The vegan diet has become very popular with increasing numbers of people wanting to change what they eat for ethical, environmental and/or health reasons. Whilst research suggests that there are many health benefits to following a plant-based diet, cutting out food groups such as animal protein source may limit the meaningful dietary sources of certain nutrients including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and among the first symptoms of minor Vitamin D deficiency are reduced serum calcium levels and an increase in parathyroid hormone production, potentially leading to muscle weakness, as well as an increased risk of infection through to bone brittleness, osteomalacia and eventually osteoporosis. A lesser-known impact of Vitamin D deficiency is potential hearing loss.
Vitamin D sources and absorption
Sources of Vitamin D are found in foods such as eggs; hence the reason that vegans and some vegetarians may benefit from taking a Vitamin D3 supplement. Dietary Vitamin D3 absorption takes place in the upper region of the small intestine, aided by bile salts from the liver. It’s absorbed through the lymphatic system along with other dietary fats and stored by the body in adipose tissue. It must then be metabolized via different enzymes to become biologically active. The whole process of Vitamin D absorption and activation relies on a healthy liver, digestive tract and nutrients such as magnesium for enzyme activity so there are many potential pitfalls to securing regular useful levels of Vitamin D through the diet.
Vitamin D is also made through the skin from direct sunlight exposure. Whilst we may currently be in the height of the summer months, there’s still a worryingly high level of the population that is deficient in Vitamin D. The “safe sun” message means many people regularly apply high SPF sunblocks and are simply not exposing their skin to natural sunlight even for the short period of time required for the Vitamin D synthesis pathways to activate. Sun protection is of course of absolute paramount to protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays, but regular/consistent use of sunblock has been linked to Vitamin D deficiency by restricting the skin’s ability to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D through UVB exposure. Of course, the typical English summer weather may simply not be consistently sunny enough to support the right levels of UV required for Vitamin D synthesis in the skin, which is often more the case!
Recommended Daily Allowance
So how much Vitamin D should we be taking? The official Vitamin D RDA (now called Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) for adults in the UK is 25μg (1000iu) daily, or even higher (up to 125μg = 5000iu) for those “at risk groups” such as vegans, pregnant women or the elderly. These levels are currently being reviewed as emerging research is suggesting that these levels may be set too low to maintain health. For babies from birth to one-year, current recommendations are typically 8.5-10μg (300–400iu). Children from one year old are advised to take 5-10μg (200–400iu).
Vitamin D3 for Vegans
Traditionally, Vitamin D3 was derived from lanolin, a type of waterproof grease obtained from sheep’s wool, hence not suitable for those following vegan and vegetarian diets. Vitamin D2 was typically used in vegetarian and vegan food supplements, as this was the only non-animal source of supplementary Vitamin D.
Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) has been widely reported to be an inadequate dietary source of Vitamin D. A 2011 study published in the Clinical Journal of Endocrinology Metabolism compared to Vitamin D2 to Vitamin D3 and concluded:
“D3 is approximately 87% more potent in raising and maintaining serum 25(OH)D concentrations and produces 2- to 3-fold greater storage of Vitamin D than does equimolar D2.”
With the results repeated in a randomized control trial in 2013.1
A 2006 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared Vitamin D2 to Vitamin D3 and made a stark conclusion that due to “the inefficiency of Vitamin D2 compared with Vitamin D3, on a per mole basis, at increasing 25(OH)D”, that “Vitamin D2 should no longer be regarded as a nutrient appropriate for supplementation or fortification of foods.”
However, help is at hand! There is now a new range of vegan-friendly forms of Vitamin D3 on the market with Vitamin D3V® leading the way. This form of Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) is 100% plant origin, produced from Algae, chemically identical to animal-origin Vitamin D3. As well as being natural rather than animal-origin, it also overcomes concerns about ethics, environment, quality and purity with the extraction process ensuring zero residual pesticides (that can be found in sheep’s wool) or other contaminants and a 100% sustainable and traceable end-to-end supply chain process.
Vitamin D3V® is a powder formulation so is easily incorporated as a capsule in your daily health programme. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 just got a whole lot simpler for vegans and vegetarians and those wanting a sustainable food supplement!
Of course, high plant-based diets may well be higher in beneficial prebiotics and phytonutrients but vegan diets are devoid of food sources that contain other essential nutrients including bioactive EPA and DHA forms of Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), found mainly in oily fish and eggs, as well as Vitamin B12 and the bioactive form of haem iron found in animal protein. For more information supporting levels of there nutrients through supplementation please read the Nutrigold blog:
For full list of references please view the following Nutrigold blogs: