How much should you get? It depends, in part, on your age and gender.
- Children ages 1-3 should get 700 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Children ages 4-8 should get 1,000 milligrams per day.
- Children over age 9 and teenagers should get 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Women over age 51 and men over age 71 should get 1,200 milligrams per day. All other adults should get 1,000 milligrams per day.
For vitamin D:
- 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day from age 1 through age 70
- 800 IU daily after age 70.
Some osteoporosis experts recommend 800 to 1,200 IU of vitamin D per day.
To find out how much vitamin D you personally need, consider a blood test for the vitamin (25-hydroxy vitamin D) from your doctor. It measures how much vitamin D is in your body.
Experts think that vitamin D may do more to protect you from osteoporosis than only helping you absorb calcium.
Why? Because it's easier to remember. You may not take a pill every day, but you eat every day.
Foods also are a more complete source of nutrition than supplements. Milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products have high levels of calcium, and also other key nutrients for bone health, such as phosphorus and protein.
When you read food labels, look for foods and drinks that give you 10% or more of the Daily Value for calcium.
If you’re lactose intolerant or avoid dairy for other reasons, there are lots of other options:
- Calcium-fortified orange juice, plant-based milks (like soy and almond milk), and cereals
- Green, leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and spinach
- Seafood such as canned salmon, oysters, ocean perch, clams, blue crab, and shrimp
For vitamin D, look for items that are fortified, such as some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and plant-based milks. Certain fish, such as salmon, tuna fish, and sardines, may also be a good source.
If you can't get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, talk to your doctor about whether you need supplements.
Calcium supplements come in several types, including:
- Calcium citrate
- Calcium carbonate
As far as your bones are concerned, it doesn't matter which type you take. The difference is in how you take them.
You should take calcium carbonate supplements with meals, to help your body absorb the most calcium.
If you take calcium citrate instead, you don’t need to take them when you eat.
With either type, your body can only absorb up to 500 milligrams at one time. So you may need to take supplements more than once a day.
Most of these supplements also come in formulas that include a dose of vitamin D. If you get the combination form, you'll get both nutrients in one pill.