vitamin d

Vitamin D and Bone Health


You probably already understand that calcium is good for your bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. The nutrient is essentially a building block of bone, and it helps maintain bone strength throughout your lifetime. But calcium can only reach its full bone-building potential if your body has enough vitamin D or vit D.

Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones—calcium helps build and maintain bones; while vitamin D helps your body effectively absorb calcium. So even if you’re taking in enough calcium, it could be going to waste if you’re deficient in vitamin D.

Why is bone health important?

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly breaking down and being replaced. Throughout life, your body balances the loss of bone with the creation of new bone. You reach your highest bone mass (size and strength) at about age 30, usually between ages 20 to 25. After that, you begin to lose bone mass.

Over time, bone loss can cause osteopenia (low bone mass) and then osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and are more likely to break (fracture). Fractures can cause serious health problems, including disability and premature death. Getting enough vit D and calcium is important in keeping your bones healthy and reducing your chances of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis. Regular, weight-bearing exercise also helps keep your bones strong.

Vit D allows your body to absorb calcium. Calcium is necessary for building strong, healthy bones. Without enough vitamin D and calcium, bones may not form properly in childhood and can lose mass, become weak, and break easily in adulthood. Even if you get enough calcium in your diet, your body will not absorb that calcium if you don’t get enough vit D.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hormone, although most commonly known as a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in the body’s fatty tissue. Vit D is found naturally in very few foods. Sometimes, it is routinely added to milk and infant formula. Other good food sources are egg yolks and some types of fish such as salmon and mackerel. Vitamin D is also available in nutritional supplements. Vit D is the only vitamin made by your own body. Other vitamins, like A, B, and C only come from food and supplements.

People normally get vit D through exposure to sunlight, which triggers vitamin D production in the skin. Vit D helps your body absorb calcium. Sunlight is actually the main source of vit D for many people. However, staying in the sun without proper skin protection puts you at risk for skin cancer. If you’re worried about this risk, or live in a northern climate where sun exposure isn’t a year-long guarantee, many foods will provide you with your daily intake of vit D.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Vit D-fortified milk
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish

You may want to take a daily multivitamin or vit D supplements. There are also calcium supplements available that also contain vit D.


Your bones contain 99.5% of the total calcium in your body. Many people take in enough calcium from the foods they eat. Calcium is a mineral with many functions. Most of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure. Calcium mainly comes from the foods you eat.

Good sources of calcium include:

  • Reduced-fat or skim milk
  • Low-fat plain or fruit yogurt
  • Swiss cheese
  • Calcium-fortified juice
  • Calcium-fortified cereal
  • Tofu

The daily recommended dietary calcium intake varies by age, sex, and hormone status. Recent studies have shown that many girls do not get enough calcium in their diet after the age of 11. Many blame this on the substitution of soda for milk, yet the problem does not seem to be the same for males. It is important to note that many women of all ages do not get enough calcium in their diet. The vast majority of endocrinologists encourage their female patients to take supplemental calcium daily.

One of the easiest and most effective methods of increasing your calcium intake is to take an oral calcium supplement. There are several over-the-counter forms of oral calcium that can help maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about what option is best for you.

The following chart shows the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s (NOF) recommended calcium and vitamin D intake according to age, sex and hormone status:

  NOF Calcium and Vitamin D Recommendations
Children & AdolescentsCalcium (Daily)Vitamin D (Daily)
1 through 3 years500 mg400 IU**
4 through 8 years800 mg400 IU**
9 through 18 years1,300 mg400 IU**
Adult Women & MenCalcium (Daily)Vitamin D (Daily)
19 through 49 years1,000 mg400-800 IU
50 years and over1,200 mg800-1000 IU
Pregnant & Breastfeeding WomenCalcium (Daily)Vitamin D (Daily)
18 years and under1,300 mg400-800 IU
19 years and over1,000 mg400-800 IU

**NOF does not have specific vit D recommendations for these age groups. These are the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Getting enough calcium and vit D—either through your diet or a supplement—is an essential part of any osteoporosis prevention plan. Talk to your doctor about how best to include these nutrients into your daily routine.

You probably don’t get enough Vit D if:

  • You spend little time in the sun or use a strong sun block
  • Have very dark skin
  • Are over age 50, when the body is less able to make and use vitamin D efficiently
  • Have certain medical conditions such as diseases of the digestive system that interfere with fat and vitamin D absorption
  • Are very overweight, because vitamin D can get “trapped” in body fat and be less available for the needs of the body

Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin D and Calcium for Adults

  • Vit D under age 50 — 400 to 800 International Units (IU)
  • Vit D over age 50 — 800 to 1,000 IU
  • Calcium under age 50 — at least 1,000 milligrams (mg)
  • Calcium over age 50 — at least 1,200 mg

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How much calcium and vitamin D do I need?
  • How do I know if I’m getting enough?
  • Should I take a calcium or vitamin D supplement? How much should I take?
  • Should I be tested for vitamin D deficiency?
  • What else can I do to keep my bones strong?

Please let us know if you have any questions and do leave a comment

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