Vitamin D vs D3: What’s the difference?

Difference between vitamin d and d3 Health & Lifestyle
September 2, 2022
6 minutes Read
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Is vitamin D the same as D3? If you’ve been shopping around for a vitamin D supplement, you may be confused by the labeling. Likely, you’ll notice three options for purchase: vitamin D, vitamin D3, and sometimes, vitamin D2.

So when it comes to vitamin D vs D3, which one should you buy?

Firstly, let’s discuss vitamin D, which is fat-soluble and found in certain foods and health supplements. Also, this micronutrient is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Secondly, the difference between vitamin D and D3 may not be what you expect! 

So what is the difference between vitamin D and vitamin D3? Vitamin D comes in two primary forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).

However, to get to the bottom of vitamin D3 vs D, we need to discuss the basics.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, but what does that mean exactly? A fat-soluble vitamin is a nutrient that dissolves in oils and fats. Furthermore, our bodies need specific amounts of vitamins to work and be healthy.

Fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin D, are absorbed along with fats we ingest, and they are stored in the liver and your fatty tissue. Vitamin A and K are also fat-soluble. 

Vitamin D is necessary for our well-being because it helps regulate bone growth, immunity, and calcium absorption. 

It’s not always easy to get ample vitamin D through your diet only, as natural sources rich in this micronutrient are rare. Therefore, some may be unknowingly deficient in it. 

According to the NHS, lacking this vitamin can cause bone deformities or pain. The UK government suggests that people consider taking a vitamin D supplement during colder months when it’s natural to spend more time indoors.

And those with higher chances of being low in vitamin D include young kids and babies (unless an infant’s formula has enough). But is D3 the same as vitamin D, and how should you get it into your diet?

But, is vitamin D3 the same as vitamin D? To start, vitamin D is a family of nutrients that have similar chemical structures. In daily life, the most commonly found members are D2 and D3. 

Generally, you can get vitamin D from:

  • Spending time outside from late March until the end of September (but talk to your doctor about UV protection).
  • Sardines, salmon, mackerel, and herring.
  • Butter.
  • Red meat.
  • Egg yolks. 
  • Liver.
  • Fortified foods, like certain cereals, margarine, and milk.
  • Dietary supplements (You’ll want to know the difference between vitamin D and D3 before choosing your supplement).

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, selecting oil-based supplements or taking them with meals containing some healthy fats is highly recommended

Luckily, our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. But, if you’re more of an indoor kind of person, you might need to find alternative methods to get the correct amount of this vitamin through your meals or supplementation. 

A healthcare professional can help you understand the difference between vitamin D and D3. But to get you on the right track here’s some more information:

Vitamin D vs D3: what’s the difference?

If you’re in the supplement aisle wondering, “Is vitamin D3 the same as vitamin D?” Your confusion is completely valid. As mentioned above, labels tend to come with three options: vitamin D, vitamin D2, and vitamin D3. 

However, the good news is that if you turn the bottle over and look at the back, there should be an ingredient list to explain what the supplement consists of. 

Vitamin D isn’t one single nutrient. More specifically, it comes in two common dietary forms known as D2 and D3. Therefore, when you’re asking, “What is the difference between vitamin D and vitamin D3?” the answer is none!

What are the types of vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is the general term for ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) or cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). It can be acquired from fortified foods, milk, wild salmon, fish liver oil, and exposure to the sun. 

According to an article written by Lynn Green, Integrative Nurse, and Master Herbalist, many Americans don’t get enough vitamin D through their daily diet. Also, darker skin tones can make it more difficult to absorb the sun (and get enough of the vitamin). Therefore, quality supplements recommended by a health expert can come in handy.

So let’s look at some specifics of D vs D3 and D2:

Vitamin D3 is:

  • One kind of vitamin D.
  • The preferred and active form of vitamin D. 
  • Also known as cholecalciferol.
  • Can be manufactured by the body.
  • Found in most over-the-counter vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D2 is:  

  • One kind of vitamin D.
  • Also known as ergocalciferol.
  • Not able to be manufactured by the body.

What are the benefits of vitamin D vs D3 and D2?

Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb phosphorus and calcium (which are critical for building our bones). And according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, research shows that vitamin D can decrease cancer cell growth, reduce inflammation, help control infections, and metabolize glucose. 

Furthermore, vitamin D can benefit your body because it may:

  1. Support weight loss. 
  2. Reduce depression. 
  3. Regulate your mood.
  4. Combat disease.
  5. Boost immune function.

Is vitamin D the same as D3 and D2, and what’s better? 

D2 is produced in fungi and plants. And some commercially-sold mushrooms contain more D2 because their manufacturers intentionally expose them to higher amounts of UV rays. 

