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

For many the winter can be cold with short, dark days. This season often raises concerns about Vitamin D, sometimes called the sunshine vitamin. Vitamins are essential nutrients that our body needs in small amounts to work properly. Vitamin D is one of the complex vitamins needed by our body to grow and develop. Vitamin D is available in two forms known as Vitamin D and Vitamin D3.  

Are Vitamin D and Vitamin D3 the same?  

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 are looking at the nutritional lists on supplements you will see that the two most common options for Vitamin D are D2 and D3; D2 is commonly referred to as Vitamin D.  

Vitamin D and D3 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, while D3 is usually sourced from animal products.  

We can also obtain all 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. 

Do they come from the same sources? 

Vitamin D3 is found in animal sources, such as oily fish and liver while Vitamin D is plant-based and most commonly sourced from mushrooms grown in certain conditions under UV light. Even Vitamin D3 included in fortified foods 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 is often known as The Sunshine Vitamin, and why so many healthcare organizations recommend it as an essential supplement.  

What does Vitamin D do?   

Vitamin D has a wealth of benefits for your body and mind. 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.  

Should I take Vitamin D or D3? 

Both Vitamin 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.  

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

Vitamin D3 is the preferred option for supplements as it is absorbed faster and is more effective than the same amount of D2.  

Vitamin D Deficiency  

Vitamin D deficiency is a condition where you are not getting sufficient Vitamin D to stay healthy. Vitamin D is naturally produced from cholesterol in your body on exposure to sunlight. It can also be gotten through food and vitamin D supplements. 

A deficiency in Vitamin D may be caused by a lack of sunlight exposure or poor dietary choices. It may also be because your body fails to properly absorb Vitamin D or because your kidney or liver cannot convert Vitamin D to its active form in your body. Certain medications can also interfere with your ability to use Vitamin D.  

Many people do not know they are deficient in Vitamin D because the symptoms are usually nonspecific.  

Signs you may be deficient: 

  • Being sick or getting infections often
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Bone and back pain
  • Depression
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Bone loss
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle pain


A Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and may be treated with Vitamin D supplementation. You may find these over the counter, but you should ask your doctor for specific recommendations to ensure the right dosage. Aside from Vitamin D supplementation, your doctor may recommend adding more Vitamin D rich foods to your daily diet.  

Options may include: 

  • Fatty fish 
  • Egg yolks 
  • Fortified cereals 
  • Milk and juices with added vitamin D 
  • Yogurt  
  • Beef liver 


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