The Ultimate Showdown: Vitamin D Vs. D3
Today’s special guest of honor is vitamin D AKA the sunshine vitamin. Before we delve further into this topic, let’s address the misnomer, vitamin D.
When you scan through the pharmacy’s vitamin aisle, you’ll notice there’s no “Vitamin D.” Your only choices are vitamin D2 vs. vitamin D3.
Generally, we use vitamin D and D2 interchangeably, so whenever you see vitamin D, it’s actually vitamin D2. Now that’s taken care of, let’s get down to business.
When exposed to sunlight, our skin produces vitamin D. But, due to the risk of developing skin cancer from sun exposure, many people either use sunscreen or avoid the sun altogether.
As a result, our skin may not get to produce enough vitamin D from sun exposure. Luckily, there are foods, like orange juice, milk, and other dairy products, either fortified with vitamin D or naturally containing vitamin D.
Even then, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D from these foods, so we look to supplements for help. Like you saw earlier, the two forms of vitamin D supplements are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
But, the questions are:
- How do you know which supplement to take?
- What is the difference between vitamin D and D3?
- Is vitamin D the same as D3?
- and where’s the showdown going down?
You can find all the answers you seek and garner more useful information about the vitamin D family in this article. So, sit tight and enjoy the ride.
Chronicles of Vitamin D
Vitamin D isn’t your regular vitamin. It’s a unique blend of nutrients with similar chemical structures that regulate and maintain essential body systems, like the skeletal, immune, and neuromuscular systems.
Another fascinating thing you should know about vitamin D is it’s not an actual vitamin. We know; there are a ton of surprises to go through with this “vitamin.”
To help you understand better, recall that a vitamin is an essential organic molecule that your body can’t sufficiently or adequately produce on its own but is necessary for its functioning and maintenance. Now, remember that our bodies synthesize (produce) adequate amounts of vitamin D from sun exposure alone, which disqualifies vitamin D as a vitamin.
So, vitamin D is not a vitamin but a prohormone or precursor of a hormone.
To top it off, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins that readily dissolve in fats or oils.
That’s why when your body produces vitamin D from sun exposure, or you take it in from your food, excess vitamin D gets stored up in your body’s fatty tissue and liver to cater to your body’s future needs.
Now you know who vitamin D is, you should know what vitamin D does for a living.
Vitamin D’s Career: Uses and Benefits of Vitamin D
If there’s anything the D in vitamin D should stand for, it’s Diligence. Vitamin D has multiple roles in our bodies, and it carries out these roles to the letter T !
Vitamin D helps to:
- promote strong and healthy bones and teeth
- support cardiovascular health and lung function
- improve brain, nervous, and immune system health
- support diabetes management and regulates the body’s insulin levels
Here’s a detailed breakdown of these roles:
Strong, Healthy Bones
When you watch milk (powdered, liquid, etc.) television adverts, what’s one thing you notice they have in common? They almost always show how their milk makes for considerably stronger and healthier bones, especially in children.
Here’s how vitamin D makes the magic happen:
One significant source of calcium is milk. When we take in calcium from food, like milk, or supplements, our intestines absorb and send it via the bloodstream to get absorbed by our bones. This process helps to strengthen and keep our bones healthy.
But there’s a catch.
Our bodies can’t effectively absorb calcium, so we need to take foods containing calcium with some other nutrient to improve its bioavailability (how well our body absorbs calcium). And that nutrient is vitamin D. That’s why when you check the ingredients section of your favorite milk or other dairy product, you’ll notice it’s fortified with vitamin D. If you didn’t know why before, now you do.
This dynamic duo (calcium and vitamin D) does more than just help strengthen your bones. It also helps to treat and prevent osteomalacia, otherwise known as soft bones, which occurs with rickets and can affect older adults.
Our Diligent vitamin also plays an essential role in maintaining blood phosphorus levels. Phosphorus works with calcium and vitamin D to give you stronger, healthier bones. A lack of vitamin D can result in osteoporosis. Currently, over 44 million people in the United States are either at risk of developing or suffering from osteoporosis. We honestly can’t overemphasize the importance of vitamin D.
According to recent research in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, low levels of vitamin D from birth to early childhood raises the risk of elevated systolic blood pressure (high blood pressure) in childhood and adolescent ages. One way to prevent or reduce this risk is via vitamin D supplementation and screening in pregnancy and childhood.
Systolic means the first or top number in a blood pressure reading and shows how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls each time your heart beats. An increase in systolic blood pressure readings yields an increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, the leading, preventable cause of cardiovascular disease worldwide is high blood pressure.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) suggests there’s a possible link between low levels of vitamin D exposure and an increased risk of allergic sensitization. You can see an example of this claim in children who live closer to the equator. These children tend to have fewer epinephrine autoinjector prescriptions and lower hospital admission rates for allergies, like peanut allergy.
Vitamin D enhances the anti-inflammatory effects of glucocorticoids. As a result, it could also serve as supportive therapy for people with steroid-resistant asthma.
