Is Vitamin D3 Suitable for Vegans and Vegetarians?


There are two types of vitamin D supplements available on the market. The first one, which is commonly recommended as suitable for vegans and vegetarians, is known as ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). The second and much more popular form of vitamin D is known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).  

Is Vitamin D3 Suitable for Vegans and Vegetarians

  Unfortunately, the question whether cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) is suitable for vegans and vegetarians is not easy to answer. First of all, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) doesn’t have anything to do with neither meat nor dairy as it is derived from sheep’s wool by purifying lanolin (wool grease). More important, however, is the fact that this lanolin goes through so many processes and purifications that the final product is actually a pure chemical (cholecalciferol). Therefore, in my opinion it can be regarded as suitable not only for vegetarians but also for vegans, all the more since production of cholecalcipherol doesn’t require killing animals. However, since cholecalcipherol (vitamin D3) is still linked to an animal (as it is initially derived from the wool) some manufacturers (including HealthAid) decided to compromise a little and state that it is suitable for vegetarians, excluding vegans.  I myself am a vegan yet knowing how vitamin D3 is made I have no problem taking 10,000 to 20,000 IU of this form of vitamin D every day, as long as I get the confirmation it is derived from the wool of live sheep and packed in a vegan capsule. I am not sure about other companies, but I have received the confirmation that the cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) used by HealthAid is derived from lanolin (wool grease) from liveunharmed sheep.  On the other hand, the vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), although not linked to any animal sources and therefore often recommended as suitable for vegans, is much inferior to cholecalciferol (D3) due to low bioavailability. Unfortunately, in addition to its poor absorption it is also expensive and usually sold in capsules containing very low strength of this vitamin. The low strength of supplements with vitamin D2 is often the most important factor discouraging even vegans and vegetarians from choosing it over vitamin D3, all the more since most of us need at least 5,000 and in some cases even 10,000 to 20,000 IU a day.  Another argument often used against ergocalciferol (D2) is that unlike cholecalciferol (D3) it is made by radiating fungus and therefore regarded as not natural. Some vegans prefer taking this form because it is not derived from animals, but to tell the truth, it is foreign to the human body, poorly absorbed, sold in insufficient very low strength doses and therefore not very effective. In addition, used in higher doses it is not only very expensive but has much greater chance of toxicity. With regards to Vitamin D supplements it is also very important to know they must be taken with well absorbed magnesium (such as citrate) as vitamin D slowly leads to magnesium deficiency (it requires magnesium in our body for conversion) and since people are usually already deficient in magnesium and almost never informed that Vitamin D requires magnesium supplements they usually end up with sleeping problems and other unpleasant symptoms. My favourite magnesium is MagCitra as it is very high in elemental magnesium (the amount of magnesium which can actually absorbed by the body). It is also better to take vitamin D supplements in the morning as some people reported that after taking it in the evening the experienced some sleep difficulties. Vitamin D is essentially a hormone created during the daytime (in sunlight) and therefore taking it at night probably somehow encourages the body to stay awake.  Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH Professional Use OnlyFood Supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied dietAny information or product suggested on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Consult your primary healthcare physician before using any supplements or making any changes to your regime.

Vitamin D2 vs. D3: What’s the Difference?

Vitamin D is more than just one vitamin. It’s a family of nutrients that shares similarities in chemical structure.

In your diet, the most commonly found members are vitamin D2 and D3. While both types help you meet your vitamin D requirements, they differ in a few important ways.

Research even suggests that vitamin D2 is less effective than vitamin D3 at raising blood levels of vitamin D.

This article sums up the main differences between vitamin D2 and D3.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D in Bowl

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes the absorption of calcium, regulates bone growth and plays a role in immune function.

Your skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. However, if you spend most of your time indoors or live at a high latitude, you’ll need to get this vitamin from your diet.

Good dietary sources include fatty fish, fish oils, egg yolk, butter and liver.

However, it may be difficult to get adequate amounts of this vitamin from your diet alone, as rich natural sources are rare. For these reasons, it’s common for people to not get enough.

Luckily, many food manufacturers add it to their products, especially milk, margarine and breakfast cereals. Supplements are also popular.

To prevent deficiency symptoms, make sure to eat vitamin D-rich foods regularly, get some sunlight or take supplements.

Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is better to choose oil-based supplements or take them with food that contains some fat (1).

The vitamin comes in two main forms:

  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)

Their differences are discussed in detail below.

SUMMARYVitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that exists in two main forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).

Vitamin D3 Comes from Animals, Vitamin D2 from Plants

The two forms of vitamin D differ depending on their food sources.

Vitamin D3 is only found in animal-sourced foods, whereas D2 mainly comes from plant sources and fortified foods.

Sources of Vitamin D3

  • Oily fish and fish oil
  • Liver
  • Egg yolk
  • Butter
  • Dietary supplements

Sources of Vitamin D2

  • Mushrooms (grown in UV light)
  • Fortified foods
  • Dietary supplements

Since vitamin D2 is cheaper to produce, it’s the most common form in fortified foods.

