Vitamin D vs Vitamin D3

The difference between Vitamin D, D2, and D3 can be confusing. Vegans, more than most, need to pay close attention to what kind of Vitamin D they’re taking, as some forms come from animal sources. 


As vegans, we want to know everything we eat is responsibly sourced. Vitamins and supplements are no exception. Along with making sure ingredients are animal-free, knowing which to choose when there are multiple kinds of the same Vitamin can be confusing.


On top of all that, it’s essential to make sure our supplements are optimized for absorption. 


Fortunately, this essential Vitamin can come from plant-based sources as well. Whether it be fungi or lichen, there’s a way to deliver the right amount of IUs, and the right kind, on the vegan diet. 


Welcome to your one-stop vegan shop for which kind of Vitamin D you should take and the differences between Vitamin D, D2, and D3. We’ll break down what separates one type of Vitamin D from another and where it all originates.

What Exactly Is Vitamin D

Although we refer to it casually as a vitamin, Vitamin D is a hormone that contributes to the health of multiple body systems.


Not only that, Vitamin D is one of the most ancient known hormones that contribute to the function of living organisms. Knowing it has been around for at least 750 million years puts into perspective just how essential this nutrient is. 


The Vitamin D we need can come from two different sources: the first from sunlight and the second from food. 


When we spend enough time in the sun or under ultraviolet light, Vitamin D3 forms naturally in our skin. This chemical reaction happens primarily in the summer season. The Vitamin D is then further broken down through our liver and kidneys and binds to receptors called VDRs.


Without getting too deep into the science, Vitamin D is responsible for another chain of molecular events which allow our bodies to absorb Calcium. 


When we spend enough time in the sun or under ultraviolet light, Vitamin D3 forms naturally in our skin. It is further broken down through our liver and kidneys and binds to Vitamin D receptors. 

What Does Vitamin D Do for Your Body

Vitamin D is essential to our health in multiple ways. Even as you read this, science is discovering the new ways in which this hormone benefits us. 


While health experts are still researching Vitamin D for depression and other health issues, science to back up its importance already exists. 


As vitamin deficiency becomes a worldwide health issue, we need to be informed about how to get the best supplements.


Vitamin D benefits multiple aspects of our health. Giving us a strong backbone and the potential for improved cognitive function.

Vitamin D Builds Tough Bones

We have all heard the tired myth of “Milk builds strong bones.” Preserving your health from the inside out, Vitamin D will help your body maintain calcium homeostasis, an essential for strong bones.


In simple terms, Vitamin D is the messenger that signals the bones to release stored Calcium to fulfill our daily needs. Therefore, without the right balance of Vitamin D, we can also become Calcium deficient.

Vitamin D Supports the Heart

Vitamin D is present in many different essential organs and body systems. Doctors speculate it may have many more important functions we have not discovered yet.


In addition to helping you prevent fractures and osteoporosis, Vitamin D is part of a fully rounded cardiovascular regime. As time goes on, studies show that stroke and other cardiovascular diseases may have a connection to low Vitamin D levels. 

It May Support Overall Health

The scientific and health communities are still researching the importance of Vitamin D. As evidence builds, we are finding that Vitamin D might even play a role in healing, such as DNA repair and cell growth. 


Other Vitamin D benefits include the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders and even perhaps cancer. It also has anti-inflammatory components. 

Vitamin D Deficiency Can Be Devastating

Some of the worst symptoms of low Vitamin D have to do with musculoskeletal dysfunction and bone problems. Additional complications from Vitamin D deficiency are anemia, diabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular disorders.

The Various Forms of Vitamin D

Living a vegan lifestyle, especially one that incorporates a physical regime, requires great care and attention. This mindful way of taking in nutrition means we need to know about the nuances of all our supplements and double-check that our Vitamin D is vegan. There is also a slight difference between Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 benefits.


If you’ve shopped for a Vitamin D supplement, you’ve probably noticed some are labeled Vitamin D, others Vitamin D2, and others Vitamin D3. Vitamin D is a general term that includes both Vitamin D2 and D3. 

Not All Vitamin D Is Created Equal

There are kinds vegans should take and others we shouldn’t. 


The difference between Vitamin D2 and D3 is their source and how they enter our bodies. For vegans, this difference is essential. There is a gray area between how vegan either of these can be. 


Vitamin D2 always comes from plant sources like lichen or fungi and is most often ingested through foods or supplements. Fortified foods, like cereals, plant milk, and vegan proteins contain this Vitamin D. 


Vitamin D3 comes primarily from animal sources. However, it can also come from fungi and plant sources. Another source of Vitamin D3 is what our body creates naturally in reaction to sunlight. 

Are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 Interchangeable

For vegans, the short answer is no, not necessarily. 


While Vitamin D2 is always plant-based, Vitamin D3 can be either. Most sources of Vitamin D3 originate from fish or dairy products, which come with a myriad of health risks. On the bright side, D3 can also come from lichen and fungi. 


Fortunately, plenty of great brands are suitable for vegans and will deliver the Vitamin D kick you need. 

