Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Calcium, vitamin D, and your bones

Alternate Names

Osteoporosis - calcium; Osteoporosis - low bone density

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 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.

How Much Calcium and Vitamin D Do I Need?

All adults under age 50 should have:

  • 1,000 mg of calcium daily
  • 400 - 800 IU of vitamin D daily

Adults age 51 and older should have:

  • Women -- 1,200 mg of calcium daily
  • Men -- 1,000 mg of calcium daily
  • Men and women -- 800 - 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily
Calcium source

Calcium and Dairy Products

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

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.

  • Yogurt, most cheeses, and buttermilk come in fat-free or low-fat versions.
  • Vitamin D helps your body use calcium , which is why vitamin D is often added to milk in production.

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 foods that can help you get enough calcium are:

  • Salmon and sardines that are canned with their bones (you can eat these soft bones)
  • Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini (sesame paste), and dried beans
  • Blackstrap molasses

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

  • Cook high-calcium vegetables in a small amount of water for the shortest possible time. They will keep more calcium this way.
  • Be careful about what you eat with calcium-rich foods. Certain fibers, such as wheat brain and foods with oxalic acid (spinach and rhubarb), can prevent your body from absorbing calcium.

Your doctor may recommend a calcium or vitamin D supplement for the calcium and vitamin D you need.

References

Lewiecki EM. In the clinic. Osteoporosis. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):ITC1-1-15;quiz ITC1-16.

National Osteoporosis Foundation. Clinician's Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. Washington, DC: National Osteoporosis Foundation; 2010.

Updated: 5/17/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com