Bone health, calcium and vitamin D
Calcium and bone health go hand-in-hand. But vitamin D plays an important role as well — especially if you’re over 50. Get the details here.
As we age, we all need to pay special attention to our bone health and calcium intake. While it’s important to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods, your body also needs vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium, in order to maintain strong bones and teeth.1 And getting enough calcium and vitamin D gets more important as we age.
Aging and bone health
Our bones are living tissues that renew themselves naturally, as old bone is replaced by new bone. As we age, the process becomes less efficient and we begin to lose bone mineral density. When that density is lower than normal, it’s known as osteopenia. Lose enough of it and bones become very thin and weak, and osteoporosis sets in. All this can happen without symptoms — until something like a fracture occurs.2
Along with a less efficient bone renewal, two other factors linked with aging makes your bone health even more important:
- As we age, our bodies don’t absorb calcium as well as they used to.3
- Calcium isn’t easily absorbed without vitamin D. And after the age of 50, sun skin exposure isn’t enough to allow us to produce as much vitamin D as we need.2
The calcium/vitamin D link
Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help maintain bone health and prevent bone density loss.
If you’re over 50:
- Get 1,200mg of calcium every day.2 If you’re not getting enough from foods, you may need to take a supplement. However, calcium supplements are not for every one and before taking calcium supplements, ask your health care professional. Calcium-rich foods include:
- Greens like broccoli
- Milk and milk products
- Salmon and sardines (with bones)
- Seeds — sesame and sunflower
- Take a daily 400IU vitamin D supplement.4 Since your need for vitamin D has increased, Health Canada recommends that everyone over the age of 50 follow Canada’s Food Guide and take a vitamin D supplement, because:
- We’re probably not getting enough from sun exposure. Skin exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun synthesizes vitamin D production. In Canada, however; that’s not possible between October and March so we must rely on foods to get our minimum requirements of vitamin D.5
- We’re probably not getting enough from foods. Foods fortified with vitamin D include: cow’s milk and margarine, cheeses and yogurts made from vitamin-D fortified milk (but these yogurts may not contain as much as fluid milk). Some goat’s milk, soy beverages and orange juices with added calcium may also be fortified with vitamin D. Fatty fish and egg yolks are natural sources of vitamin D.5 For the average Canadian, those products aren’t hard to find at the local grocery store, but that still may not be enough.
Health Canada says that even when people over the age of 50 follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of getting three daily servings of the milk and milk alternatives food group they’re still not getting enough vitamin D. As a matter of fact, getting your required daily intake of vitamin D would mean eating unrealistic amounts of some foods every day. The solution? A daily supplement of vitamin D (400IU).
Ensure products provide calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients that are important to help you maintain bone health. In fact, one bottle of Ensure Regular provides 300mg of calcium and 60IU of vitamin D.6 Not sure you’re eating at your optimum? Check out Canada’s Food Guide for which foods you should eat and how many servings you should get every day.
- Health Canada, Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes
- Health Canada, Seniors and Aging — Osteoporosis
- Public Health Agency of Canada, Osteoporosis Info-Sheet for Seniors
- Health Canada, Canada’s Food Guide, Men and Women Over the Age of 50
- Health Canada, Canada’s Food Guide, Vitamin D for people over 50: Background
- Abbott Nutrition, Recipes and tips: a healthy guide to better nutrition, p30