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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.