For decades, vitamin D didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. Everyone knew you should get some of the “sunshine” nutrient. But other “alphabet vitamins” such as B and C got most of the attention.
Then, about ten years ago, that finally started to change. We found out far more folks were D deficient that we ever realized. And it became clear that vitamin D shouldn’t just be an afterthought.
The truth is vitamin D is critical for your continued good health. If your levels drop too low, you’re at risk for a variety of illnesses and diseases.
But, simply swallowing any old vitamin D supplement isn’t enough. It turns out the type of D you’re getting matters.
Vitamin D2 versus vitamin D3
There are actually two versions of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Both offer benefits, but our bodies absorb and use one version more easily. (More on that in a moment.)
Your body requires vitamin D to absorb calcium and help your bones grow. When you are getting too little of this vital vitamin your bones can become fragile and break more easily.
And according to scientists, vitamin D may help treat or prevent a variety of other illnesses or diseases including osteoporosis, cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, heart disease flu and more.
Plants produce vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, when they absorb UV radiation. And a synthetic version of vitamin D2 was created in the 1940s.
Food manufacturers sometimes fortify foods with vitamin D. And since D2 is less expensive, you’ll often find it added to dairy-free milks and other foods. And mushroom growers often irradiate their crops to increase their D2 levels.
The human body doesn’t absorb or use vitamin D2 as effectively as it does D3. And while D2 can help raise your overall vitamin D levels, it doesn’t do it nearly as well as D3.
When sunlight hits our skin, it converts cholesterol into cholecalciferol or vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the more biologically active form of D. Our bodies are able to absorb it and use it far more easily than D2.
One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that D3 attaches to vitamin D receptors becoming the active form of the nutrient approximately 87 percent better than D2. And other research has found that vitamin D3 is at least 300 percent more effective than vitamin D2.
More than sunshine: Where to get vitamin D
Experts estimate that more than 40 percent of us in the United States are low on vitamin D. That number skyrockets to nearly 75 percent in people over the age of 65.
Spending more time out in the sun with some skin exposed is a great way to boost your vitamin D3 levels. But for many folks the time they get to spend outside simply isn’t enough alone.
Fortified foods and supplements can help. But remember many of these contain vitamin D2, not D3. And since we know D3 is far more effective in the human body, it’s important to read labels carefully to be sure you’re getting the right version of this vital nutrient.
You can also help raise your D levels by eating more D3-rich foods including dairy, red meat, and eggs.