Vitamin D2 Vs. D3: What Are The Similarities And Differences?

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Want to learn how to compare vitamin D2 vs. D3 and find out which one is better for your health? Read on and know more about these vitamins.
RELATED: 13 Amazing Vitamin D3 Benefits You Should Know
In this article:

  1. What Is Vitamin D?
  2. The Confusing Case of Vitamin D2 vs. D3
  3. Why Do People Need Vitamin D Supplements?
  4. Do People Need Both Kinds of “D”?
  5. Where Do Vitamins D2 and D3 Come From?
  6. What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Vitamin D2 vs. D3?
  7. What Are the Overall Benefits of Vitamin D?
  8. What Happens When You Are Vitamin D Deficient?
  9. Does Vitamin D Intoxication Occur?
  10. What Are the Side Effects of Having High Levels of Vitamin D in the Body?

Vitamin D2 vs. D3: Spelling Out Their Differences

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is famous for being called the “sunshine vitamin” primarily because the sun’s rays are rich in it. It is an essential nutrient your body cannot naturally make, so you take it from the sun, foods, and supplements.
It is fat-soluble, which means the body absorbs it with fats, stores it in fatty tissues, and has two forms—D2 and D3.

The Confusing Case of Vitamin D2 vs. D3

There is much hoopla around vitamin D2 vs. D3, and it’s understandable.
Vitamin D is notoriously hard to come by through diet, except for a few fortified products. That’s why doctors urge many of their patients to take vitamin D supplements, particularly as they get older.
Consumers often notice both vitamin D2 and D3 capsules are available. It, then, begs the question: when it comes to vitamin supplements, which between vitamin D2 and D3 is better?

Why Do People Need Vitamin D Supplements?

We often hear doctors saying whole foods are better sources of most vitamins and minerals than supplements. When it comes to vitamin D, the sun is the best “source.”
The ultraviolet (UV) rays activate vitamin D already in the body. There’s a problem, though; getting too much sun can have some health implications.
Doctors, then, tell their patients to consider vitamin D supplements or D-fortified foods rather than risk excess UV exposure. Animal-derived food sources such as fish, eggs, butter, and liver are also natural sources of vitamin D.
There are a few plant sources as well, especially mushrooms that thrive in sunlight rather than shade. None of these dietary vitamin D sources contain the nutrient in high-enough quantities to give us what we need daily.
For this reason, many people need to take vitamin D supplements.
The health food or supermarket shelves, meanwhile, often present unexpected challenges. They offer both vitamins D2 and D3.

Do People Need Both Kinds of “D”?

Health-conscious consumers know there are several B vitamins. Each of them has indispensable properties.
For example, vitamin B12 can boost energy, while B7 (biotin) strengthens hair, nails, and skin.
Most types of foods containing a kind of B vitamin are likely to include most or all the others. The only difference lies in the proportions of one B vitamin to the others.
The same principle doesn’t apply to vitamin D options. The reason you need to compare vitamin D2 vs. D3 is they don’t co-exist in the same natural ways B vitamins do.
The manufacturers of vitamin D supplements can use different sources. It explains why there are two separate forms of vitamin D.
The biggest takeaway for health-conscious consumers? People don’t need to take both forms of vitamin D in the same way they need to ensure they have all the B vitamins.
The main question, then, involves comparing vitamin D3 vs. D2.

Where Do Vitamins D2 and D3 Come From?

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Vitamin D3 supplements are usually harvested from sheep’s wool.

When it comes to synthesizing vitamin D in supplement form, manufacturers have two choices. These are plant or animal sources.
The type of vitamin D found in plant sources is ergocalciferol or D2. It’s the kind found in animal sources is D3 or cholecalciferol.
Consumers who purchase vitamin D2 supplements are most likely getting it from irradiated fungi or yeast grown in laboratory settings. This makes it more cost-effective to produce.
There’s a catch, though. This form of vitamin D, ergocalciferol, is not the same one that exists in the bloodstream.
Vitamin D3, which does resemble human vitamin D, comes from animal sources. The most common process for making D3 supplements is to harvest it from sheep’s wool.
The fat produced by sheep glands, known as lanolin, is plentiful in the animal’s wool. Once the sheep are shaved, the lanolin is then processed and concentrated into a pill form.
(It’s worth noting that a sheep need not be harmed to harvest its wool.)
RELATED: Vitamin K2 Foods List To Include In Your Diet To Support Bone Health

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Vitamin D2 vs. D3?

