Update: Vegan D3

As many of you know, the form of vitamin D made from plants is vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), whereas the vitamin D from animals foods is vitamin D3. Some research has indicated that, especially in very large doses, D3 is more effective than D2.

Today, a reader (thanks again, Ivan!) pointed me to a company, Vitashine, that is selling a Vegan Society (UK) approved vitamin D3:


I’m going to look into this more with the Vegan Society to hopefully get some details.

In the meantime, Vitashine’s website does not instill confidence with this statement:

“Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the form of Vitamin D produced by the body after sun exposure. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) supplements are widely sold on the market, but D2 needs to be further converted by the body to become active.”

Vitamin D3 also needs to be further converted by the body to become active. Whether it’s D2 or D3, both the liver and the kidney need to act upon it to convert it, respectively, to calcidiol and then calcitriol. Calcitriol is the active form of the vitamin.

That said, I hope their “D3” really is D3.

Stay tuned…

24 Responses to “Update: Vegan D3”

  1. rick Says:

    In cholecalciferol (D3), I believe the prefix “chole” refers to CHOLEsterol (cholesterol), a product found in animal fat and not found in plant-based foods.

    I think that you will probably find that the only vegan form of D3 is that which our own human animal bodies manufacture from UV-B radiation (midday sun or UV-B tanning lights) using our own human cholesterol in or on our skin, similar to sheep which use sheep cholesterol to produce cholecalciferol in their lanolin when exposed to the sun. Wool lanolin is the source from which most D3 supplements are derived.

    When I have looked into companies’ claims that they sell vegan D3, it turns out it is really either vegan D2 or non-vegan D3.

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    This brings up an interesting idea that maybe the reason some vegans don’t seem to get their vitamin D levels up even when getting sun is our sometimes very low cholesterol levels.

  3. rick Says:

    I believe many vegans tend to have low BLOOD cholesterol levels. I would suspect that would not necessarily translate to low cholesterol in the oil in or on our skin.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > I would suspect that would not necessarily translate to low cholesterol in the oil in or on our skin.

    Not necessarily, but I suspect there is a good chance that it does.

  5. rick Says:

    We are getting into the area of conjecture, but if sheep are herbivores, they likely have low blood cholesterol levels too, yet they produce enough D3 for themselves and excess for their wool.

    Cows are herbivores, they probably have low blood cholesterol too. Yet their milk and fat have enough cholesterol to cause cholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) and coronary artery disease in a significant proportion of people who regularly eat these products.

  6. Ivan Says:

    No problem, Jack.

    Cholesterol is found in plant foods. It’s a popular myth that it isn’t, but it hasn’t exactly been helped by the info in biochemistry textbooks. I found an article highlighting this:

    Behrman, E.J., & Gopalan, V. (2005). Cholesterol and Plants. JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION. 82 (12), 1791-1793.

    The amounts are tiny in comparison to animal body parts and secretions, but it’s there.

  7. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > Cholesterol is found in plant foods.

    True, but in physiologically insignificant amounts so I think the convention of talking about plant foods as though they contain no cholesterol is legitimate.

  8. Ivan Says:

    I totally agree with that. I was mentioning it purely to highlight that producing cholecalciferol from plants would be theoretically possible as its precursor is present in plants.

  9. Kate O'Neill Says:

    Have you already discussed Vitamin Code and their Raw D3 supplement? (http://www.beyondprobiotics.net/vcvitamind3.htm) I use that and have been trusting that it is what it says it is; do you have any suspicions that it isn’t D3?

  10. Jack Norris RD Says:


    It’s probably D3, but isn’t vegan. See the comments here:


  11. Kate O'Neill Says:

    OK, but they do have a rather detailed explanation of how they “grow” vitamins in a vegan-friendly way, which is beyond me as a non-chemist, non-medical expert (I’m a marketing technologist, not a medical researcher!) but which I would love to hear your (and your readers’) input on:


    Actually, reading the site more closely, I now notice that the product is part of the “Garden of Life” company which Mahk addressed in your previous post’s comment thread. But I guess I’m still not clear on whether this is truly a scam as he suggests or bona fide scientific advance. Thoughts?

