Ensuring Adequate Calcium Intake

Both men and women can develop osteoporosis.

Claudia Wober, BSc(Pharm), BFA Drug and Poison Information Centre, Vancouver

Calcium is an essential mineral. Many people do not get adequate amounts of calcium in their diet, which leads to poor bone health. Inadequate calcium intake, especially early in life, may lead to osteoporosis later in life. People with osteoporosis may develop fractures, especially of the spine, hip or wrist. Ensuring adequate calcium and vitamin D intake and getting regular weight-bearing exercise protects against osteoporosis. Both men and women can develop osteoporosis, although it is more common in women.

Daily calcium requirements vary with age and gender. Adults require 1000 to 1500 mg of elemental calcium per day. Ideally, the required amount of calcium is obtained from the diet. Dairy products including milk, yogurt and cheese are rich in calcium. One cup of milk contains 300 mg of elemental calcium. People who do not eat dairy products may not get enough calcium in their diet. Some products, including soy milk or fruit juice, are enriched with calcium. Read labels carefully to determine the amount of elemental calcium contained in foods. If dietary sources are inadequate, then a calcium supplement may be required.

Talk to your pharmacist to determine whether you need a calcium supplement, to determine how much supplemental calcium you should take and how you should take it, and to select a supplement that is right for you.

Recommended calcium intake in Canadians

  • Children aged 4 to 8 years – 800 mg/day
  • Adolescents aged 8 to 18 years – 1300 mg/day
  • Men aged <50 years – 1000 mg/day
  • Men aged 50 years or more – 1500 mg/day
  • Women (before menopause) – 1000 mg/day
  • Women (after menopause) – 1500 mg/day

All amounts refer to elemental calcium

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. This vitamin is produced in the body, but requires skin exposure to sunlight. Because of the climate, Canadians do not get enough sun exposure to provide sufficient vitamin D. The required amount for adults, 400 to 800 international units per day, must be obtained in the diet or as a supplement. As your pharmacist about vitamin D, especially if you are taking or plan to take a calcium supplement. Specific requirements that apply to individual circumstances are available from a dietitian or a web site such as www.dialadietitian.org.