Vitamin D2 vs D3: Similarities

Both Vitamin D2 and D3 are similar. Our body uses Vitamin D for the same thing, no matter what number it is. Some other similarities include:


  • Both are broken down by liver and kidneys
  • Both bind to calcitriol receptors
  • Same health benefits
  • Both available from plant-based sources

Vitamin D2 vs D3: Differences

Although D2 and D3 are more similar than not, some of the things we have discussed certainly set them apart. 


Vitamin D2 is:

  • Less expensive to manufacture
  • Vegan friendly
  • Slightly less bioavailable
  • Usually included in fortified foods


Vitamin D3 is:

  • Sourced from animals
  • Naturally produced in our bodies
  • Sometimes sourced from fungus
  • Slightly more bioavailable


While Vitamin D2 tends to show lower levels in the bloodstream, there is no significant difference in the benefits you can reap as long as you take Vitamin D2 or D3 as directed. 

vitamins vegan

Are Vegans at Higher Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency

While Vegans are technically at a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency, people everywhere who adhere to all kinds of diets can suffer from this condition. 


Vegans are at a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency simply because Vitamin D is found primarily in animal-based foods. However, the fact that food producers fortify milk and cereals with Vitamin D tells us most Americans aren’t getting what they need from food in the first place.


Like so many other vitamins and minerals, eating animal products doesn’t guarantee you will get all the nutrients you need. Being a physically active vegan means keeping close tabs on all your vitamin levels, and D should be at the top of your priority list.

Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency

Being vegan itself isn’t a risk factor for Vitamin D, as we can keep close track of how much we’re getting and make sure to take a quality supplement.


Some risk factors combined with a vegan diet may make a person more susceptible to Vitamin D deficiency


These risk factors range from inherent traits to various health issues we may be able to control. If any of the following apply to you, make sure to factor it into your well-being plan and talk to your health care practitioner about a Vitamin D plan. 


Here are health factors to consider if you think you might not be getting enough Vitamin D:


  • Darker skin pigmentation
  • Obesity
  • Advanced age
  • Too little sun exposure
  • Premature birth
  • People with IBS or other digestive disorders


Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone, it is best practice for vegans to take Vitamin D with a high-fat meal. Digestive disorders which prevent the absorption of fat cause a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency. 


Getting your natural dose of Vitamin D vs. sun protection is a delicate balance. Tread carefully! 

Should Vegans Take Vitamin D2 or D3

As long as the Vitamin D is from plant-based sources, vegans can take either Vitamin D2 or Vitamin D3. While D2 is always vegan, Vitamin D3 can come from animal or plant sources. Studies have shown that D3 is more bioavailable than D2, though the difference is not significant.


Vitamin D is an essential hormone made in our body in response to sunlight. Some foods naturally contain Vitamin D while others have Vitamin D2 added. Musculoskeletal disease, diabetes, and rickets are just a few health problems that can arise from not getting enough of this powerhouse vitamin. 


Although people from all over the world suffer from Vitamin D deficiencies, vegans are at a higher risk since the primary source of dietary Vitamin D comes from dairy and meat. 


A quality Vitamin D supplement should be part of every vegan’s dietary regime. It helps us build strong bones and muscles, creating a solid foundation for a healthy life. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The world of vitamins and minerals is complicated. However, understanding what we are putting in our bodies is a top priority for vegans. If you still have lingering questions about Vitamin D vs D2 and D3, read below for final answers. 

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the oldest hormones produced by living creatures and is essential to the health of bones, muscles, and perhaps more. Vitamin D is processed through our liver and kidneys and is necessary for the absorption of Calcium. 

Is Vitamin D deficiency bad?

Not getting enough Vitamin D, especially as an infant or child, can lead to a long list of adverse health effects. Rickets, brittle bones, and cardiovascular disease are just some of the more significant issues that can arise from Vitamin D deficiency.

Is Vitamin D different from Vitamin D2 and D3?

While Vitamin D is an umbrella term for all forms of Vitamin D, D2 and D3 are different mainly in their sourcing. D2 comes from plant sources such as fungi. Vitamin D3 is produced naturally in our skin, comes from meat and dairy, but can also come from plant sources. 

Is all Vitamin D vegan?

No, not all forms of Vitamin D are vegan. 

What kind of Vitamin D should vegans take?

Vegans can take either Vitamin D2 or D3, as long as it is plant-based. 

What is the Vitamin D dosage for adults?

Before deciding on the dosage of a supplement, it is always best to check with your Doctor. If you are Vitamin D deficient, you may want to take a much stronger supplement than what is available over the counter. However, the safe recommended Vitamin D IU per day for adults is 600IU. For children, stick to 400 IU or less. If you’re over the age of 70, doctors recommend 800IU/day. 

How do I know if my Vitamin D is vegan?

Check labels carefully before purchasing a Vitamin D supplement, or ask your Doctor or Naturopath about their favorite vegan brand. 

Why do doctors prescribe Vitamin D2 instead of D3?

Doctors prescribe Vitamin D2 more often than Vitamin D3 because the former is both easier and cheaper to mass-produce. Although Vitamin D3 is slightly more bioavailable according to some studies, the difference is not significant enough to cause concern, and D2 is a safe, sufficient Vitamin D supplement. 

About the author
Jason Hughes
Follow Me