Everyone needs enough Vitamin D. But before you supplement your diet with this important vitamin, make sure you know the difference between Vitamin D2 and D3.
Vitamin D is crucial for bone health and immune system function. The trouble with Vitamin D is that our bodies need sunshine to produce it. So plenty of people turn to vitamin supplements and fortified foods to top up their Vitamin D levels. It’s a sensible strategy. But did you know that Vitamin D is actually made of several different forms of the vitamin?
Handpicked content: What is vitamin D and why is it so important?
Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3
Vitamin D2 and D3 are the two most important forms for your health. Vitamin D2 is produced by plants, and Vitamin D3 is the one made by your skin when you get enough sunlight.
Fortified foods can contain either form. Studies show that Vitamin D3 is far more important for our health than Vitamin D2. So either choose a Vitamin D3 supplement, or one which contains optimal levels of both forms. Vitamin D2 is not enough.
Experts used to think that vitamins D2 and D3 were of equal importance for human health. But this was based on outdated studies of rickets in children. These days, we know lots more about Vitamin D. And it’s clear that D3 is far more important – and more effective – for our health and wellbeing.
We need to look at how the body absorbs Vitamin D to understand why Vitamin D3 is more important. There are lots of biological processes involved. A specific enzyme in the liver helps Vitamin D3 metabolise into the bioactive form of Vitamin D. This process takes much longer with Vitamin D2.
All about Vitamin D2
Plants produce this form of Vitamin D when they are exposed to UV light (in much the same way as our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D). The most common example is wild mushrooms or mushrooms produced under UV light. Dairy-free milk (including soya, coconut, and almond milk) are often boosted with D2.
All about Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 is the biologically active form of the vitamin, found in our bodies and in animals. When sunlight hits exposed skin, a reactive process converts cholesterol into Vitamin D3.
Although you need both forms, Vitamin D3 is more important for your health and wellbeing. Our bodies absorb and use Vitamin D3 better, and it is more effective at treating diseases.
Studies have shown that it’s Vitamin D3, not D2, that maintains levels of Vitamin D in our body even over winter months. It’s important to note that dietary sources of Vitamin D3 can only be found in animal products. So if you’re vegan, you need to pay extra attention to supplementing your diet with Vitamin D3.
Choosing a sunshine supplement
Now you know that the human body needs two types of Vitamin D, you can navigate the labels of your vitamin supplements and fortified foods. Foods like dairy-replacements, orange juice, and breakfast cereals are often fortified with Vitamin D. Check the balance of Vitamin D2 and D3 to ensure you are getting enough D3.
If you are on any medication which contains Vitamin D, check with your Doctor before supplementing with more. Most Vitamin D supplements will either be higher in D3, or be purely D3. Do check to ensure that you haven’t picked up a D2 supplement. If you are vegan or vegetarian, choose a D3 supplement that isn’t based on animal products.
How to get more Vitamin D in your day
Vitamin D is important for a host of health functions, from strong bones to a robust immune system. These strategies will help you get more Vitamin D into your day.
If the sun is up before you go to work, get outside. Sit in a sunny corner of your garden with your first cuppa of the day, or take the dog for a short stroll. The sunshine on your skin will boost Vitamin D production.
Make smart choices at breakfast to increase your Vitamin D. Whole eggs and oily fish are great sources. Scrambled egg with wild smoked salmon is perfect. Or choose a breakfast cereal or instant oats brand fortified with Vitamin D3. Orange juice and non-dairy milk drinks like soya and almond milk contain Vitamin D.
If you can, get outside during the sunniest part of the day, it will be great for your Vitamin D levels. Roll up your sleeves to expose your hands and forearms, and go for a short stroll in the full sunshine.
Tinned tuna is a good source of dietary Vitamin D and is a convenient choice for lunch on-the-go. Try it as a topping for a jacket potato, or as part of a healthy salad.
An evening stroll
Have you got time for a short walk before dinner? Wind down after your busy day by going for a walk with your kids or partner and get away from the TV and into the sunlight.
What’s for dinner?
Add some Vitamin D sources to your evening meal. Choosing oily fish like wild salmon and wild-grown mushrooms.
Your daily dose
Finally, take a daily Vitamin D supplement to cover your everyday dose of Vitamins D2 and D3. It’s a cost-effective way to get peace of mind all year round.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.