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Boning Up on Calcium: Supplements for Bone Health

Popping calcium for better bone health? Get the most from that supplement with these tips.
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Vitamin D Supplements for Bone Health continued...

"In the last few years, the focus for osteoporosis experts has really shifted from calcium deficiency to vitamin D deficiency," says Schousboe.

Vitamin D is actually formed naturally in your body as a result of sun exposure. Usually just 10 to 15 minutes of sun a day will get you enough vitamin D. But your body becomes less efficient at making it as you age. Many of us should be using vitamin D supplements.
But which kind of supplements? You might see different types of vitamin D on your drugstore shelves, like "vitamin D2" and "vitamin D3." What's the difference?

"Vitamin D3 seems to be about three times as potent as vitamin D2," says Schousboe.

While Amin agrees that vitamin D3 may be preferable, she notes that not all pharmacies carry vitamin D3 supplements. If you can't get it in your area, sticking with vitamin D2 is OK. "Some vitamin D is better than none," Amin says.

How Much Vitamin D Do We Need for Bone Health?

And how much vitamin D is necessary for good calcium absorption? Alas, the answer isn't simple. The National Institutes of Health still uses the traditional recommendations, which are:

  • 600 IU (international units) for ages 1-70
  • 800 IU for ages 70 or over

But as the widespread deficiencies of vitamin D have become more apparent, some osteoporosis experts think that those levels are not nearly high enough.

"Most of us think that the traditional recommendations for vitamin D are inadequate," says Schousboe. "For anyone at risk of bone loss, I'd recommend at least 800 IU of vitamin D3 a day and more of D2."

The National Osteoporosis Foundation now recommends 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D3a day for all adults over age 50.

However, be careful. Never go above the recommended limits of vitamin D unless your doctor tells you too. Taking too much vitamin D -- above 2,000 IU a day -- can be toxic.

Of course, you can't figure out if you have a deficiency of vitamin D on your own. So talk with your doctor. If your risk of osteoporosis seems high, he or she might want to do a special blood test to check your vitamin D levels.

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Osteoporosis Glossary

  • Bone Mineral Density - A measurement of the amount of calcium and minerals in bone tissue.
  • Calcium - A mineral in (and vital to) your bones. If your body lacks calcium, it takes it from bones.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) - a test used to measure bone mineral density.
  • Osteoporosis - A decrease in bone density, which increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D - A vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium.
  • View All Terms

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