Vitamin D helps regulate your pancreas’s insulin production and improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that works to regulate blood sugar levels and, in turn, prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing the risk of insulin resistance. Growing evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency is a likely contributing factor in developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Chronicles of Vitamin D3: Is vitamin D the Same as D3?
Vitamin D3 is the second form of vitamin D and is a step-up from vitamin D2. In essence, vitamin D2 and D3 don’t equally raise your body’s vitamin D status.
Here’s how: Your liver metabolizes these two forms of vitamin D differently.
It metabolizes vitamin D2 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. Collectively, these compounds are known as calcifediol – vitamin D’s main circulating form.
By measuring your levels of calcifediol, your health care provider can estimate your vitamin D status.
According to a research stated in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D3 yields more calcifediol and is more effective at raising your body’s blood levels of calcifediol.
Like you saw earlier, your skin produces vitamin D3 when exposed to sunlight. But it’s not just the sunlight that works this magic.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from sunlight stimulates your skin to produce vitamin D from a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol. All you need to do to get the required dose of vitamin D3 is to spend time outdoors with light clothing on and without sunscreen.
But, don’t spend too much time in the sun without sunscreen, especially if you’re light-skinned. Sunburns are real and are high-risk factors for skin cancer.
The good thing about this skin-manufactured vitamin D3, unlike its dietary counterpart, is you can’t overdose on it. Once your body has enough D3, it naturally tones down the production.
Compared to vitamin D3 supplements, vitamin D2 supplements tend to degrade over time due to temperature, humidity, etc. So, if you want to step up your vitamin D game with dietary supplements, between vitamin D vs. D3 supplements, think vitamin D3.
Do you prefer vitamin D3 already? Wait till you get a whiff of its job description.
Vitamin D3’s Career: Uses and Benefits
Vitamin D3 does a lot for you and your body systems. It works to:
- improve heart function
- strengthen muscles and bones
- improve mood
- aid in weight loss
- influence the expression of genes involved in the development of cancer
- boost immunity
Here’s a detailed breakdown of vitamin D3’s job description:
Strong Muscles and Bones
Like vitamin D2, vitamin D3 also helps strengthen your muscles and bones and keep them healthy. Vitamin D3 can also help reduce fractures; no wonder it is so beneficial to sporting performance.
Do you feel like taking some vitamin D3 before hitting the gym or going for a run? Unfortunately, there are no guidelines in place for vitamin D supplementation for either recreational or professional athletes.
But, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a couple of relevant researchers, it’s imperative to check an athlete’s vitamin D levels regularly. These regular checkups can help ensure that the athletes stay well and healthy.
Here’s a fun fact for you: If you want to avoid osteoporosis at all costs, indulge in high levels of dietary vitamin D3. High levels of dietary vitamin D3 help you achieve a higher peak bone mass in your adult years and prevents osteoporosis.
D for Defender
A study discovered vitamin D3 doesn’t only keep your bones from fractures and diseases, like osteoporosis; it may also help keep you from developing acute respiratory infections. The study found taking vitamin D3 dietary supplements daily or weekly cut the participants’ risk of developing respiratory infections in half.
According to a recent study, a therapeutic dose of vitamin D administration resulted in an impressive 42% decrease in influenza infection rates. Other studies also reported a correlation between low vitamin D3 levels and increased infection rates, like bacterial vaginosis and HIV.
A couple of studies were conducted to find a possible correlation between vitamin D and depression. This study needs more research work, but they managed to realize valuable information from their findings.
According to the findings, people at risk of depression should exercise outdoors, take general mental health supplements, and hop on vitamin D3 rich foods and diets.
Heart Guard and Weight Police
Vitamin D3 helps guard the heart and circulatory system from damage and diseases. Studies have found low vitamin D3 levels common among people with high blood pressure and obesity.
Some other research stated that vitamin D3 can help lower blood pressure. It can also reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
As you can see, it takes its heart guard duties very seriously and jealously guards your heart against complications.
Vitamin D3 also helps keep your BMI at a healthy weight and shun obesity. During a study, a couple of postmenopausal women took vitamin D3 supplements for a weight loss intervention.
In the end, the women with adequate vitamin D3 levels lost more body fat, weight, and inches around their waistline. Would you like to incorporate vitamin D3 in your weight loss routine?
According to a study, vitamin D3 may reduce the risk of developing advanced cancer in people with normal and not elevated (overweight or obese) body mass index (BMI). Read on to get a breakdown of this study later in this article.
The Showdown: Vitamin D vs. D3 Differences and Benefits
A little recap, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It aids calcium absorption for the promotion of healthy muscles and bones. This vitamin has two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Now, for the showdown, what’s the vitamin D vs. D3 difference? And are there any vitamin D vs. D3 benefits? Read on to find out.
For starters, vitamin D2 is produced when plants get exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D3, on the other hand, is produced when humans and animals are also exposed to sunlight.
You can source vitamin D2 from plant sources, like mushrooms and fortified foods, and vitamin D3 from animal sources, like egg yolk and liver.
