While Vitamin D is good for your health, very few people are aware of its two different forms and their effect on the body.
The two forms are D2 and D3, of which only vitamin D3 is produced through the natural synthesis of sunlight on the skin. Plants and fungi on the other hand produce Vitamin D2. You can find vitamin D2 more commonly in milk, cereals and juices fortified with it. The two forms are commonly known as ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
What are the differences between Vitamin D2 and D3?
The biggest difference between the two forms of Vitamin D is the way it is produced. Plants produce the D2 form while D3 is a byproduct of synthesis of ultraviolet B rays from sunlight penetrating the body’s surface. It can be found on the skin or surface of animals and is commonly found in the wool of sheep.
Of the two forms, D3 is considered beneficial to the body as it controls the level of calcium and phosphorous in the blood, which is vital for bone development and growth. It can be stored in the body tissue until it is required. D2 on the other hand is not a natural form in the human body as plants and other invertebrates synthesize it. It is not as easily absorbed by the receptors in the body and as a result does not have the same effect as D3. Both versions of the vitamin are available as supplements in pill or liquid form. D3 has the longer shelf life of the two. Because the supplements are made from animal sources, many vegetarians do not use them and opt for vitamin D2 supplements instead.
The Function of Vitamin D3
Although it is classified as a vitamin, Vitamin D3 is a hormone. When sunlight falls on the body’s surface – the skin in our case – it synthesizes to form vitamin D3, which is circulated in the blood stream to help in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous that is received from digested food sources. The calcium is used for building and strengthening teeth and bone mass. In addition, calcium also has a role to play in the production of hormones in the body by transmitting nerve impulses to the brain. Almost 99% of your Vitamin D supply is used for regulating the calcium in the body; the remaining part is utilized for strengthening the immune system and maintaining muscle strength.
Benefits of Vitamin D3
While excess Vitamin D3 can be stored away in the fat cells for future use, deficiency of Vitamin D in the body can have adverse effects on the health of an individual.
Getting the right amount of Vitamin D can have numerous benefits on the body. It is responsible for strengthening teeth and bones, improving bone density and prevents weakening of the muscles as it promotes absorption of calcium in the blood. Older people with sufficient amounts of Vitamin D3 are less prone to ailments such as arthritis, osteoporosis and osteomalacia. In children and infants, it can help in bone growth and development and prevent diseases such as Rickets.
Vitamin D3 also reduces the risk of certain types of cancer in men and women such as prostrate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer. It can reduce the risks associated with certain pregnancy related infections including bacterial vaginosis that poses a threat of premature labor and fetal death. It prevents or improves other conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It can also lower the risk of heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It gives a boost to the body’s immune system and can help prevent influenza and seasonal allergies.
Due to the role that Vitamin D plays in influencing the production of hormones in the body, it can also improve certain skin conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo, besides controlling moods. In countries that experience low sunlight conditions during a few months of the year, the body is unable to get its adequate share of Vitamin D through natural synthesis. During this period, Vitamin D3 supplements can help in reducing the symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder.
So remember, for healthy teeth and bones, as well as good health, you need to get the right dose of Vitamin D3. The best vitamin d sources are sunlight, food, and supplements. You need direct sunlight as the UVB rays cannot penetrate glass. The further away you are from the equator, the longer you need to be out in the sun to produce the right amount of Vitamin D. Darker skin requires a longer period of exposure compared to lighter skin. Sunscreens can also limit the amount of UVB rays that are absorbed by the skin.
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