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New Vitamin D Recommendations Issued

The Institute of Medicine released new recommendations on vitamin D. Vitamin D, along with calcium, can help promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease that primarily affects post-menopausal women. According to the report, most Americans and Canadians up to age 70 need no more than 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day to maintain health, and those 71 and older may need as much as 800 IUs. The amount of calcium needed ranges, based on age, from 700 to 1,300 milligrams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine’s report.

The report's recommendations take into account nearly 1,000 published studies as well as testimony from scientists and stakeholders. According to an Institute of Medicine news release, “a large amount of evidence, which formed the basis of the new intake values, confirms the roles of calcium and vitamin D in promoting skeletal growth and maintenance and the amounts needed to avoid poor bone health.” The report also reviewed hundreds of studies and reports on other possible health effects of vitamin D, such as protection against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes. According to the news release, while these studies point to possibilities that warrant further investigation, they have yielded conflicting and mixed results and do not offer the evidence needed to confirm that vitamin D has these effects. Rigorous trials that yield consistent results are vital for reaching conclusions, as past experiences have shown.  Vitamin E, for example, was believed to protect against heart disease before further studies disproved it.

"There is abundant science to confidently state how much vitamin D and calcium people need," said committee chair Catharine Ross, professor and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair, department of nutritional sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, in the Institute of Medicine’s news release on the report.  "We scrutinized the evidence, looking for indications of beneficial effects at all levels of intake.  Amounts higher than those specified in this report are not necessary to maintain bone health." 

The report recommends the following:

  • 700 milligrams per day for almost all children ages 1 through 3, and 1,000 milligrams daily is appropriate for almost all children ages 4 through 8. 
  • No more than 1,300 milligrams per day for adolescents ages 9 through 18. 
  • 1,000 milligrams for almost all adults ages 19 through 50 and for men until age 71. Women starting at age 51 and both men and women age 71 and older need no more than 1,200 milligrams per day. 

According to the Institute of Medicine, the majority of Americans and Canadians are getting enough vitamin D and calcium. Those who do not get enough should increase their intake of foods containing these nutrients and possibly take a supplement.

"While it is too early to make definitive statements about the risks associated with routine high doses of vitamin D and calcium, people don't need more than the amounts established in this report," Ross said, in the Institute of Medicine news release.  "Past cases such as hormone replacement therapy and high doses of beta carotene remind us that some therapies that seemed to show promise for treating or preventing health problems ultimately did not work out and even caused harm.  This is why it is appropriate to approach emerging evidence about an intervention cautiously, but with an open mind."

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense, and Health Canada.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.