Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
Why is it important to get enough calcium and vitamin D?
People who don't 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. That's why it's important 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?
It's important to take vitamin D along with calcium. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
Calcium (in milligrams)
Vitamin D (in international units)
Men 51–70 years
Women 51–70 years
71 and older
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding 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. From ages 9 through 18, girls need extra calcium to meet the daily recommended intake. If they can't get enough calcium from foods, they may need supplements.
Your body uses sunshine to make its own vitamin D. Things that reduce how much vitamin D your body makes include:
- Dark skin, such as many African Americans have.
- Age, especially being older than 65.
- Digestive problems, such as Crohn's or celiac disease.
- Liver and kidney disease.
How can you get more calcium and vitamin D?
Here are some ways to get calcium and vitamin D in your diet.
- Add calcium-rich foods to your diet.
Calcium is in foods such as:
- Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage.
- Canned sardines and canned salmon with bones.
- Calcium-fortified foods such as some cereals, juices, soy drinks, and tofu.
- Include foods that have vitamin D.
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Foods that contain vitamin D include:
- Salmon, tuna, and mackerel. These are some of the best foods to eat when you need to get more vitamin D.
- Vitamin-D fortified foods such as milk, soy drinks, orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and cereals.
- Cheese, egg yolks, and beef liver. These foods have vitamin D in small amounts.
- Take supplements if you need them.
Some people may need to take a calcium supplement with vitamin D.
- Not all supplements contain the same amount of calcium or contain vitamin D. Read the label to see which one is best for you.
- Spreading calcium out over the course of the day can reduce stomach upset. And it helps your body absorb the calcium better. Try not to take more than 500 milligrams (mg) of calcium supplement at a time.
Are there any risks from taking calcium and vitamin D?
It is possible to get too much calcium and vitamin D. Older women who take calcium supplements need to be careful not to take too much.
Getting too much calcium can cause:
- Kidney stones.
Getting too much vitamin D can:
- Damage your kidneys and tissues.
- Cause nausea and vomiting, constipation, and weakness.
- Raise the amount of calcium in your blood. If this happens, you may become confused and have an irregular heart rhythm.
Calcium and vitamin D may also interact with other medicines. Some drug interactions are dangerous.
Before you start taking calcium and/or vitamin D, tell your doctor about all of the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Also tell your doctor about all of your current medical problems.
How much daily calcium and vitamin D is safe?
The amount of calcium and vitamin D you get every day from all sources (including food, sunshine, and supplements) should not be more than the amount shown in the table below.footnote 3
"Upper level intake" does not mean that most people need this amount or should try to get it. It means this is the highest amount of calcium or vitamin D that is safe to take.
Upper level of calcium intake (in milligrams)
Upper level of vitamin D intake (in international units)
51 and older
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have the same upper level intake of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.
- Food and Nutrition Board, et al. (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t3/?report=objectonly. Accessed October 29, 2019.
- Food and Nutrition Board, et al. (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, vitamins. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t2/?report=objectonly. Accessed October 29, 2019.
- Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary Reference Intakes for Adequacy: Calcium and Vitamin D, pp. 345–402. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available online: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13050.
Current as of: February 28, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: February 28, 2023