Vitamin D vs Calcium

If you’re hoping to keep your bones strong and healthy throughout your life, then calcium and Vitamin D should be some of your best friends. Get the right amount of both of these substances in your system, and you’ll be less likely to break a bone or suffer from a disease known as osteoporosis, which is responsible for weakening the bones. On the other hand, get too little Vitamin D and Calcium in your system, and you’ll end up putting yourself at risk for a variety of diseases. Calcium and Vitamin D are both essential for proper bone health, but without each other they cannot work properly. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, so even if you got plenty of calcium in your diet, without Vitamin D, you may still suffer from bone problems.

The Roles of Calcium and Vitamin D in the Body

Both vitamin D and calcium have a number of important roles to play in the body, including blood pressure regulation and cancer prevention. However, maintaining bone health is their combined and most important task. Deficiency in either of these nutrients could lead to severe bone disorders, which is why some experts recommend that if you cannot get enough of these substances in natural sources, you should turn to supplements. Crucially, taking calcium supplements by themselves is not enough, as vitamin D is essential in maintaining calcium levels in the blood and aiding calcium absorption.

Your bones are constantly undergoing a continuous process of resorption and building, and bone matter is regularly lost throughout your life. While under the age of thirty, your building process will dominate more than anything else in the body, as you age, resorption takes over. This is one of the main reasons why older adults, particularly those over the age of fifty, begin to lose bone density at a higher rate, resulting in brittle and weaker bones that are prone to disease and breakage. In order to reduce this bone loss, vitamin D and calcium are both needed in ample amounts.

Importantly, as we grow older, calcium naturally becomes more difficult for our bodies to absorb, and getting the right amount of vitamin D to aid that absorption through diet alone can be particularly tough. However, before supplementation, most health experts recommend at least attempting to get the right amount of vitamin D and calcium from natural sources. For example, in certain months of the year, it’s possible to get your full dose of vitamin D simply by standing in the sun for a period of fifteen minutes without sunscreen.

Getting Enough Vitamin D

The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. If you don’t get enough vitamin D into your system, then your body cannot produce enough of a hormone known as “calcitriol”, and otherwise referred to as the active form of vitamin D. Without calcitriol, the body struggles to absorb calcium from your diet, which means that it instead attempts to retrieve amounts of calcium from stores within the skeleton, weakening existing bone and reducing the chances of new, stronger bone forming.

There are two forms of Vitamin D that you can obtain naturally, the first is Vitamin D-2, otherwise known as ergocalciferol, which is made my plants. The second form of Vitamin D is known as vitamin D-3, or cholecalciferol, which is produced naturally by the skin when you expose your body to the UVB rays of the sun. When it comes to how much vitamin D you should typically get, the answer depends on your age. Usually, the National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests a daily intake of between 400 and 800 IU (international units) of vitamin D every day, depending on your age. Keep in mind that people at an older age require higher amounts, and people with certain diseases, conditions, or an existing vitamin D deficiency may require more vitamin D than suggested in most charts.

Vitamin D can be obtained in three ways: from supplements, from your diet, and through the skin. Typically, absorbing vitamin D from sunlight is the best option, so long as you’re cautious about the amount of unprotected exposure your skin has to the sun. The reason for this is that a few minutes of sun exposure can be enough to give your body all of the vitamin D it needs, without running the risk of overexposure to ultraviolet rays. Although it’s possible to take too much vitamin D in supplement form, it is not possible to take too much through the natural reaction that happens when exposed to the sun, as your body will only take what it needs. Experts recommend a daily intake of around 600 International Units of vitamin D for people between the ages of 1 and 70, and an increased amount of 800 IU after the age of 70. However, there are some debates arising that suggest that this recommended amount of vitamin D is not enough to support proper bone health. According to scientific research, more people are vitamin D deficient today than ever before, and the issue has arose into an unrecognized epidemic.

What Is Calcium and How Much Do You Need?

Calcium is a crucial mineral that every person needs, no matter the age, needs to be healthy. Far from simply being responsible for building bones and keeping them healthy, calcium helps the nerves to send messages, blood to clot, and muscles to contract. Approximately 99% of the calcium we currently have within our bodies is contained within teeth and the skeleton, however, each day we are constantly losing calcium through sweat, hair, nails, skin, feces, and urine. Importantly, our bodies cannot produce new doses of calcium by themselves, which is why it’s important to try and get as much of this mineral as possible through the foods we eat.

The amount of calcium that you need to maintain a healthy body will depend on your sex and age, for example:

The amount of calcium that you need to maintain a healthy body will depend on your sex and age, for example:

Women  Amount
Age 50 and younger  1000 mg daily
Age 51 and older  1200 mg daily
Men  Amount
Age 70 and younger  1000 mg daily
Age 71 and older  1200 mg daily

The best way to determine exactly how much calcium is in your food or supplements is to read the food labels. Check through the nutrition panel of facts on the food label to see the daily value of calcium in any product. Usually, food labels will list the calcium DV as a percentage, which is an amount that is based on the typical intake of around 1,000mg per day. For example 300% of DV will equal 300mg, 15% of DV will equal 150mg, and so on.

Is It Possible to Have Too Much Calcium or Vitamin D?

Although it’s clear to see that calcium and vitamin D are both essential for the healthy growth and development of your body, it’s also important to recognize that getting more isn’t necessarily better. As with any good thing in life, it is possible to get too much vitamin D and calcium into your bloodstream, which can lead to problems. Usually, you won’t suffer from issues resulting from too much calcium and vitamin D if you simply get it through natural sources like food and sunlight, but it’s highly possible to face repercussions if you overdo your intake of supplements. The results of too much calcium and vitamin D in your body can vary, but they do often lead to uncomfortable side effects. For example, an excess of calcium can lead to problems like kidney stones, and in some cases it has been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and other heart problems, though that has not yet been confirmed. On the other hand, if you get too much vitamin D in your system, then you can struggle with an upset stomach, increased periods of constipation, and overall fatigue or weakness.

If you’re concerned about whether or not you may be able to get the right amount of calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis, you may find it helpful to speak to a doctor or professional dietitian. Some doctors will automatically check the vitamin D levels of patients as part of a routine checkup, whereas others disregard it as unimportant or unnecessary. However, if you have a condition that puts you in a risk category for low vitamin D, or you’re concerned that you may be running low on both calcium and vitamin D, you may consider asking your doctor for a blood test. Keep in mind that people with particular health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, are often at a higher risk of suffering from low vitamin D, as are people who struggle to get outdoors, don’t get outside much, don’t take supplements, or have darker skin. If your blood tests show that your levels of vitamin D are low, then chances are that your calcium levels will be low too, and this may mean that you should be taking supplements.

Resources and References:

Roles of Calcium and Vitamin D – General information about the benefits of vitamin D and calcium on bone health. (NIH.gov)
Calcium and Vitamin D for Bone Health – Recommendations for vitamin D and calcium intake. (UpToDate)
Calcium and Vitamin D Combination – Information about the combination of vitamin D and calcium. (Drugs.com)
Calcium-Vitamin D Dosage – Calcium vitamin D tablet dosage information. (EverydayHealth)
Calcitriol Medication– Use of calcitriol medication. (MedlinePlus)
Vitamin D Toxicity – Consequences of getting too much Vitamin D. (Mayoclinic.org)
Overdosing on Calcium – Effects of overdosing on calcium. (Prevention.com)