Vitamin D vs Vitamin D3: What’s the difference and which is better?

Understanding vitamins and minerals can be a minefield of confusing terminology, strange letters and number sequences that don’t appear to make any sense to the untrained eye. However, there are many subtle differences between certain types of vitamins, including how they’re sourced, their efficacy, and their benefits. 

In this guide, we’ll be giving an overview of the similarities and differences between Vitamin D and Vitamin D3 in an effort to find out if one is better for you than the other, and how you can make sure that you’re getting the most out of your chosen supplements. 

We have previously written a guide to the many benefits of supplementing your diet with Vitamin D and the overall effects that this -  *spoiler alert* - hormone has on the body. 

Are Vitamin D and Vitamin D3 the same thing? 

This is a tricky question as, technically, there is no such thing as singular Vitamin D. Vitamin D actually refers to a grouping of compounds which all have similar effects within the body, known as Vitamins D1-5. If you’re looking at the nutritional lists on supplements, you’ll see that the two most common ‘options’ for Vitamin D are D2 and D3, and D2 is commonly referred to as Vitamin D. So, for the purposes of clarity - whenever we mention Vitamin D in this guide, we are referring to D2. We’ll always call D3, D3 (Sounds like a droid from Star Wars!). 

Vitamins D (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol) are both fat soluble vitamins which play roles in keeping our immune system healthy and helping with calcium absorption. Vitamin D is only available from plant sources, such as mushrooms, whilst D3 is usually sourced from animal products. 

We can also obtain all of the Vitamin D3 we require via sunlight, but throughout the winter this is harder to achieve with shorter days and more clouds. Even during the summer, it can be difficult to absorb enough through our skin due to the need to protect ourselves against the risk of skin cancer, either by covering up or applying copious amounts of sunscreen. 

Do they come from the same sources? 

Vitamin D3 is found in animal sources, such as oily fish and liver, whilst D is plant-based and most commonly sourced from mushrooms grown in certain conditions under UV light. Even the Vitamin D3 included in fortified foods mainly comes from lanolin, a grease from sheep’s wool and is therefore not suitable for vegans. 

D3 is created in our skin when exposed to UVB rays from sunlight, which is why it’s often known as The Sunshine Vitamin, and why so many healthcare organisations recommend it as an essential supplement.

However, it is possible to obtain D3 from certain plant-based sources. Vivo Life’s Vegan Vitamin D3 supplement is derived from algae and provides 2,000 International Units (IU) - the recommended daily amount for adults according to the Vitamin D Council. This liquid supplement also contains Vitamin K2 which increases our ability to absorb Vitamin D3. This is especially helpful for those suffering from digestive disorders, which can often affect the body’s natural ability to absorb Vitamin D in any form. Finally, the D3 found in algae has a naturally high bioavailability which means that more of it is able to be used in our bodies.  

What does Vitamin D do? 

Vitamin D has a wealth of benefits for your body and mind. For a start, we’re entering flu season right now, and Vitamin D has been shown to lower the risk of flu, as well as heart disease, certain cancers and MS. In terms of our mental health, the sunshine vitamin has been shown to lower levels of depression and anxiety in adults and it can also help to prevent the onset of dementia and certain mood disorders. 

Just about everything from our immune function to our hair, skin, nails and bones benefits from Vitamin D, so ensuring that you are getting enough is important. In fact, the NHS suggests that it is an essential supplement during winter months due to lack of sunlight impeding our ability to create Vitamin D3 within our skin. 

Should I take Vitamin D or D3?  

Both Vitamins D and D3 are absorbed by the bloodstream and processed by the liver to become a substance called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, although it is believed that Vitamin D3 has a higher overall uptake by the body, and can therefore create more 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Further studies have shown that D3 is around 85% more effective than D2 at maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body. It is also converted into the active substance around 500% faster than D2. 

Vitamin D can often be lower quality in supplementary form than D3, and this might cause the supplements themselves to degrade over time, and better effects are often recorded with higher quality products as they tend to be purer and more potent. 

Ultimately, many sources will advise you that Vitamin D3 is the preferred option for supplements as it is absorbed faster, and is more effective than the same amount of D2. In the past, this may have caused issues for those who do not consume animal products, but with veganism always on the rise, the need for plant-based supplementation is growing. So, even as a vegan, it is possible to get good levels of Vitamin D3 with a liquid supplement from Vivo Life, and avoid becoming deficient, which can cause all sorts of problems for your health.