You might be surprised to learn that there is actually more than one type of vitamin D. In fact, it is broken down into vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Both of these vitamins will help you to reach your daily requirements of vitamin D, but what is the difference between vitamin D and vitamin D3, and how do you know which one you should take?
In this article, we’ll explain the key differences between vitamins D2 and D3, as well as discussing the benefits taking vitamin D supplements as part of your daily routine.
Vitamin D Vs Vitamin D3: Is There Really A Difference?
There are two different types of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Although both of these vitamins share a similar chemical structure and count towards your daily vitamin D intake, there are some differences between the two types that you need to be aware of.
Continue reading to learn more about the two types of vitamin D, including which is right for you and how much vitamin D your body needs each day.
What Is Vitamin D?
Before we discuss the different types of vitamin D which are available, we need to understand what exactly vitamin D is and the role that it plays in the human body.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for all living creatures, and is unique in being the only vitamin that can be taken from a non-food source. Vitamin D is naturally produced by the human skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Back in caveman times, this was great news as humans spent their lives outdoors. However, in modern times, many people spend the majority of their days indoors, meaning that they may struggle to get enough vitamin D from sunlight alone.
Additionally, if you live in a high latitude country such as the UK, New Zealand, Southern Australia and the Northern US, the sunlight may not be sufficient to enable your skin to produce enough vitamin D, particularly through the winter months.
That’s why many countries, including the UK, advise residents to take vitamin D supplements. This helps to ensure that your body gets enough vitamin D, even when your skin isn’t exposed to enough sunlight.
The Battle Of The D Vitamins: But What Is The Difference?
There are two types of vitamin D that you need to be aware of: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is also known as ergocalciferol, whilst vitamin D3 is cholecalciferol.
The main difference between vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 is where it comes from. Vitamin D3 is produced by humans and other animals, whilst vitamin D2 is produced by plant sources.
Vitamin D3 is what is made by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. This is because the UVB radiation in sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D3 within the skin. In countries near to the equator such as India, only half an hour of midday sun twice a week is required for the skin to produce enough vitamin D3.
Vitamin D2 is produced by plants in a similar process. UVB radiation causes vitamin D2 to be produced by ergosterol, which is a compound found within plants. That’s why certain types of mushrooms can be treated with UVB light to increase the amount of vitamin D that they contain.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
It is recommended by the NHS that children from the age of 1 and adults require 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day, whilst babies under the age of 1 require between 8.5 and 10 micrograms. 10 micrograms is equivalent to 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D.
During the spring and summer months, most people are able to produce the majority of their vitamin D requirements from sunlight alone. However, during the winter months, it can be more difficult as the sun isn’t as strong and most people spend more time indoors or wearing warmer clothing.
Sources Of Vitamin D
As well as being produced by your skin upon exposure to sunlight, vitamin D can also be found in certain foods.
Vitamin D3 can naturally be found in animal sources, including:
- Oily fish such as trout, salmon and sardines
- Egg yolk
- Cod liver oil
Vitamin D2 is produced by plants, so small amounts of vitamin D2 can be found in certain vegetables. However, most vegetables do not contain sufficient quantities of vitamin D2 to meet your daily requirements.
Sources of vitamin D2 include:
- Mushrooms grown in UV light such as chestnut mushrooms
- Fortified foods such as some cereals, breads and butters
How Does Sunlight Turn Into Vitamin D?
We’ve already mentioned that vitamin D is produced by the human skin upon exposure to sunlight, but how exactly does that happen?
When UVB radiation from sunlight hits the skin, it triggers the production of a substance called cholecalciferol. This substance is then converted into calcidiol and then calcitriol by the liver and kidneys.
Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D3 and is what a vitamin D blood test looks for. Calcitriol is then able to travel around your body to the cells in which it is required.
Benefits Of Vitamin D
The benefits of vitamin D are extensive. In fact, vitamin D plays a key role in a wide range of your body’s core functions.
Vitamin D in involved with:
- Calcium and phosphorus absorption
- Maintaining healthy bones and teeth
- The effective function of the immune system
- Healthy cell division
Read on to find out more about the benefits of vitamin D.
Vitamin D And Calcium Absorption
Vitamin D has a key role to play in your body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorus, by increasing the quantity of these minerals that your intestines can absorb. This is because vitamin D stimulates bone calcium mobilisation, at the same time as increasing your renal reabsorption of calcium.
