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Calcium, vitamin D, and your bones

Osteoporosis - calcium; Osteoporosis - low bone density

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Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis
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Getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help maintain bone strength and lessen your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Bone Strength and Calcium

Your body needs calcium to keep your bones dense and strong. Low bone density can cause your bones to become brittle and fragile. These weak bones can break more easily, even without an obvious injury.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Eat foods that provide the right amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. This kind of diet will give your body the building blocks it needs to make and maintain strong bones.

In addition to getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis by exercising regularly and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol use.

How Much Calcium and Vitamin D do I Need?

Amounts of calcium are given in milligrams (mg), and vitamin D is given in international units (IU).

All children ages 9 to 18 should have:

All adults under age 50 should have:

Adults age 51 and older should have:

Men and women: 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D daily. People who are vitamin D deficient or have insufficient amounts of vitamin D will need higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation.

Too much calcium or vitamin D can lead to problems such as an increased risk for kidney stones.

Calcium and Dairy Products

Milk and dairy products are the best sources of calcium. They contain a form of calcium that your body can absorb easily. Choose yogurts, cheeses, and buttermilk.

Adults should choose fat-free (skim) milk or low-fat (2% or 1%) milk, and other lower fat dairy products. Removing some of the fat does not lower the amount of calcium in a dairy product.

If you eat very few or no dairy products, you can find calcium in other foods. It is often added to orange juice, soy milk, tofu, ready-to-eat cereals, and breads. Check the labels on these foods for added calcium.

Other Sources of Calcium

Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy (Chinese cabbage), are good sources of calcium.

Other good food sources of calcium are:

Other tips to make sure your body can use the calcium in your diet:

Your doctor may recommend a calcium or vitamin D supplement for the calcium and vitamin D you need. However, the balance between benefits and harms of these supplements is unclear.

References

Brown C. Vitamins, calcium, bone. In: Brown MJ, Sharma P, Mir FA, Bennett PN, eds. Clinical pharmacology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 39.

Cosman F, de Beur SJ, LeBoff MS, et al. Clinician's guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int. 2014;25(10):2359-2381. PMID: 25182228 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25182228/.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements website. Fact sheet for health professionals: Calcium. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional. Updated March 26, 2020. Accessed July 17, 2020.

US Preventive Services Task Force; Grossman DC, Curry SJ, Owens DK, et al. Vitamin D, calcium, or combined supplementation for the primary prevention of fractures in community-dwelling adults: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2018;319(15):1592-1599. PMID: 29677309 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29677309/.

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Review Date: 5/31/2020  

Reviewed By: Diane M. Horowitz, MD, Rheumatology and Internal Medicine, Northwell Health, Great Neck, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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