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Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D - Topic Overview

Why is it important to get enough calcium and vitamin D?

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Calcium keeps your bones and muscles—including your heart—healthy and strong.

People who do not get enough calcium and vitamin D throughout life have an increased chance of having thin and brittle bones (osteoporosis) in their later years. Thin and brittle bones break easily and can lead to serious injuries. This is why it is important for you to get enough calcium and vitamin D as a child and as an adult. It helps keep your bones strong as you get older and protects against possible breaks.

Your body also uses vitamin D to help your muscles absorb calcium and work well. If your muscles don't get enough calcium, then they can cramp, hurt, or feel weak. You may have long-term (chronic) muscle aches and pains. Getting enough vitamin D helps prevent these problems.

Children who don't get enough vitamin D may not grow as much as others their age. They also have a chance of getting a rare disease called rickets, which causes weak bones.

What is the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D?

Calcium should always be taken along with vitamin D, because the body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium.

Recommended calcium and vitamin D by age1, 2
Age Recommended calcium intake (milligrams a day)Recommended vitamin D intake (international units a day)
1-3 years700600
4-8 years1,000600
9-18 years1,300600
19-50 years1,000600
Males 51-70 years1,000600
Females 51-70 years1,200600
71 and older 1,200800

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

Who may not get enough calcium and vitamin D?

Most people get enough calcium and vitamin D. Many foods are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and your body uses sunshine to make its own vitamin D. From age 9 through 18, girls need more calcium from foods to meet the daily recommended intake. If they cannot get enough calcium from foods, a calcium supplement may be needed.

Blood tests for vitamin D can check your vitamin D level. But there is no standard normal range used by all laboratories. The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends a blood level of 20 ng/mL of vitamin D for healthy bones. And most people in the United States and Canada meet this goal.3

Things that reduce how much vitamin D your body makes include:

  • Dark skin, such as many African Americans have.
  • Age, especially if you are older than 65.
  • Digestive problems, such as Crohn's or celiac disease.
  • Liver and kidney disease.
1|2|3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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