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Getting the Right Amount of Calcium and Vitamin D

As new scientific research emerges, recommendations change. the same goes for how much calcium and vitamin D is needed for good bone health.  There is increasing evidence that too much calcium from supplements is not good and can even be harmful. This was underscored in the 2010 report from the US Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) recommending that premenopausal women and men may not benefit from additional supplementation.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is a goal established by the Institute of Medicine that will apply to 97% of population. The challenge for each of us is to know 1) how much calcium we need every day and 2) how much calcium we regularly get through our food. There is no “cookie cutter” solution. The right amount is different for different people.

Daily recommendations

Life stage group

Calcium
RDA

Vitamin D RDA

Supplement?

Infants 0 to 6 months *

*

**

No

Infants 6 to 12 months *

*

**

No

1–3 years old

700

600

No

4–8 years old

1,000

600

No

9–18 years old

1,300

600

Maybe

19–50 years old

1,000

600

No

14–18 years old, pregnant or nursing

1,300

600

Maybe

19–50 years old, pregnant or nursing

1,000

800

No

19–50 years old

1,000

600

No

MEN: 51–70 years old

1,000

600

Maybe

WOMEN: 51–70 years old

1,200

600

Maybe

71+ years old

1,200

800

Maybe

Girls age 9-18

The risks of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements are not known in this group, however, during the bone building years girls need extra calcium and might benefit from vitamin D supplements as well.

Premenopausal women

The risks of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements are unknown in premenopausal women. The likelihood of getting a benefit from the calcium supplements is low. If a premenopausal woman is meeting her RDA through food, she probably does not need to supplement. If she does not eat dairy, she may need a supplement. If she has a balance diet, she may only need an additional 500 mg of calcium and no vitamin D.

Men

The risks of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements are unknown for men. If a man is meeting his RDA through food, he probably does not need to supplement. If he does not eat dairy, he may need a supplement.

Men or Women at high risk for fracture 

1,200 mg calcium (diet + supplements) and 1,000–2,000 IUs of vitamin D

There is clear evidence of risks of taking too much calcium supplements. However, people at risk for fractures need more calcium and vitamin D. If a person with these characteristics is meeting their RDA through food, they probably do not need to supplement. If they do not eat dairy, they may need a supplement. If they have a balance diet, they may only need an additional 500 mg of calcium and 1,000–2,000 IUs of vitamin D.

What can you do?

The concept “more is better” does not apply to calcium! It is well recognized that there are upper limits for calcium that vary by age.

Before taking a daily calcium supplement, examine your diet to determine if you are meeting the daily calcium requirement. Most people who consume dairy products are likely to be getting sufficient calcium. As an example, three servings of a dairy product (low fat milk, yogurt, cheese) plus a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables provides sufficient calcium for women over age fifty. If this describes your typical daily diet, you probably do not need a calcium supplement.

However, as many as 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant and cannot eat dairy products. In addition, people with other absorption issues, such as Celiac or Crohn’s disease, may not absorb calcium. If this describes you, it is likely that you need a supplement to meet your daily requirements.

If you do need added calcium, DO NOT exceed your daily requirement. 

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