On the other hand, D3 is naturally produced by your body, and it’s also found in foods from animal sources (like egg yolks, fatty fish, fish oil, organ meats, and liver). 

Harvard T.H. Chan explains an ongoing debate on whether D3 is better than D2 (making vitamin D vs D3 and D2 a little more complicated). But we’ll explain this in more detail a little further down.

What is the difference between vitamin D and vitamin D3 and vitamin D2? Are there similarities?

D2 and D3 are two different kinds of vitamin D, but they share some similarities. 

When ingested, both vitamin D2 and D3 pass through the kidneys and liver, processing them into a usable and active vitamin D form. 

However, research around D2 and D3 can contradict. Harvard Medical School explains that studies that examined daily dosages of D2 and D3 indicate that both boost vitamin D equally and effectively. 

Therefore, choosing the type of vitamin D is potentially less important than ensuring you get the right dose. Many experts suggest 600 to 800 IUs of the sunshine vitamin daily. But, check with a nutritionist or doctor to get more detailed information and dosage amounts.

On the flip side, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study explaining more about vitamin D3 vs D and D2.

Namely, it noted that D3 supplements typically raise blood concentrations of vitamin D more than D2. Also, the research explains that D3 supplements tended to help the body sustain the levels for longer than D2 did. However, further research is needed. 

Is D3 the same as vitamin D regarding how we get it? Vitamin D production from time outdoors tends to be the primary way in which we get the nutrient. 

We can become vitamin D deficient during winter months, or if we live in an area without much sunlight. 

Furthermore, some experts cite that vitamin D3 is the preferred form because it’s naturally made in the body. 

To break it down clearly, here are some key differences. 

  • D2 is produced in fungi and plants, and it can be found in fortified foods. 
  • D3 is produced in animals and humans and when the skin has UVB exposure.

How can we increase our vitamin D levels? 

Our bodies require vitamin D for many crucial processes, like building strong bones. Insufficient vitamin D intake is considered a significant public health concern globally. Roughly 13% of our world’s population is believed to be vitamin D deficient. 

The first step in learning how to boost your health is with knowledge. So it’s worth asking questions like: Is vitamin D the same as D3? Once you know the basics, it’s easier to know how to improve your health. 

Secondly, if you sense that you’re low in vitamin D, visit your doctor to discuss testing, diet, and supplementation. 

Below are some ways to help improve your vitamin D levels:

  1. Get outdoors. In an article for Healthline, Ryan Raman (MS, RD) suggests ten-30 minutes of sunlight during midday, several times a week. Sun exposure should largely depend on your skin’s sensitivity and attention to avoid skin damage.
  2. Eat fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and oysters. 
  3. Consume more mushrooms.
  4. Eat egg yolks. 
  5. Choose vitamin-D fortified food. 
  6. Take a supplement.

If you’re a vegan, it’s worth noting that most vitamin D supplements are derived from animal sources, but some vegan supplement options do exist.

Also, since vitamin D2 is plant-derived, it’s considered a vegan-friendly supplement. Vegan D3 is less common than its counterpart but can be made using lichens. 


Is vitamin D3 the same as vitamin D?

The short answer to this question is yes. Vitamin D has two main biological forms: ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Generally, D2 comes from plants, while D3 comes from animals and UVB exposure. 

If you’re buying a supplement, read the label to learn what form of vitamin D you’re purchasing. Studies suggest that vitamin D3 may be more effective at raising and maintaining vitamin D levels in the bloodstream. However, more research is needed.

How can I get a vitamin D test?

You’ll want to download the Ravkoo Health App to schedule and confer with a licensed doctor. Once the app is downloaded onto your smartphone, you can book a physician’s appointment using Ravkoo MD

Also, you can easily order a Vitamin D test to be delivered to your home using Ravkoo Lab. You’ll be able to screen yourself, order the lab, and receive results within 3-5 business days. 

Alternatively, you can visit your doctor to receive a lab requisition form should it be necessary. 

What are the symptoms of low vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency happens when a person’s body doesn’t get enough of the nutrient from sunlight or diet and can lead to broken bones, osteoporosis, and loss of bone density. 

It can be difficult to notice if you’re low in this vitamin because symptoms can take time to appear. Sometimes, you might not have symptoms at all. However, a few signs you may be low in vitamin D include fatigue, frequent illness, bone pain, depression, or hair loss. 

Vitamin D deficiency is often treated with dietary changes, mindful sun exposure, and supplementation.

Check with your MD to learn what option is best for you!

To sum up:  Think of D2 and D3 as siblings under vitamin D (their general, overarching term). If you take a vitamin D supplement, be careful to follow the directions and take the recommended amount. Furthermore, experts believe that vitamin D3 supplements might be of higher quality than D2 supplements. Studies show that D2 is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, so the ingredients may degrade with time.

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