Building strong bones through early nutrition

Nutrition plays a key role in the development of peak bone mass, the maximum strength and density bones can reach—usually achieved when people are about 30 years old.1 This is noteworthy because higher peak bone mass reduces osteoporosis risk in older age. However, nutrition also remains an important factor in bone health even as people get older.

Calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D are essential to bone health

Bones are made up of calcium and phosphorus, and the body needs large amounts of both from the diet for bone health.2 Vitamin D also plays an important part in bone health, as it helps calcium be absorbed by bones, and improves muscle performance, balance, and risk of falling.3 If the body falls short of these nutrients during bone development, it creates weak bones.2

Of course, other nutrients such as vitamins K and C, magnesium, and zinc are important for bone health, too—but calcium and vitamin D play particularly crucial roles.3 Getting enough calcium and vitamin D every day can make a big difference in reducing the risk of fracture.4 It’s best to get these nutritional elements from food, but supplements also can be used.3 (Vitamin D is also produced when skin is exposed to sunlight.3) The daily amount of calcium and vitamin D necessary for bone health varies according to age (see table below).

Daily Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements3
Calcium Vitamin D
Age (years) Milligrams/day Age (years) International Units (IU)/day
9-18 1300 19-70 600
19-50 1000 Older than 70 800

men 51-70

1000 mg for men


women 51 and older

men 71 and older



The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends that all women aged 50 and over receive 1200 mg/day calcium and 800 to 1000 IU/day vitamin D.

According to the NOF, low calcium intake and insufficient vitamin D are 2 risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures.4 Other risk factors related to diet and nutrition include high caffeine or salt intake; excess vitamin A levels; 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day; aluminum in antacids; and parenteral nutrition (an intravenous drip of nutrition in a fluid).4

  • 1. National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center [Internet]. Osteoporosis: peak bone mass in women. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; 2012 Jan [cited 2012 May 31]. Available from:
  • 2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2004.
  • 3. 02/26/2018 NOF Calcium and Vitamin D requirements:
  • 4. National Osteoporosis Foundation. Clinician’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. Washington, DC: National Osteoporosis Foundation; 2010.

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