Unlike vitamin D3 that our body can effortlessly synthesize from the sun, our body can’t produce vitamin D2. As a result, we must either source it from plants that have been exposed to UV rays, fortified foods, or supplements.
Since the liver metabolizes these two forms of vitamin D differently, they don’t equally raise the blood levels of vitamin D. According to a study, vitamin D3 supplements are twice as effective at increasing blood vitamin D levels as vitamin D supplements.
The daily upper limit of vitamin D2 supplementation is only 4000 IU. So, going overboard with vitamin D2 can make the body absorb too much calcium, which will result in calcification in adult organs, like the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.
For children, excess vitamin D2 can harden their bones prematurely. So, always stay within safe grounds (a maximum of 4000 IU).
In vitamin D3’s case, things are a lot more different. You can’t really overdose on it because it’s a naturally occurring vitamin in your body, and if you remember, when your body discovers your vitamin D3 reserves are almost “full,” it starts reducing its D3 production. Talk about a well-regulated mobile machine.
Where high doses of vitamin D2 can cause your body to riot, higher doses of vitamin D3 are beneficial and used to support reproductive function, boost immune function, and support bone health. Luckily, since vitamin D3’s dosage is so high, the risk of experiencing side effects is low.
These side effects can include:
- toxic levels of D3 in the blood
- kidney stones
- muscle weakness
- bone pain, etc.
Now that’s over with, who do you think won this showdown?
D3 Estate: Sources of Vitamin D3
As you saw earlier, you can source vitamin D3 from animal-sourced foods. Here are a few sources:
- Fish oil, like cod liver oil
- Oily or fatty fish
- Egg yolk
- Dietary supplements
Here’s a breakdown of what happens when we take either vitamin D2 or D3 supplements.
When you consume either vitamin D2 or D3, it gets stored in your body’s fat cells, absorbed in the small intestine, and then activated through a process known as hydroxylation. The liver is the first activation site, where D2 is metabolized into 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3.
The kidney is the second activation site where the chief activation process happens.
After activation, your body delivers the vitamin(s) D2 and/or D3 to target tissues to support strong bones, boost healthy immune function, and support reproduction as well.
Vitamin D3 and Advanced Cancer Management
We’re finally at that point in society where we want to discover the cure for all infections, diseases, and illnesses. There’s been a question on the lip of most researchers and doctors lately concerning vitamin D: Can vitamin D3 supplementation reduce the risk of developing advanced (fatal or metastatic) cancer “among adults without a diagnosis of cancer at baseline?” – Jama Network.
According to a study, vitamin D3 supplementation reduced the occurrence of advanced cancer in all the participants. The highest risk reduction occurred in participants with a healthy weight or body mass index (BMI), while overweight and obese participants had no reduction in the risk of developing advanced cancer.
The study’s findings suggest that vitamin D3 supplementation could reduce the risk of developing advanced cancer among adults who don’t have a diagnosis of cancer at baseline. You can see this effect as protective and preventive, but only for people with normal and not elevated BMI.
At the moment, there isn’t much information on vitamin D3 supplementation and cancer to start making recommendations, so further research is ongoing and in this regard, the VITAL trial was designed.
According to Dr. Kramer, “the VITAL trial was well designed. And when it’s important to get the answer right — that is, when you’re potentially making recommendations to hundreds of thousands, or even millions — you want to make sure that your recommendations are based on very strong evidence.”
Presently, scientists are even studying how some forms of cancer will react to vitamin D supplementation — if some are more sensitive than others. For example, a clinical trial sponsored by the NCI is currently trying to explore if supplementation with calcium, vitamin D, or both can prevent new colorectal adenomas development in people who have removed at least one of such precancerous growths.
And for the new colorectal adenomas, VITAL will help examine the effects of the above supplements on the risk of developing them.
There’s a lot to explore with vitamin D3 and cancer, and the scientists, doctors, and other professionals involved, including you and I, can’t wait to discover it all and put it to great use!
Statistics on Vitamin D3 and Cancer
Let’s study the results of the VITAL trial via statistics:
- The total number of participants for the study was 25,871.
- 51% of them were female, and 49% male.
- After about 5.3 years of vitamin D supplementation, 1617 participants were diagnosed with invasive cancer.
- 1.7% of the participants assigned to vitamin D developed advanced cancers, compared to the 2.1% who weren’t assigned to vitamin D.
- Participants who had a reduction in the risk of advanced cancer development had a BMI less than 25 (healthy weight).
- Participants with BMI above 30 (overweight or obese) didn’t experience a reduction in the development of advanced cancer.
Our Final Thoughts
No bones about it; you can’t go wrong with the right dose of this super Diligent vitamin for your unique condition. Vitamin D is the real deal breaker for a truckload of health matters, like bone and muscle health, reproductive health, heart health, and now we’re discovering even cancer!
After this showdown, you can make informed decisions concerning the different forms of vitamin D: sources, preferences, and more! With your doctor in the picture, you can effectively put this Diligent, Defensive, and Dogged vitamin to great use.
University of Port-Harcourt Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.), Medicine 2019-2025 (expected)