Negative calcium balance is a known consequence of bed rest, and is manifested in elevated urine and fecal calcium (Ca). Elevated fecal Ca can result from either decreased absorption, increased endogenous fecal excretion, or both. We measured the Ca absorption and endogenous fecal excretion in eight healthy male volunteers before and during 4 months of bed rest. Dual isotope (n = 6) or single isotope (n = 2) methods in conjunction with Ca balance were used to calculate true and net Ca absorption and endogenous fecal excretion. Stool Ca increased from 797 mg/day (mean intake 991 mg/day) to 911 mg/day during bed rest, whereas urine Ca excretion increased from 174 to 241 mg/day. True Ca absorption decreased from 31 +/- 7% of Ca intake pre-bed rest to 24 +/- 2% during bed rest, (p < 0.05) and returned toward pre-bed rest values within 5-6 weeks following reambulation. Endogenous fecal excretion did not change significantly, and therefore, most of the increased fecal Ca resulted from changes in absorption. However, in one individual, endogenous fecal Ca excretion was the major contributor to Ca loss. Ionized Ca and pyridinium crosslinks increased and 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D decreased during bed rest, similar to the decrease in Ca absorption; parathyroid hormone (PTH), calcitonin, serum albumin, phosphorus, and total serum Ca were unchanged. Although alkaline phosphatase, osteocalcin, and PTH were unchanged during bed rest, they were elevated during reambulation. These changes accompanied by increased Ca absorption and balance and decreased ionized and total serum Ca suggest a rebound in bone formation following immobilization.