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Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D

Overview

Why is it important to get enough calcium and vitamin D?

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Calcium keeps your bones and muscles—including your heart—healthy and strong.

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.

Vitamin D recommendations vary from province to province. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D you need.

Health Canada recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium and vitamin D by agefootnote 1

Age

Recommended calcium intake (milligrams a day)

Recommended vitamin D intake (international units a day)

Infants 0–6 months

200*

400

Infants 7–12 months

260*

400

1–3 years

700

600

4–8 years

1,000

600

9–18 years

1,300

600

19–50 years

1,000

600

Males 51–70 years

1,000

600

Females 51–70 years

1,200

600

71 and older

1,200

800

Most Canadians do not get enough vitamin D from food or sun and need supplements.
Alberta Health services recommends:

  • Albertans from birth to age 50 take a vitamin D supplement of 400 international units (IU) each day.
  • Adults over 50 take a vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU each day.
Do not take more than 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day as a supplement without talking to a healthcare provider first.

Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of supplements are right for your child. Although breastfed babies get the best possible nutrition, they need vitamin D supplements to maintain or improve their health. Vitamin D for babies is usually a liquid supplement that you add to a bottle of breast milk with a dropper or drip into your baby's mouth.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

Health Canada and Osteoporosis Canada recommend that Canadian adults take daily vitamin D supplements. footnote 1

Since we can't get enough vitamin D from food to meet our body's needs, Alberta Health Services recommends that all healthy Albertans take a vitamin D supplement. Some people (like those at risk of osteoporosis) need higher amounts of vitamin D.

Who may not get enough calcium and vitamin D?

Many foods are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and your body uses sunshine to make its own 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.

Many Canadians don't get enough vitamin D from food and sunshine only. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, it's more important to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about how you can get the right amount through supplements and what you eat.

Things that reduce how much vitamin D your body makes include:

  • Limited sun exposure. This can be due to sunscreen use or living at a high latitude (which includes most of Canada).
  • Dark skin, such as many people of African descent 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 juices, soy beverages, 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 beverages, orange juice, yogurt, and soft margarine.
    • 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. Health Canada and Osteoporosis Canada recommend that Canadian adults take daily vitamin D supplements.footnote 1

    • 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.
  • Constipation.

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 and natural health products 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.

"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.

Health Canada recommendations for upper level intake of calcium and vitamin D by age footnote 1

Age

Upper level calcium intake (milligrams a day)

Upper level vitamin D intake (international units a day)

Infants 0–6 months

1,000

1,000

Infants 7–12 months

1,500

1,500

1–3 years

2,500

2,500

4–8 years

2,500

3,000

9–18 years

3,000

4,000

19–50 years

2,500

4,000

51 and older

2,000

4,000

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have the same upper level intake of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

References

Citations

  1. Health Canada (2010). Vitamin D and calcium: Updated dietary reference intakes. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/vita-d-eng.php.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 11/27/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.