Do You Need Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements?

You probably know that calcium is good for your bone health and may help you ward off osteoporosis—a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little, or both. Calcium is a vital nutrient that can build bone and maintain your bone strength. But calcium cannot help your bones if you are not getting enough vitamin D.  

But before you decide to start taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether you actually need them. Here is what you need to know about bone health, about calcium and vitamin D, and how to start a conversation with your doctor about calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Supplement
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Your Bone Health 

Bone is living tissue that—through a process called bone resorption—breaks down and gets replaced. Throughout your life, your body will lose bone and then create new bone. You reach your peak bone mass (the greatest amount of bone a person can achieve) by age 30. After that, you will begin to lose bone mass.

Bone loss, over time, can lead to osteopenia, a condition that causes bones to weaken. Osteopenia is also a precursor to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of fractures (bone breaks). Fractures can cause serious health problems, including disability and premature death, especially in elderly women and men.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help to keep your bones healthy and reduce your risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures. A healthy diet with these two vital nutrients combined with weight-bearing exercise can help to keep your bones strong.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is vital in helping to build strong, healthy bones while vitamin D helps to absorb calcium. Without these two important nutrients, bones may not form properly in childhood and will lose mass early in adulthood, and become weak, brittle, and break easily.

Calcium

Calcium is important for ideal bone health. Your body needs calcium to build up and maintain strong bones. Additionally, your heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium to function correctly. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough calcium from their diets, especially older adults.

The recommendation daily calcium allowance for most adults is 1,000 milligrams (mg). The human body doesn’t naturally create calcium, so you will need to get it from food sources.

Calcium can be found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Seeds: Some seeds are loaded with calcium like poppy, sesame, and chia seeds.
  • Cheese: Most cheeses are excellent sources of calcium.
  • Yogurt: Yogurt is loaded with calcium and it’s rich in live probiotic bacteria, which has various health benefits.
  • Sardines and canned salmon: Both are rich in calcium because of their edible bones.
  • Almonds: Of all the nuts, almonds are the highest in calcium.
  • Dark leafy greens: Leafy greens are extremely healthy, and some—like spinach—are loaded with calcium.
  • Calcium-fortified foods and beverages: Milk and milk substitutes, cereals, and fruit juices

Vitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is essential for good bone health and immune system function. It is made when your skin is exposed to sunlight, but even though vitamin D is easy to get, up to 42% of Americans have low levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around the globe.

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and a deficiency can limit the amount of calcium your body can absorb. Low vitamin D levels can also impair muscle function, make your bones weak, increase your risk for falls, and cause bone and muscle pain.

Recommended amounts of vitamin D from the National Institutes for Heath are 600 international units (IU) for most adults and children. Infants need around 400 IU, while adults over 70 need at least 800 IU.

Most people can get enough vitamin D from outdoor exposure to direct sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is also found in a number of foods.

Great food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Red meat
  • Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and herring
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods like breakfast cereals and dairy products

Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D

You can get enough calcium and vitamin D from foods and supplements. Food should be your primary source when possible. 

When calcium or vitamin D is available in food, a food label will read “percent daily value.” The percent daily value is the percentage amount of a nutrient contained in that food. That percentage does not necessarily reflect the amount of that nutrient you should be getting. 

It is much easier to look at the number of milligrams of calcium in food. For example, a glass of milk has around 300 mg of calcium. Most adults and children need around 1,000 mg per day so, that glass of milk means you need at least 700 more milligrams of calcium for the day to meet the daily recommended amount.

Supplements 

It is best to get your calcium and vitamin D from your diet. But if you are still not getting enough, you might want to ask your doctor about supplements.

The two most commonly used calcium supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.

Calcium citrate is easy to absorb, can be taken with or without food, and it is a good choice for people who take medications to block stomach acid.

Calcium carbonate is an alternative calcium supplement that is inexpensive, easy to absorb, and should be taken with food. It should not be taken by people who take medications that block stomach acids or treat ulcers and acid reflux.

For vitamin D, vitamin D3 supplements are usually recommended, but vitamin D2 is a good alternative, especially for people who avoid animal products.

You can find calcium and vitamin D supplements as individual supplements. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D3 and are a viable option for getting the right amounts of these two important nutrients.

Can You Get Too Much Vitamin D or Calcium?

Calcium and vitamin D supplements can be good for health but taking too much can pose negative effects. For example, research shows that too much calcium can lead to a heart attack or stroke in both men and women.

Without enough vitamin D to offset calcium and absorb it, that extra calcium will make its way into the arteries instead of the bones. Once in the arteries, it can cause blocks that threaten the heart and brain. Excess calcium has also been linked to muscle pain, abdominal pain, mood disorders, and kidney stones. 

Vitamin D toxicity can occur when vitamin D levels in blood exceed 150 ng/mL. When this happens, the extra vitamin D will trigger extra calcium absorption, which leads to negative effects from the calcium.

Talking to Your Doctor 

While your bones need calcium and vitamin D, it is never a good idea to start taking any type of supplement without first talking to your doctor. They can advise you how much calcium and vitamin D you should be taking daily and what to do if you experience side effects. Your doctor can also advise on the types of supplements available and the ones they recommend for improving your bone health.

It can hard to achieve daily recommendations for calcium and vitamin D if certain circumstances apply to you, such as if you are a vegetarian who avoids dairy, are lactose intolerant, or if you have a health condition that keeps your body from absorbing vitamin D effectively. Your doctor can also help you to determine how you can meet recommended daily levels through both diet and supplementation.

Supplements might be sold without a prescription, but your doctor is always the best source of information on your bone health. These medications can interfere with other medications you are taking to treat other conditions.

It is important to be especially careful with supplements if you are pregnant or nursing, about to have a medical procedure, or have a serious medical condition. You should also be careful when giving supplements to children. 

A Word From Verywell

Your healthcare provider is in the best position to advise you on your bone health needs. If you are concerned you might not be getting enough calcium or vitamin D, about risk factors for conditions like osteoporosis, or if you have recently had a bone fracture, talk to your doctor.

They might recommend testing, including a bone density test, to determine what is going with your bones. By assessing your risk factors, your doctor can determine what your bone health needs are and get ahead of any bone problems before they arise. 

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Article Sources
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