The importance of vitamin D and calcium for strong, healthy bones

We've heard about the importance of growing strong bones since childhood, but bone health is more than just the odd glass of milk. Despite seemingly being low maintenance, your bones are constantly growing and evolving, and they require different care at different points in our lives.

Calcium is generally regarded as the hero nutrient for bone health, but vitamin D is just as important when it comes to maintaining strength and density. The relationship between these two is rarely considered when we think about wellness – so, here’s an explainer on just how they work together.

The relationship between calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is a mineral that works like a building block, giving your bones their strength and structure. Calcium stores are mostly established in our youth, but they still need to be continuously topped up as we move through life.

What’s lesser known is the important role that vitamin D plays in bone health. Simply put, vitamin D increases the bioavailability of calcium (the proportion that your body can take in) so it can be properly absorbed into the bloodstream and make its way to our bones.

Without enough vitamin D, we wouldn’t be able to absorb nearly enough calcium, leading to calcium deficiencies as we age and an increased risk of skeletal diseases like osteoporosis, whereby the bones become weak and brittle.

The importance of vitamin D and calcium for strong, healthy bones

How to ensure you’re getting enough

The amount of calcium and vitamin D required varies based on your age. For women over 19 the recommended daily calcium intake* is 1,000 mg, while women over 70 should aim for 1,300 mg.

As for vitamin D, 50 nmol/L is considered a normal level during winter, while 60-70 nmol/Ln is common in the summer months. These stats can be checked by your doctor or a medical professional.

Our bodies don’t produce calcium naturally so it needs to come from the food we eat. Dairy products like cheese, milk and yoghurt are known as the most concentrated source of calcium, but it’s also abundant in seeds, tinned fish (particularly those with bones), beans, lentils, almonds, tofu and leafy greens.

Vitamin D on the other hand is made naturally by the body, in addition to being found in certain foods. The best-known dietary sources of vitamin D come from oily fish, including salmon, sardines, tuna and cod liver oil. Egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified foods (like soy milk and orange juice) are also great options.

If you’re looking for delicious ways to get more of both nutrients into your diet, look no further than endota Retreat’s recipe section. Dukkah Salmon is a quick but nourishing dish that’s packed with oily-fish goodness, while the Carrot Cake Bircher Muesli can be made with whole milk for a dairy boost.

The role of hormones

Bone health is an especially important consideration for women because female hormones – oestrogen in particular – affect how calcium is stored as we get older. During menopause, oestrogen levels decline, which hinders our ability to hold onto calcium from dietary sources. Osteoporosis is most common in women post-menopause, so consider this the sign you need to check in with your healthcare professional to ensure your bones are in good shape.

Lifestyle factors

Regular movement is another way to promote bone density, not to mention overall joint and muscle health. Integrate weight-bearing movement into your daily routine, like jogging, walking, HIIT or pilates. There’s a range of classes available on endota Retreat that suit all fitness levels to get you started.

Minimising alcohol consumption and abstaining from smoking will serve your bones well too, as both are known to inhibit calcium uptake.

Catch some rays

Vitamin D is widely regarded as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced in our skin as a result of UV exposure. But if you’re unsure about the risks of sun exposure and vitamin D production, you’re not alone. UV damage is a leading cause of skin cancer and accelerated skin ageing, so daily sun protection in all seasons is vital with sunscreen and protective clothing. On warm, sunny days, a few minutes of exposure is said to be plenty, while this can be bumped up slightly in winter. Try taking your morning tea or coffee outside, or take a lunch break in the sun, exposing your skin but keeping it protected with a generous layer of sunscreen.

Want to read more about the benefits of sun protection? Check out our blog on breaking down the main types of sunscreen.

*According to Healthy Bones Australia

endota - safe sun exposure