Vitamin D2 and D3 are the two main forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 is present in plants and yeast, while D3 comes from animal sources.

Vitamin D is essential for a range of bodily functions such as bone, muscle, and immune health.

The human body is capable of producing vitamin D in response to sun exposure. However, some people may need to boost their intake through certain foods or supplements. Both vitamin D2 and D3 can help a person meet their vitamin D requirements.

This article will explain what D2 and D3 are, the differences between them, and what they do in the body. It will also list foods that are high in both types of the vitamin.

A person getting vitamin D from sun exposure.Share on Pinterest
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Vitamin D is essential for good health. It helps the body absorb the calcium it needs to build, maintain, and repair bones. It also plays a key role in muscle movement, the nervous system, and the immune system.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause serious health problems. Research suggests that 50% of the worldwide population has insufficient levels of vitamin D, while 35% of adults in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency.

In children, a vitamin D deficiency may cause them to develop rickets. This is when their bones soften and become prone to fractures. In adults, it can increase the risk of osteomalacia and osteoporosis, which result in soft or fragile bones.

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. However, many manufacturers fortify products such as cereals and milk with the vitamin for public health reasons.

People tend to get most of their vitamin D from sunshine or through supplements. When people expose their skin to the sun, a chain of reactions occur, allowing the body to produce vitamin D.

Different things can influence how much vitamin D the skin makes. People with lighter skin make more vitamin D than people with darker skin, for example. Other factors include the weather and the time of day.

While sunshine is the main source of vitamin D, it is important to remember that sunburn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are the two main forms of vitamin D. Scientists sometimes call D2 ergocalciferol and D3 cholecalciferol.

Both play the same role in the body, but vitamins D2 and D3 have slightly different molecular structures. The main difference is that vitamin D2 comes from plants, whereas D3 comes from animals, including people.

Scientists are not sure yet if one is better than the other for human health. According to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, both types will increase the levels of vitamin D in a person’s blood.

Vitamin D3 may raise levels higher and for longer than D2. A 2012 review indicates that vitamin D3 appeared to be better at raising vitamin D levels than D2.

However, the review also said researchers needed more evidence before they could be sure how the two types affected different groups of people, such as people of different ages, sexes, and ethnicities. In addition, the study looked at vitamin D supplements, not foods.

Other studies also suggest that D3 may be superior to D2. A 2016 study notes that supplementation with vitamin D3 twice a week for 5 weeks was more effective in raising vitamin D levels in adults than the same amount of vitamin D2.

When advising people on how much vitamin D to get, the National Institute of Health (NIH) does not make a distinction between D2 and D3. The NIH suggests the following Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin D:

AgeRDA (or adequate intake)
0–12 months10 micrograms (mcg) or 400 international units (IU)
1–13 years15 mcg (600 IU)
14–18 years (including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding)15 mcg (600 IU)
19–50 years (including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding)15 mcg (600 IU)
>70 years20 mcg (800 IU)

The main source of vitamin D is typically from exposure to sunshine. Lots of people take supplements because they do not get enough vitamin D from sunlight. They may not live in a sunny place, or they may have darker skin, for example.

Certain malabsorption conditions, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, may also lead to vitamin D deficiency.

Few foods are naturally high in vitamin D. Some manufacturers artificially fortify their products with D2, which comes from plants. These fortified products may include:

  • dairy and plant milks, such as oat, almond, and soy milk
  • orange juice
  • cereals

The amount of D2 in the product often depends on the manufacturer. People can find this information on the label.

Mushrooms and yeast that have exposure to sunlight or UV radiation are some of the few foods that contain naturally high levels of vitamin D2.

According to NIH, half a cup of raw, white mushrooms contains 46% of an adult’s recommended daily value (DV) of vitamin D.

Foods that are naturally high in vitamin D3 come from animal sources. These may include:

  • Cod liver oil: One tablespoon contains 170% of an adult’s vitamin D recommended DV.
  • Trout: 3 ounces (oz) of cooked rainbow trout contains 81% of the vitamin D DV.
  • Salmon: 3 oz of cooked sockeye salmon contains 71% of the DV of vitamin D.

Other foods contain vitamin D3, but in smaller amounts. These may include:

  • Sardines: After draining the oil, 2 sardines from a can will provide 6% of an adult’s vitamin D DV.
  • Eggs: 1 large egg provides 6% of the adult DV.
  • Beef liver: 3 oz of braised beef liver contains 5% of an adult’s vitamin D DV.
  • Tuna: 3 oz of canned tuna will also provide 5% of the adult DV.
  • Cheese: 1 oz of cheddar cheese contains 2% of an adult’s DV of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for health. It plays a key role in maintaining bone health, the nervous system, and the immune system. People can get vitamin D from sun exposure, food, or supplements.

Vitamin D2 and D3 are the main forms of vitamin D and both perform the same role in the body. Scientists are not sure if one is better than the other, although some studies have found that D3 is more effective in raising vitamin D levels in the body than D2. Vitamin D2 comes from plants, while animals, including people, produce D3.

Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Therefore, manufacturers may fortify foods with vitamin D, such as milks, juices, and cereals. Mushrooms are a good natural source of vitamin D2, while fatty fish are good source of vitamin D3.