D.

Calcium
Your bones contain 99.5% of the total calcium in your body. Many people take in enough calcium from the foods they eat.
 
Good sources of calcium include:
  • Reduced-fat or skim milk
  • Low-fat plain or fruit yogurt
  • Swiss cheese
  • Calcium-fortified juice
  • Calcium-fortified cereal
  • Tofu
The daily recommended dietary calcium intake varies by age, sex, and hormone status. Recent studies have shown that many American girls do not get enough calcium in their diet after the age of 11. Many blame this on the substitution of soda for milk, yet the problem does not seem to be the same for males (1).
 
It is important to note that many women of all ages in the US do not get enough calcium in their diet. The vast majority of endocrinologists encourage their female patients to take supplemental calcium daily.
 
One of the easiest and most effective methods of increasing your calcium intake is to take an oral calcium supplement. There are several over-the-counter forms of oral calcium that can help maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about what option is best for you.
 
Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Sunlight is actually the main source of vitamin D for many people. However, staying in the sun without proper skin protection puts you at risk for skin cancer. If you’re worried about this risk, or live in a northern climate where sun exposure isn’t a year-long guarantee, many foods will provide you with your daily intake of vitamin D.
 
Good sources of vitamin D include:
  • Vitamin D-fortified milk
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish
 
You may want to take a daily multi-vitamin or vitamin D supplements. There are also calcium supplements available that also contain vitamin D.
 
The following chart shows the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s (NOF) recommended calcium and vitamin D intake according to age, sex and hormone status:
 
NOF Calcium and Vitamin D Recommendations
Children & Adolescents
Calcium (Daily)
Vitamin D (Daily)
1 through 3 years
500 mg
400 IU**
4 through 8 years
800 mg
400 IU**
9 through 18 years
1,300 mg
400 IU**
Adult Women & Men
Calcium (Daily)
Vitamin D (Daily)
19 through 49 years
1,000 mg
400-800 IU
50 years and over
1,200 mg
800-1000 IU
Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women
Calcium (Daily)
Vitamin D (Daily)
18 years and under
1,300 mg
400-800 IU
19 years and over
1,000 mg
400-800 IU
**NOF does not have specific vitamin D recommendations for these age groups. These are the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (2).
 
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D—either through your diet or a supplement—is an essential part of any osteoporosis prevention plan. Talk to your doctor about how best to include these nutrients into your daily routine.