Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements

Why does my body need calcium and vitamin D?

Calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients needed to build strong bones. Nerves, muscles, and blood vessels need calcium to work. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and maintain a normal calcium level. In older adults, particularly postmenopausal women, not getting enough calcium and vitamin D can lead to bone breakdown, resulting in falls and fractures.

Do I need a supplement?

Most people obtain 300 mg of calcium daily from non-dairy foods. Eating three servings of high-calcium foods like dairy will provide you with your recommended daily calcium intake. You can use a 300 mg calcium supplement in place of one serving of a high-calcium containing food.

It is hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Ask your doctor if you should have your vitamin D levels checked. If your vitamin D levels are low your doctor may recommend a supplement.

What are good sources of calcium and vitamin D?

Calcium is found in many foods. Some foods that contain 300 mg of calcium per serving are:

  • Milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Cheese

Vitamin D is found in small amounts in some foods such as:

  • Salmon, tuna
  • Egg yolks
  • Vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt, juice

How do I choose a calcium supplement?

The amount of calcium an adult needs depends on their age. Adult women younger than 50 years old and men younger than 70 years old should get 1000 mg daily from food and/or supplements. Women over 50 years old and men over age 70 should get 1200 mg of calcium daily.

Choose a calcium product with calcium carbonate (Tums, Caltrate) or calcium citrate (Citracal). Calcium carbonate is inexpensive and should be taken with food. Calcium citrate may be better for patients who do not absorb calcium well and can be taken with or without food.

Read the label to check the amount of calcium per tablet. Calcium is best absorbed if no more than 500 mg is taken at a time. Therefore if you take more than 500 mg a day it is best to split the dose and take no more than 500 mg at two separate times in the day.

Again, supplements are used to fill in gaps if you are not getting enough calcium from your diet alone. To calculate your daily calcium intake from diet, count 300 mg from all non-dairy foods plus 300 mg per cup of calcium-rich foods (milk, yogurt, fortified juice, etc). The following website is helpful in determining your daily calcium intake:

https://bcdairy.ca/nutritioneducation/calciumcalculator/

How do I choose a vitamin D supplement?

The recommended daily amount of vitamin D for adults is 800 IU to 2000 IU. If your doctor diagnoses you with a vitamin D deficiency, a supplement can be taken. There are two types of vitamin D supplements, D2 and D3, and either one may be used.

Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplement as some supplements can interact with other medications. Tell your doctor or pharmacist all medications you take, including prescription, over-the-counter, and supplements.

Beth Poole, PharmD Candidate 2019

Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy

Resources:

1. Dietary Supplement Facts Sheet. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov

2. Calcium and Vitamin D. Pharmacist’s Letter. https://pharmacist.therapeuticresearch.com

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