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Calcium for healthy bones

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth and is important for our muscles and blood.

Milk and other calcium-rich foods are an important part of a bone-healthy lifestyle.

Not getting enough calcium can cause rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults.

Adults need around 700mg of calcium a day, most of this should be achievable from a healthy balanced diet.

Many people also take calcium supplements as a preventive measure against disease.

However, taking high doses of calcium, more than 1500mg a day, can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.

How to get enough calcium

While medications are available to help treat the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis, making a commitment to a "bone-healthy lifestyle" might mean preventing the condition in the first place. You can help maintain bone strength by making sure that you get enough calcium, vitamin D, and exercise.

If you already eat a lot of calcium-rich foods such as skimmed milk, yoghurt, low-fat cheese, almonds, sardines, and calcium-fortified orange juice, you may be getting what you need in your diet.

In addition to dairy products, you can also help maintain bone health by adding other calcium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables (including kale, escarole, and bok choy), nuts (especially almonds and pistachios), legumes and seeds.

Keep fizzy drinks to a minimum because too much phosphorus can also deplete calcium levels. Other things to avoid include:

  • Caffeine, which reduces calcium absorption
  • Excess alcohol
  • Excess salt
  • Too much red meat

Importance of vitamin D

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium in the body.

Most vitamin D comes from some safe exposure to the summer sun, and from diet.

It is hard to get the daily amount of vitamin D needed from food, so most adults and children aged 4 and over are asked to consider supplements containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day during autumn and winter.

Supplements are recommended all year round for those people who do not get much exposure to the sun such as those in institutions (for example care homes), and those who always cover their skin when outside. People with dark skin, including people from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, are asked to consider a daily supplement all year round.

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Reviewed on July 26, 2016

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