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February 23, 2011

Calcium and Vitamin D: Fortifying bone health

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a guest post on healthy eating. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email This week, Ellen Loreck (pictured) weighs in on bone health.   

Is Vitamin D the wonder vitamin? Is it the cure all for cancer, heart disease and the flu? The verdict from the scientific community is not in yet. What is known is that the combination of Vitamin D and calcium play an important role in bone health and other body functions. Below are some frequently asked questions. For more information, visit the National Institutes of Health fact sheets on calcium and Vitamin D.

How can calcium and Vitamin D improve my health?

Calcium is a mineral. Your body needs it to maintain strong bones, to carry out nerve and muscle functions, and to release hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in you body.

Vitamin D is a nutrient that enhances calcium absorption, which, in turn, improves bone health and plays an important role in most body processes. In addition, Vitamin D is needed for proper nerve and muscle function, and for your immune system to work at its best. You can get Vitamin D from food or your body can make Vitamin D from sunlight.

Over the long-term, if you don’t get enough calcium and Vitamin D, you can increase your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

How much do I need?


The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for everyone 19-50 years of age is 1,000 milligrams (mg)/day. Women ages 51-70 need 1,200 mg/day, and everyone 71 years and older needs 1,200 mg daily. As we get older, our body has a harder time absorbing calcium.

Vitamin D

The Institute of Medicine recently updated Vitamin D recommendations after an expert panel completed an extensive review of studies. Adults in the 19-70 year age range should strive for 600 International Units (IUs) of Vitamin D per day. Everyone who is 71 years and older needs at least 800 IUs. If you want to know your blood level of Vitamin D, ask your doctor if a test is right for you.

Can I get enough calcium and Vitamin D from food?

The answer is … well, maybe. It’s probably easier to get enough calcium vs. Vitamin D from your diet. Here’s how: 1 cup of milk, yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese each contain about 300 mg of calcium. So, if you eat or drink 4 servings of calcium-rich foods, you’ve reached your goal of 1,200 mg. But the question is, how many of us do this every day?

The same goes for Vitamin D. A cup of milk or fortified orange juice each have about 100 IUs of Vitamin D; 3 ounces of tuna has about 150 and 3 ounces of wild salmon, about 800 IUs. Most of us don’t eat salmon every day and you’d have to drink 6 cups of milk or fortified orange juice to reach the goal. If you’re coming up short of your calcium and Vitamin D goals, supplements are a good way to go.

We need about 20 minutes of daily sunlight for our bodies to make enough Vitamin D. However, winter months in Baltimore as well as some skin conditions make it hard to produce enough Vitamin D from sunlight alone.

Supplements: Bridge the gap

Most calcium supplements come in two varieties: carbonate or citrate. Calcium carbonate is best absorbed with food. It comes in many different forms: antacids, chews or even chocolate discs. Most supplements have between 200-500 mg of calcium in each. Calcium citrate is well absorbed on an empty or full stomach. For best absorption, don’t take more than 500 mg at a time. Calcium supplements can interfere with the absorption of other drugs, so tell your healthcare provider that you’re taking supplements.

Vitamin D supplements come in two forms: D2 (ergocalciferol) or D3 (cholecalciferol). Both can increase blood levels of Vitamin D, so the choice is yours. Sometimes, Vitamin D is combined with a calcium supplement, which makes it easier to reach your goal for both.

Be sure to count the extra calcium and Vitamin D in your multivitamin if you’re taking one.

Food, supplements and exercise: Beating the odds

Once you make sure you’re either eating enough food or taking adequate supplements to meet your goals, the last step is exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking, is a great way to further enhance your bone health.

Drink some milk, eat some salmon, chew a yummy supplement and take a walk -- your bones will thank you.

Posted by Kim Walker at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Nutrition


Very good article on calcium and vitamin D. I would like to add to this topic some things I have learned from Dr. Batmanghelidj and others. Your body needs a balance of calcium, potassium, and sodium to be healthy. Too much of one without the others can cause problems - but mostly the body needs water. Without adequate hydration your body can not transport these important minerals to the cells where they are needed. It is estimated that 70% of Americans are dehydrated because they don’t drink enough water.
I also found it very interesting that the body produces vitamin D from exposure to sunlight by converting cholesterol to vitamin D. High cholesterol is a big problem for many Americans today and it is also an indication of dehydration.

Vitamin D is the wonder vitamin. Two things- first "Many health care providers have increased their recommendations for vitamin D supplementation to at least 1,000 IU. As a cancer survivor I take 1000mg x 2 daily.

The other point is the anti cancer properties of vitamin D supplementation. While the links are currently causal, it is important to point out that many cancers may be prevented through vit. d supplementation-

David Emerson

Chances are the calcium supplement you are taking now is a rock source of calcium. The label will say "calcium carbonate", which is nothing more than limestone. AlgaeCal Plus contains an organic, plant-sourced calcium form derived from a unique South American marine algae called Algas Calcareas™.

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About Exercists
Andrea Siegel, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, covers mostly crime and courts in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, as well as legal issues. She wishes she was more physically fit, and, as she's more fond of chocolate than exercise, fitness is a challenge. Her partner on a one-mile-plus daily walk is the family dog, a mixed breed named Moxie, and she exercises at the gym where the D.C. snipers once worked out.
Jerry Jackson has been a photo editor at The Baltimore Sun for 14 years and an avid cyclist for more than 30 years. Inspired by the movie "Breaking Away," he started racing as a teenager in Mississippi when leather "brain baskets" were still the norm. He regularly commutes to work by bike and still enters several mountain bike races a year for fun.
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Patrick Maynard, who will be writing about running and walking, has been a producer for since 2008. In 2009, he tweeted on-course for the Sun from the Baltimore Marathon, finishing in just under 4 hours and almost managing to run the whole time. He sometimes walks to the Sun offices on Calvert Street.
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Leeann Adams, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun, also dabbles in content for the mobile website and iPhone app and covers the Ravens via video. She did a triathlon to celebrate her 40th birthday and continues to swim, bike and run -- none of them quickly, though. Her biggest fitness challenge is to balance working, working out, spending time with her husband and being a mom to a 6-year-old boy.
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Anica Butler, the Sun's crime editor, is a former high school runner and recovering vegetarian who spent more of her early-adult years on a bar stool than working out. She is currently training (though poorly) for a half marathon and is trying to live a generally healthier lifestyle. She also hates the gym.
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