Because D3 is similar to what the body produces, it’s considered the more superior supplement. Laboratory testing also indicates people who take D3 are more likely to have the recommended dosage of vitamin D in their bloodstream than those who consume vitamin D2 supplements.
The fact that D3 is the form that resembles what humans produce from sunlight, which is cholecalciferol, is the reason it’s more effective than D2 at boosting our natural D levels.
What is the ideal balance of D nutrients? If possible, get a bit of direct sunlight each day and a daily serving of eggs, butter, or fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
Also, choose a vitamin D-fortified cereal or orange juice when making selections of those products.
Finally, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement. This strategy will make up any gaps caused by the limited amounts of D available in sunlight and fortified foods.
Current vitamin D daily recommended dosages fluctuate from as low as 400 IUs of the total vitamin D each day to as high as 4,000 IUs. The exact amount needed depends on your age, gender, skin color, lifestyle, and even changing recommendations as studies continue.

What Are the Overall Benefits of Vitamin D?

With all the focus on vitamin D2 vs. D3, it’s easy to lose track of why the nutrient is so essential. It plays some critical roles in proper body functioning, even when it’s a “supporting player.”
Vitamin D is crucial when it comes to helping the body absorb calcium. Calcium is more available in common foods than vitamin D is.
People can’t absorb all the calcium they consume if they are deficient in vitamin D. For older adults, it means vitamin D is as vital as calcium for preventing brittle or broken bones.
In addition to facilitating calcium absorption, vitamin D helps decrease body inflammation. The nutrient also aids in nervous system function while also boosting immunity.

What Happens When You Are Vitamin D Deficient?

If you constantly have low levels of vitamin D, several health complications can develop, including:

1. Skeletal Disease

Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption in the body. When the levels of the vitamin get too low, your bones have difficulty getting calcium from your diet.
If this keeps going, it can lead to osteoporosis, bone loss, or increased fracture risk.

2. Cognitive Disorders

Vitamin D also helps regulate brain function and development. Low levels of the vitamin may increase the risk of dementia and other cognitive disorders as people age.

3. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS is a disease affecting the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves. A study shows that there is a correlation between MS risk and vitamin D levels.
According to the study, adequate amounts of vitamin D may help people suffering from MS have better long-term memory and a lower risk of developing brain lesions.

4. Obesity

High body mass index and percentage of fat are linked to low levels of vitamin D.
One study revealed that when vitamin D levels are adjusted to a person’s body type, blood levels between obese and non-obese individuals may have no difference. This means obese people need more of the vitamin to reach the same blood levels as non-obese individuals and to prevent vitamin D insufficiency.

Does Vitamin D Intoxication Occur?

Yes, it does, and it happens when your blood levels rise above 150 ng/ml.
Your body stores vitamin D in your fat and releases it gradually into your bloodstream. This is the reason why the effects of toxicity can last for several months after you stop taking the supplements.
This condition is rare and only occurs in people who take the supplements long term without monitoring their blood levels.

What Are the Side Effects of Having High Levels of Vitamin D in the Body?

1. Raised Blood Calcium Levels

One of the primary roles of vitamin D is to help your body absorb calcium from your diet. But if there is too much of it, blood calcium levels increase.
This may provide dangerous symptoms such as the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

A study reported that an older adult with dementia was repeatedly hospitalized because of experiencing symptoms related to an increased calcium level. The patient received 50,000 IU of vitamin D every day for several months.

2. Kidney Injury

One study reported that a patient was hospitalized due to kidney failure and increased levels of blood calcium after receiving vitamin D injections. Another study also showed the same results among participants with and without kidney conditions.

3. Bone Loss

Although the risk of experiencing bone loss is high when you are deficient in the vitamin, having too much can also lead to the same condition. Research suggests that high doses of vitamin D could lower vitamin K2 in the blood.

Vitamin K2 Definition: The vitamin that keeps calcium in the bones and out of the blood

4. Digestive Issues

Diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain can all be signs and symptoms of increased calcium levels due to vitamin D intoxication.
One study revealed that a boy had constipation and stomach pain after taking improperly labeled supplements of the vitamin.
Another research revealed that an 18-month-old infant had stomach pain and diarrhea when given 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 for a few months. The symptoms stopped when the infant stopped receiving the supplement.

5. Poor Appetite, Vomiting, and Nausea

In one study, four of the participants suffered from vomiting and nausea, and three participants experienced a loss of appetite as a result of developing excessive calcium levels when they took high doses of vitamin D.
Here’s what Matt has to say about vitamin D3:

Of course, the best resource for learning about any vitamin supplements or nutrition is one’s doctor. Physicians can order blood tests to determine a patient’s current level of vitamin D.
From there, they can figure out how much vitamin D supplements an individual needs. They can also discuss vitamin D2 vs. D3 extensively, so you can take the vitamin in moderation or with the right amounts.
This way, they can help the patient spot the difference.
Have you been taking a vitamin D supplement? How does it improve your health? Share your stories in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 14, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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