Scientific evidence supports the role of calcium and vitamin D for good bone health

A retired couple enjoy a wholesome breakfast filled with calcium.
Don’t be unsettled by recent media reports: achieving recommended dietary intakes of calcium and vitamin D, together with other important nutrients, is necessary for optimum bone health.

IOF is concerned that recent media reports may be giving the false impression that calcium is not essential to good bone health, and are thus causing confusion among the general public as well as osteoporosis patients.

Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  • Calcium is a major building block of our skeleton; 99% of the 1 kg of calcium found in the average adult body resides in our bones.
  • Bone acts as a reservoir for maintaining calcium levels in the blood, which is also essential for healthy nerve and muscle function.
  • If you don’t supply your body with the calcium it needs, it will respond by taking calcium from your bones and weaken them.
  • Under-consumption of calcium and vitamin D can lead to negative health outcomes, including osteoporosis and osteopenia.
  • It should be emphasized that IOF and other leading organizations recommend that calcium needs be met through food sources. Foods containing calcium (such as dairy foods, nuts, certain fish and vegetables) should be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
  • For people who cannot get enough calcium through their diets, supplements may be beneficial. These should be limited to 500-600 mg per day and it is generally recommended that they be taken combined with vitamin D.
  • Certain diseases affect how much calcium is absorbed by the body i.e. Crohn’s, coeliac disease, lactose maldigestion and intolerance. People with these conditions may need supplementation, if recommended by their doctors.
  • Vitamin D is an important ‘partner’ for calcium as it is essential for the absorption of calcium in the intestine.
  • It is important to be getting enough vitamin D. This can be done through regular safe exposure to sunlight and/or by vitamin D supplementation.  Note that few foods contain vitamin D.
  • Calcium recommendations vary worldwide, with recommended daily intake based on age and gender.
  • If you’ve been advised by your doctor to take calcium and vitamin D supplements because you have weak bones or because you are deficient in these nutrients, you should continue to take them. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Further reading

National Osteoporosis Foundation (USA) statement
National Osteoporosis Society (UK) response
Osteoporosis Canada response