There are two types of vitamin D supplements available on the market. The first one, which is commonly recommended as suitable for vegans and vegetarians, is known as ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). The second and much more popular form of vitamin D is known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
Unfortunately, the question whether cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) is suitable for vegetarians is not easy to answer. First of all, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) doesn’t have anything to do with neither meat nor dairy as it is derived from sheep’s wool by purifying lanolin (wool grease). More important, however, is the fact that this lanolin goes through so many processes and purifications that the final product is actually a pure chemical (cholecalciferol). Therefore, in my opinion it can be regarded as suitable for vegetarians, all the more since production of cholecalcipherol doesn’t require killing animals. However, since cholecalcipherol (vitamin D3) is still linked to an animal (as it is initially derived from the wool) some manufacturers (including HealthAid) decided to state that it is suitable for vegetarians but not vegans.
I am on a strictly plant-based diet yet knowing how vitamin D3 is made I have no problem taking 10,000 to 20,000 IU of this form of vitamin D3 every day, as long as I get the confirmation it is derived from the wool of live sheep and packed in a vegan capsule. I am not sure about other companies, but I have received the confirmation that the cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) used by HealthAid is derived from lanolin (wool grease) from live, unharmed sheep.
On the other hand, the vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), although not linked to any animal sources and therefore often recommended as suitable for vegans, is much inferior to cholecalciferol (D3) due to low bioavailability. Unfortunately, in addition to its poor absorption it is also expensive and usually sold in capsules containing very low strength of this vitamin. The low strength of supplements with vitamin D2 is often the most important factor discouraging even vegans and vegetarians from choosing it over vitamin D3, all the more since most of us need at least 5,000 and in some cases even 10,000 to 20,000 IU a day.
Another argument often used against ergocalciferol (D2) is that unlike cholecalciferol (D3) it is made by radiating fungus and therefore regarded as not natural. Some vegans prefer taking this form because it is not derived from animals, but to tell the truth, it is foreign to the human body, poorly absorbed, sold in insufficient very low strength doses and therefore not very effective. In addition, used in higher doses it is not only very expensive but has much greater chance of toxicity.
With regards to Vitamin D supplements it is also very important to know they must be taken with well absorbed magnesium (such as citrate) as vitamin D slowly leads to magnesium deficiency (it requires magnesium in our body for conversion) and since people are usually already deficient in magnesium and almost never informed that Vitamin D requires magnesium supplements they usually end up with sleeping problems and other unpleasant symptoms. My favourite magnesium is MagCitra as it is high in elemental magnesium (the amount of magnesium which can actually absorbed by the body). It is also better to take vitamin D supplements in the morning as some people reported that after taking it in the evening the experienced some sleep difficulties. Vitamin D is essentially a hormone created during the daytime (in sunlight) and therefore taking it at night probably somehow encourages the body to stay awake.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
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