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calcium Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. About 99% of the body's calcium resides in the bones and teeth, and the remaining 1% is found in other body fluids and cells.


Calcium's functions include:

Recommended Intake

The Institute of Medicine offers these recommendations:

Age Group
(in years)
Recommended Dietary Allowance or •Adequate Intake (mg/day)
Birth to 6 months200 milligrams (mg)200 mg
7-12 months260 mg260 mg
1-3 years700 mg700 mg
4-8 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
9-18 years1,300 mg1,300 mg
19-50 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
51-70 years1,200 mg1,000 mg
71 years and older1,200 mg1,200 mg
Pregnant or lactating teens1,300 mgn/a
Pregnant or lactating adults1,000 mgn/a

Calcium Deficiency

In childhood, not getting enough calcium may interfere with growth. A severe deficiency may keep children from reaching their potential adult height. Even a mild deficiency over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss, which increases the risk for osteoporosis as an adult.

If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will draw from the storage in your bones in order to supply enough calcium for its other functions: nerve transmission, muscle contraction, heartbeat, and blood clotting.

Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include:

Calcium Toxicity

Very large doses over a prolonged period of time may cause kidney stones and poor kidney function. Your body may not absorb other minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, properly. These problems could occur from consuming too much through a calcium supplement, not from milk or other calcium-rich foods. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) depends on age.

Age Group
(in years)
Upper Level Intake (mg/day)
Birth to 6 months1,000 milligrams (mg)1,000 mg
7-12 months1,500 mg1,500 mg
1-8 years2,500 mg2,500 mg
9-18 years3,000 mg3,000 mg
19-50 years2,500 mg2,500 mg
51 years and older2,000 mg2,000 mg
Pregnant or lactating teens3,000 mgn/a
Pregnant or lactating adults2,500 mgn/a

Major Food Sources

Dairy foods—milk, yogurt, and some cheeses—are the best dietary sources of calcium. These foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

FoodServing size Calcium content
Yogurt, plain, low fat1 cup415
Milk, nonfat1 cup299
Cheddar cheese1.5 ounces307
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1.5 ounces333
Cottage cheese, 1% milkfat1 cup138
Frozen yogurt, soft serve½ cup103
Ice cream½ cup84
Sardines, canned in oil with bones3 ounces313-384
Salmon, pink, canned solids with bone3 ounces181
Bread, white1 slice73
Pudding, chocolate, ready to eat4 ounces55
Orange juice, calcium-fortified6 ounces261
Soymilk, calcium-fortified8 ounces299

Absorption of calcium from some other dietary sources is not as great as that from dairy foods. Specifically, dark green vegetables contain oxalates, and grains contain phytates, which can bind with calcium and decrease their absorption.

Read food labels to determine the specific calcium levels of these foods.

Health Implications

Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life. Bone growth begins at conception, and bones grow longer and wider until well into the 20s. After this type of growth is complete, bones gain in strength and density as they continue to build up to peak bone mass by about age 30. From this point on, as a natural part of the aging process, bones slowly lose mass. Calcium is essential to slow this natural loss and stave off the onset of osteoporosis—a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.

Tips for Increasing Your Calcium Intake

Taking Supplements

If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, consider a calcium supplement. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:


Department of Agriculture

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


Calcium. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: Updated December 2015. Accessed April 29, 2016.

Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.

Calcium intake and supplementation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 4, 2015. Accessed April 29, 2016.

Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Institute of Medicine website. Available at: Accessed April 29, 2016.

Hypocalcemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 2, 2014. Accessed April 29, 2016.

Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 4/29/2016