Calcium and calcium supplements: Achieving the right balance

Calcium is important for bone health. See how much calcium you need and how to get it. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Calcium is important for optimal bone health throughout your life. Although diet is the best way to get calcium, calcium supplements may be an option if your diet falls short.

Before you consider calcium supplements, be sure you understand how much calcium you need, the pros and cons of calcium supplements, and which type of supplement to choose.

The benefits of calcium

Your body needs calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Your heart, muscles and nerves also need calcium to function properly.

Some studies suggest that calcium, along with vitamin D, may have benefits beyond bone health, perhaps protecting against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. But evidence about such health benefits is not definitive.

The risks of too little calcium

If you don't get enough calcium, you could face health problems related to weak bones:

  • Children may not reach their full potential adult height.
  • Adults may have low bone mass, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Many Americans don't get enough calcium in their diets. Children and adolescent girls are at particular risk, but so are adults age 50 and older.

Calcium requirements

How much calcium you need depends on your age and sex. Note that the upper limit in the chart represents the safe boundary — it's not how much you should aim to get. If you exceed the upper limit, you may increase your risk of health problems related to excessive calcium.

Calcium: Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults
Men Daily RDA Daily upper limit
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51-70 years 1,000 mg 2,000 mg
71 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg
Women    
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg

Calcium and vitamin D

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For this reason, some calcium supplements contain vitamin D. A few foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, such as canned salmon with bones, and egg yolks. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods and sun exposure. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 international units (15 micrograms) a day for most adults.

Sep. 28, 2012 See more In-depth