Calcium and vitamin D are essential for maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Your recommended daily needs will depend on your age, sex, and health history.

Calcium is a mineral found in foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese. It’s also found in smaller amounts in plant-based foods, especially leafy green vegetables.

You can also find calcium in dietary supplements. Calcium supplements often include vitamin D, which is a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium better.

You probably already know that calcium can help you maintain bone health. This article provides an overview of calcium and vitamin D recommendations for osteoporosis based on your age and sex.

Calcium is a mineral that strengthens the bones and teeth. It’s also involved in other bodily functions, such as transmitting nerve signals, releasing hormones, and contracting muscles.

The body cannot make calcium, so it relies on us to provide it through dietary sources. Your body absorbs between 15% and 45% of the calcium you eat, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough.

The most well-known dietary sources of calcium include dairy products such as milk and cheese. However, calcium is also found in some fish products and leafy green vegetables. Other foods, such as plant-based milks, cereals, and tofu, are fortified with calcium.

Whats the connection between calcium and vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient found in a handful of foods, including egg yolks, trout, salmon, and mushrooms. It’s also produced by the skin during exposure to direct sunlight.

It plays an important role in keeping bones healthy by boosting calcium absorption in the intestinal tract and maintaining calcium blood levels. Vitamin D also plays a role in bone growth and remodeling.

If you’re low on vitamin D, it affects your ability to absorb calcium, and your bones can weaken.

Calcium is the main structural component of your bones. It keeps them dense and firm, which helps prevent breaks.

Your bones don’t stop growing once you reach adulthood. In fact, the bones are constantly regenerating, with old bone gradually being replaced by new bone. This process requires calcium, which is why getting enough is important at every age.

The bones begin to naturally lose calcium as you get older. This increases your risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and fragile bones. Osteoporosis also increases your risk of fracturing a bone. When your bones are fragile, even a minor fall or bump can cause a break.

Recommended daily calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis varies according to your age and sex. In general, suggested calcium intake is highest for teenagers and older adults.

After menopause, women are at a particularly high risk of developing osteoporosis, which means their recommended calcium intake is higher.

Calcium dose recommendation chart

In their most recent guide from 2011, the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests the following calcium and vitamin D intake levels per day.

Stage, age rangeRecommended calcium
intake per day
Recommended vitamin
D intake per day
Infants, 0–6 months200 milligrams (mg)400 international units (IU)
Infants, 7–12 months260 mg400 IU
Children, 1–3 years700 mg600 IU
Children, 4–8 years1,000 mg600 IU
Adolescents, 9–18 years1,300 mg600 IU
Adults, 19–50 years1,000 mg600 IU
Older adults, 51–70 years1,000 mg (men)
1,200 mg (women)
600 IU
Older adults, 70+ years1,200 mg800 IU

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points in this article is pretty binary. Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings. Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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The best way to get calcium is to eat a variety of foods that are high in calcium on a daily basis. Some excellent sources of calcium include:

  • dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • fish, including canned sardines and salmon with bones
  • fortified drinks, including fruit juices and plant-based milks
  • fortified foods, including breakfast cereals, oatmeal, and tofu
  • vegetables, including broccoli, kale, and bok choy

If you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, a doctor might recommend a calcium supplement.

Calcium supplements can be a good option for people who can’t consume enough calcium in their diet: for example, people who are lactose intolerant or vegan. But, it’s important to note that you should only use calcium supplements if a healthcare professional recommends them.

Your recommended supplement dose will depend on how much dietary calcium you consume. Follow a doctor’s instructions when taking your calcium supplement.

If you require a calcium supplement, a doctor might recommend taking vitamin D as well. Many supplements include both calcium and vitamin D.

There are two main types of calcium supplements available, including calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Other calcium supplements include calcium sulfate, calcium phosphate, and calcium lactate, among others.

Calcium citrate is slightly easier to absorb than other forms, particularly when stomach acid levels are low.

Talk with a doctor about whether calcium supplements are right for you. In certain populations, including healthy postmenopausal women, calcium supplements have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis or have received a diagnosis of osteoporosis, a doctor might suggest additional treatments to prevent symptoms. These can include:

  • Exercise: Moderate physical activity has been shown to improve bone health.
  • Protein: A diet high in lean proteins can also help you avoid osteoporosis. Older adults need more protein in their diet to maintain bone density and muscle mass.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps your body metabolize calcium. A diet rich in whole foods, leafy greens, and nuts can help you make sure you’re getting an adequate daily supply.
  • Balanced diet: Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is important to maintaining your overall strength and health.
  • Osteoporosis medications: These include bisphosphonates and antibody drugs.
  • Hormone-regulating medications: Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), calcitonin, and replacement parathyroid hormones (PTHs) help regulate the hormones involved in maintaining bone health.

How does calcium absorption work?

Calcium is absorbed through the walls of the intestines via vitamin D. Vitamin D receptors in the intestines allow for the transport of calcium.

Does taking calcium reverse osteoporosis?

While osteoporosis isn’t reversible, taking calcium and vitamin D can help to reduce potential complications, such as bone fractures.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that’s essential to bone health. It helps your body absorb calcium from your diet. Your skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to direct sunlight.

But vitamin D can also be found in foods like eggs, trout, salmon, and some types of mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light.

Calcium and vitamin D are two essential nutrients for bone health. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.

Getting enough of both becomes more important as you age. If you’re a woman over the age of 50, for example, you may need to increase your intake of calcium to prevent osteoporosis.

If you’re worried you’re not getting enough calcium or vitamin D, talk with a doctor to learn more.