SUMMARYVitamin D3 is only found in animals, while vitamin D2 comes from plant-sourced foods.

Vitamin D3 Is Formed in Your Skin

Your skin makes vitamin D3 when it’s exposed to sunlight.

Specifically, ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from sunlight triggers the formation of vitamin D3 from the compound 7-dehydrocholesterol in skin (2).

A similar process takes place in plants and mushrooms, where UVB light leads to the formation of vitamin D2 from ergosterol, a compound found in plant oils (3).

If you regularly spend time outdoors, lightly clad and without sunscreen, you may be getting all the vitamin D you need.

In Indian people, an estimated half an hour of midday sun twice a week provides the adequate amount (4).

Just keep in mind that this duration of exposure does not apply in countries farther away from the equator. In these countries, you may need more time to achieve the same results.

Nevertheless, be careful not to spend too much time in the sun without sunscreen. This is especially important if you have light-colored skin. Sunburns are a major risk factor for skin cancer (5).

Unlike dietary vitamin D, you cannot overdose on vitamin D3 produced in your skin. If your body already has enough, your skin simply produces less.

That said, many people get very little sun. They either work indoors or live in a country that doesn’t get much sunlight during the winter. If this applies to you, make sure to regularly eat plenty of food rich in vitamin D.

SUMMARYYour skin produces vitamin D3 when you spend time in the sun. In contrast, vitamin D2 is produced by plants and mushrooms exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D3 Is More Effective at Improving Vitamin D Status

Vitamin D2 and D3 are not equal when it comes to raising your vitamin D status.

Both are effectively absorbed into the bloodstream. However, the liver metabolizes them differently.

The liver metabolizes vitamin D2 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and vitamin D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. These two compounds are collectively known as calcifediol.

Calcifediol is the main circulating form of vitamin D, and its blood levels reflect your body’s stores of this nutrient.

For this reason, your health care provider can estimate your vitamin D status by measuring your levels of calcifediol (6).

However, vitamin D2 seems to yield less calcifediol than an equal amount of vitamin D3.

Most studies show that vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2 at raising blood levels of calcifediol (78).

For example, one study in 32 older women found that a single dose of vitamin D3 was nearly twice as effective as vitamin D2 at raising calcifediol levels (9).

If you are taking vitamin D supplements, consider choosing vitamin D3.

SUMMARYVitamin D3 appears to be better than D2 at improving vitamin D status.


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Vitamin D2 Supplements Might Be Lower Quality

Scientists have raised concerns that vitamin D2 supplements might be lower quality than D3 supplements.

In fact, studies suggest vitamin D2 is more sensitive to humidity and fluctuations in temperature. For this reason, vitamin D2 supplements may be more likely to degrade over time (10).

However, whether this is relevant to human health is unknown. Also, no studies have compared the stability of vitamin D2 and D3 dissolved in oil.

Until new research proves otherwise, you shouldn’t worry about the quality of your vitamin D2 supplements. Simply make sure to store your supplements in a closed container, at room temperature, in a dry place and out of direct sunlight.

SUMMARYVitamin D2 supplements may be more likely to degrade during storage. However, it’s unknown whether the same applies to oil-based vitamin D2. More studies are needed to examine the relevance of this to human health.

How to Improve Your Vitamin D Status

Fortunately, there are many ways you can improve your vitamin D status.

Below are a few ideas:

  • Select mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light (11)
  • Take fish oil supplements such as cod liver oil
  • Eat fatty fish twice a week (12)
  • Choose milk or orange juice that’s been fortified with vitamin D
  • Eat some eggs and butter (13)
  • Spend at least half an hour in the sun daily, if possible

If you take vitamin D supplements, make sure not to exceed the safe upper intake level, which is 4,000 IU (100 micrograms) per day for adults (14).

According to the US Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance is 400–800 IU (10–20 micrograms), but common supplemental doses range from 1,000–2,000 IU (25–50 micrograms) per day.

For detailed information on the optimal dosage of vitamin D, read this article.

SUMMARYYou can increase your vitamin D levels by regularly eating foods rich in vitamin D and spending time in the sun.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin D is not a single compound but a family of related nutrients. The most common dietary forms are vitamins D2 and D3.

The D3 form is found in fatty animal-sourced foods, such as fish oil and egg yolk. Your skin also produces it in response to sunlight or ultraviolet light. In contrast, vitamin D2 comes from plants.

Interestingly, vitamin D3 appears to be more effective at increasing levels of vitamin D in the blood. Although, scientists debate the relevance of this to human health.

To maintain adequate vitamin D levels, make sure to regularly eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D or spend some time in the sun. If you take supplements, vitamin D3 is probably your best choice.FEEDBACK:

Written by Atli Arnarson, PhD on March 4, 2018

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