Calcium and phosphorus are fundamental for bone and muscles health. That’s why a deficiency in these minerals often causes joint pain, muscle spasms and osteoporosis.
Without vitamin D, your body would only be able to absorb around a tenth of the calcium that you consume. This shows just how important vitamin D is in supporting your body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your diet.
Vitamin D And Bone Health
Vitamin D also plays an important role in the health of your bones and teeth. This is because our body needs vitamin D to be able to extract calcium from our food.
If your body becomes deficient in vitamin D, you will find it more difficult to absorb both calcium and phosphorus. Over time, this can lead to osteomalacia, causing your bones to become weaker and increasing your risk of fractures.
If a child is deficient in vitamin D, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a condition in which the bones begin to soften, often causing bowlegs.
Making sure that you consume enough vitamin D, either through taking vitamin D supplements or spending adequate time in sunlight is the best way to ensure that your body has plenty of vitamin D, can help to keep your bones in the best possible health.
Vitamin D And The Immune System
Vitamin D is also important for supporting a healthy immune system. This is because vitamin D helps to facilitate normal immune responses to fight off illness. That’s why a deficiency in vitamin D can leave you more susceptible to illnesses.
In fact, studies have found that vitamin D can help to support both innate and adaptive immune responses. This means that not only does vitamin D help you to fight illness, but it can also help to reduce your risk of autoimmune problems.
Do I Need To Take A Vitamin D Supplement?
Whilst your skin is able to naturally produce vitamin D3 when it is exposed to sunlight, most people are unable to produce enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. This is because the levels of sunlight, particularly during the winter months, are rarely high enough to meet your daily requirements.
As it is difficult to get the right amount of vitamin D from sunlight and diet alone, it is recommended by the NHS that all adults and children over the age of 1 take a supplement containing 10 microgram of vitamin D through the between the months of October and March. Additionally, you can continue to take the supplement through the summer months if you are concerned that you may not be getting enough vitamin D from sunlight alone.
Infants under 1 do not need a vitamin D supplement if they are formula fed. This is because formula milk has already been fortified with vitamin D. However, it is recommended that breastfed babies and children who do not consume formula milk should take a vitamin D supplement to ensure they are consuming their daily requirements of vitamin D.
Who Is At Risk Of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Some people are at an increased risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. This means that certain groups of people are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D.
You are advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement if you:
- Spend most of your time indoors
- Are in a care home
- Wear clothes which cover most of your skin when outdoors
- Have dark skin (for example, you are from an African, African-Caribbean or South Asian background)
This is because people within these risk groups are at risk of not producing enough vitamin D from sunlight, which could lead to a vitamin D deficiency.
Symptoms Of Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s important to ensure that you have enough vitamin D in your body to prevent a vitamin D deficiency. This means getting enough safe exposure to sunlight or taking a vitamin D supplement. If you become deficient in vitamin D, it can lead to bone conditions such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis, along with rickets in children.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include:
- Bone and joint pains
- Frequent infections
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Growth problems in children
- Muscle pain
If you think that you might be suffering from the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency, it’s important to speak to your doctor or health care provider as soon as possible. They can assess your condition and take a blood sample to check for a vitamin D deficiency, as well as ruling out any other underlying issues that could be causing your symptoms.
Is Vitamin D Suitable For Vegans?
Everyone needs vitamin D for the healthy function of the human body. However, certain types of vitamin D are not suitable for vegans. This is because vitamin D3 can be derived from animal sources such as sheep’s wool. Vitamin D2 is synthetically produced, so vitamin D2 supplements are typically suitable for vegans. However, like everything it’s always best to read the label to be certain.
When Should I Take Vitamin D Morning Or Night?
In most cases, it doesn’t matter what time of day you take vitamin D supplements. The most important thing is that it fits into your daily routine, so that you can take it at the same time every day, whether that’s with your breakfast in a morning or straight before you go to bed at night. If you find that your vitamin D supplements are affecting your sleep, you can try changing the time of day at which you take it.
Try Vitamin D Supplements Today
Vitamin D plays a key role in many of your body’s key functions, from maintaining healthy bones and teeth to facilitating a healthy immune response. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to many different health conditions, from osteoporosis and osteomalacia to frequent bouts of illness or infection. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough vitamin D each day.
The easiest way to boost your intake of vitamin D is by taking a high-quality daily vitamin D supplement. This will help to prevent vitamin D deficiency whilst promoting your overall health.