Vitamins D2 and D3 are the two main forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 is found in plants and yeasts, while D3 comes from animal sources. Vitamin D is essential for a range of bodily functions such as bone, muscle and immune system health.
The human body is able to produce vitamin D in response to sun exposure. However, some people may need to increase their intake through certain foods or supplements. Both vitamins D2 and D3 can help a person meet their vitamin D needs.
This article explains what vitamins D2 and D3 are, their differences and their effects on the body. It also lists foods rich in these two types of vitamin.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is essential for good health. It helps the body absorb the calcium it needs to build, maintain and repair bones. It also plays a key role in muscle movement, the nervous system and the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to serious health problems. Research suggests that 50% of the world’s population has insufficient levels of vitamin D, while 35% of adults are vitamin D deficient.
In children, vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets. Their bones then soften and become prone to fractures. In adults, it can increase the risk of osteomalacia and osteoporosis, which results in soft or brittle bones. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. However, many manufacturers fortify foods with this vitamin, such as cereals and milk, for public health reasons.
Normally, one gets most of their vitamin D through the sun or supplements. When people expose their skin to the sun, a chain of reactions occurs, allowing the body to produce vitamin D. Different things can influence the amount of vitamin D produced by the skin. Fair-skinned people produce more vitamin D than dark-skinned people, for example. Other factors include weather and time of day. While the sun is the main source of vitamin D, it’s important to remember that sunburn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
Benefits of Vitamin D3 vs Benefits of Vitamin D2
Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are the two main forms of vitamin D. Scientists sometimes call D2 ergocalciferol and D3 cholecalciferol.
Both play the same role in the body, but vitamins D2 and D3 have slightly different molecular structures. The main difference is that vitamin D2 comes from plants, while D3 comes from animals, including humans. Scientists don’t yet know if one is better than the other for human health. Both types of supplements increase the level of vitamin D in a person’s blood. Vitamin D3 can boost levels higher and for longer than D2. A 2012 study indicates that vitamin D3 appears to be more effective at increasing vitamin D levels than D2.
Other studies also suggest that D3 may be superior to D2. A 2016 study notes that vitamin D3 supplementation twice a week for 5 weeks was more effective in increasing vitamin D levels in adults than the same amount of vitamin D2.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D2
Few foods are naturally high in vitamin D. Some manufacturers artificially fortify their products with D2, which comes from plants. These fortified products may include
– cow’s milk and vegetable milks, such as oat, almond and soy milk
– the Orange juice
– the cereals.
The amount of D2 contained in the product often depends on the manufacturer. This information can be found on the label. Mushrooms and yeast that have been exposed to sunlight or UV rays are among the few foods that naturally contain high levels of vitamin D2. Half a cup of raw white mushrooms contains 46% of the recommended daily value (DV) of vitamin D for an adult.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D3
Foods naturally rich in vitamin D3 come from animal sources. They can include
– Cod liver oil: One tablespoon contains 170% of the recommended vitamin D intake for an adult.
– Trout: 85g of cooked rainbow trout contains 81% of the DV of vitamin D.
– Salmon: 85g of cooked sockeye salmon contains 71% of the DV of vitamin D.
Other foods contain vitamin D3, but in smaller amounts. These include in particular:
– Sardines: After draining the oil, 2 sardines from a can will provide 6% of an adult’s vitamin D RDA.
– Eggs: 1 large egg provides 6% of an adult’s daily vitamin D intake.
– Beef liver: 60 g of braised beef liver contains 5% of the daily vitamin D intake of an adult.
– Tuna: 60 g of canned tuna also provide 5% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult.
Vitamin D2 and D3, what to remember
Vitamin D is essential for health. It plays a key role in maintaining healthy bones, nervous system and immune system. Vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun, through diet or through supplements. Vitamins D2 and D3 are the main forms of vitamin D and both play the same role in the body. Scientists don’t know if one is better than the other, although some studies have shown that D3 is more effective than D2 in increasing vitamin D levels in the body. Vitamin D2 comes from plants, while animals, including humans, produce D3.
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Therefore, manufacturers may fortify foods with vitamin D, such as milks, juices and cereals. Mushrooms are a good natural source of vitamin D2, while fatty fish are a good source of vitamin D3.
Buttriss, JL, et al. (2020). Is a vitamin D fortification strategy needed?
Moriarty, C. (2018). Vitamin D myths ‘D’-bunked.
Shieh, A., et al. (2016). Effects of high-dose vitamin D2 versus D3 on total and free 25-hydroxyvitamin D and markers of calcium balance.
Sizar, O., et al. (2021). Vitamin D deficiency.
Tripkovic, L., et al. (2012). Comparison of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 supplementation in raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
Wacker, M., et al. (2013). Sunlight and vitamin D: A global perspective for health.
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