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What You Should Know About Your Bones

Calcium: An Essential Element of Bone Health

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Preventing Osteoporosis
Eating Right
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Eating Right

Giving your body a nutritional advantage

Eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is essential to protect your bones. These minerals cannot fully prevent or cure osteoporosis, but when you don't get enough of them, bone loss will occur.



An Essential Element of Bone Health

Calcium is a mineral that helps build strong bones and teeth. While you need calcium throughout your life, the amount you need changes over time. You need a lot of calcium during your growing years to build strong bone, a bit less during the middle years to keep your bones strong, and much more later in life to prevent bone loss.

Your body stores ninety-nine percent of its calcium in your teeth and bones. The other 1% is in your blood and soft tissue. If you do not eat enough calcium, your body will take the calcium it needs from the stores in your body. If your body continues to take calcium from your bones for a long time, you will develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a serious disease in which bones become more fragile, making them more likely to break.

One important step in preventing osteoporosis is to consume your daily calcium requirement. By meeting your daily calcium intake recommendations you can promote bone development and help prevent osteoporosis. It is recommended that you do not exceed 2500 mg of calcium daily. Please note that calcium is not so easy for the body to absorb and it is essential to have enough Vitamin D intake or production in order for calcium supplements to be effective.

The amount of calcium you need daily depends on your age and gender. The National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board (NFB) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have issued the following daily calcium intake recommendations. Use the charts below to determine how much calcium you should be getting daily.

National Academy of Sciences
Age Group Calcium - mg
Birth - 6 months 210
6 months - 1 year 270
1 - 3 years 500
4 - 8 years 800
9 - 18 years 1300
19-30 years 1000
31-50 1000
51 and older 1200
Pregnant or nursing
14-18 years 1300
19-50 years 1000
National Institutes of Health
Age Group Calcium - mg
Birth - 6 months 400
6 months - 1 year 600
1 - 10 years 800-1200
11-24 years 1200-1500
25-50 years 1000
51-64 years (women on HRT & men) 1000
51-64 (women not on HRT) 1500
65 or older 1500
Pregnant or nursing 1200-1500

How to Get Calcium Every Day

The best way to get the right amount of calcium is to eat enough calcium-rich foods every day. Dairy products and calcium-fortified foods are the best sources of calcium. Certain brands of fruit juices, cereals and breads have extra, added calcium. Non-fat and low-fat dairy products have equal amounts of calcium. Here are some good examples of calcium-rich foods.

Sample Daily Menu with 1360 mg of Calcium

Calcium (mg)
Skim milk, 1 cup
Fortified whole wheat cereal, 1cup
English muffin, 1

Subtotal 446
Baked potato with 1 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese
Minestrone soup, 1 cup
Orange, 1

Subtotal 313

Salmon, 3 oz.
Broccoli, 1 cup
Enriched white rice, 1 cup
Strawberries and yogurt, 1 cup
Subtotal 601
Note: Your body may not be able to absorb all of the calcium present in these foods. Total 1360

Calcium Supplements

If you do not get your recommended daily calcium intake from food, you may need a calcium supplement. Between the food you eat and your supplement, you should not consume more than 2500 mg of calcium daily. Several different types of supplements are available.
  • Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most common types of calcium supplements. Another type, tribasic calcium phosphate, is also available. Supplements are sold under brand names and as generics. Many common antacids also contain calcium.
  • It is best to take calcium carbonate immediately after a meal when stomach acid can assist breakdown. Calcium citrate may be taken any time of day, and is appropriate for people who are allergic to oyster shell.
  • Read the label to find the amount of "elemental calcium" per tablet. Elemental calcium is the actual amount of calcium in the supplement that will be made available to your body. This will help you determine how many tablets you need to take to get your target dose.
  • Look for the USP mark to make sure the supplement meets standards for purity and quality.
  • Avoid taking calcium with high fiber meals or with bulk-forming laxatives. The fiber can reduce the amount of calcium your body can use.
  • Your body prefers small amounts of calcium throughout the day. Avoid consuming more than 500-600 milligrams of elemental calcium at one time. This may mean you need to take supplements 2-3 times during the day.
  • Iron and calcium supplements should not be taken at the same time because they interfere with each other's absorption.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (6-8 glasses a day) to avoid risk of kidney stones.

Calcium carbonate brand names – provide 40% elemental calcium.
Name Forms available mg of Calcium per tablet
Caltrate Chewable and tablet 600
OsCal Tablet 250 or 500
Viactiv Chewable 500 (+ 100 I.U. vitamin D)
Calburst Chewable 500
Naturemade Tablet 500

Calcium carbonate rich antacids – provide 40% elemental calcium.
Name Forms available mg of calcium per tablet
Alka-Mints Chewable 340
Titralac Extra Strength Chewable 300
Titralac Liquid (1 tsp) Liquid 400
Tums/Tums EX Chewable 200/300
Tums Ultra and Tums 500 Chewable 500
Mylanta CalciTabs Chewable 400

Calcium citrate brand names – provide 21% elemental calcium.
Name Forms available mg of calcium per tablet
Citracal Liquitabs Liquid capsule 500
Citracal 950 Caplet 200
Citracal Caplets + D Caplet 315 (+ 200 I.U. vitamin D)