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Calcium and Vitamin D

Many people take calcium supplements to help prevent osteoporosis. They may be increasing their risk for certain cancers and infections unless they also get extra vitamin D. Calcium absorption uses up vitamin D and lack of that vitamin impairs immunity, which can cause cancer and infections.

To prevent a deficiency, you need at least 400 IU of vitamin D per day, whether you take calcium supplements or not. Many researchers now recommend 2000 IU per day for people who have blood levels of hydroxyl vitamin D below 745 nmol/L. You can get this by exposing some skin to sunlight each day. Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, eggs, liver and butter. Vitamin D-supplemented milk is a poor source of that vitamin because the calcium in milk uses up more than the vitamin D that is added.

Doctors recommend 1000 mg of calcium each day, the amount of calcium found in four glasses of milk. Many people do not meet their needs for calcium from the foods that they eat. If you take calcium supplements, take the recommended daily requirement for vitamin D of at least 400 international units per day. Many doctors are reluctant to recommend calcium pills because a very small percentage of people will have their blood levels of calcium rise to high. These people are then at increased risk for heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, premature death and kidney stones. Calcium in food has not been associated with these problems.

A glass of milk contains the same amount of calcium as a cup of yogurt, an ounce of hard cheese, a cup and a half of cottage cheese, four ounces of fish, or a 600 mgm calcium carbonate pill. To check how much calcium you eat, add up the calcium in your diet in milk-glass-units from the foods just mentioned, then add an extra unit for the calcium you get from other foods. A sixty-year old woman who drinks two glasses of milk and eats an ounce of hard cheese gets three milk units. Add an additional unit for the calcium in other foods and she needs two more units, which she can get by taking two generic calcium carbonate pills. Don't waste your money on expensive chelated calcium pills or supplements that combine magnesium with calcium. Magnesium is not necessary for calcium absorption.

More on vitamin D

Checked 7/3/13

June 2nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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