  12. Jack Norris RD Says:


    From what I can tell, they start with vitamin D3 from animal products, feed it to yeast, and then take the vitamin D3 from the yeast and call it vegan vitamin D3. The fact that they have succeeded at doing this might be a scientific advance, I don’t know, but I don’t see what benefit it provides.

  13. rick Says:

    Incidentally, one cannot necessarily assume that a D2 or D3 supplement is even vegetarian. Many are encapsulated in gelatin. Further, D3 can be derived from fish oil rather than sheep lanolin. I have never seen prescription 50,000 IU D2 sold other than in gelatin capsules.

  14. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Follow-up Post:


  15. Name (required) Says:

    rick wrote:
    “Yet their [cows’] milk and fat have enough cholesterol to cause cholesterolemia [sic] (high blood cholesterol) and coronary artery disease in a significant proportion of people who regularly eat these products.”

    The claim that dietary cholesterol intake significantly influences blood cholesterol levels is disproved.

  16. R. Says:

    These vitamin D3 50,000 IU capsules are not vegan but do contain gelatin: http://www.amazon.com/D3-50-000IU-100ct-Veggie-Caps/dp/B003MRPPU8

    Vitamin D3 in 50,000 IU can be double this price in most pharmacies (if not more). Doctors prescribe 50,000 IU for deficiencies and I am currently on this prescription.

  17. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > These vitamin D3 50,000 IU capsules are not vegan but do contain gelatin:

    I think you meant to say “do not contain gelatin”.

    As for minute vitamins and minerals, I am sympathetic to the view that energy could go towards more productive causes. In this case, it is more of an issue, in my opinion, because if there were no industry producing animal byproducts (as many of us vegans hope for in the eventual future), it’s nice to know there would still be a potential vegan source of vitamin D3. And, many vegans do not want to take non-vegan vitamins, and I’m also sympathetic to that desire as well.

  18. Rob Says:

    Hi Jack,


    Are these vitamins not vegan? even though they claim the following:

    Other ingredients: 100% Kosher vegetable capsules, vegetable cellulose, vegetable magnesium stearate.

    Free of milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

    Also free of yeast, gluten, barley, rice, sodium and sugar.

  19. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > Are these vitamins not vegan?

    They are not vegan. They get the vitamin D3 from lanolin (which is from sheep’s wool).

  20. rick Says:

    This is fascinating and all new to me; I sure had thought that animals had exclusivity when it came to cholesterol and vitamin D3! I wonder if lichens make cholesterol in appreciable amounts considering that this company uses lichen to manufacture their D3 product.

    Thanks, Ivan and Jack!

  21. rick Says:

    Name (required),

    I believe that cholesterolemia and cholesteremia are alternate words to describe abnormal blood cholesterol levels. I probably should have said “hypercholesterolemia” though since I was referring specifically to abnormally high levels.

    I also should have said “associated with” instead of “cause,” confusing correlation with causation. Thanks for pointing this out. It could be that high animal protein intake is what causes hypercholesteremia, or anything else correlated with high cholesterol intake. It is my understanding though that vegans as a group have lower blood cholesterol than non-vegetarians as a group.

  22. Ava Odoemena Says:

    Doesn’t the thesis that vegans have “low cholesterol” hint at the death of another nutritional dogma, namely that we should be eating more saturated fats like coconutfat or palmfat?

    Perhaps that recommendation – that one should restrain intake of saturated fats – does not apply to vegans then?

    Not that I care, because I’m not in the sun all that often and I certainly would find it too complicated to get my Vitamin D from that. Also, when I go outside I really don’t want to have to think about body functions and such. To go outside with the intention to produce Vitamin D in my skin is a bit nightmarish to me, I rather just let my mind go blank, rather absorbing existence itself.

    However, personally I believe that the fault of (not only) vegans having trouble of achieving a good 25(OH)D value, is that the recommendations are wrong. It took me 10,000 to 20,000 IU a day, yes a day, to arrive at what leveled out to be 83nmol/L. (33ng/ml). I’m very happy that there’re cheap D2 drops available in Germany via France, otherwise this would have been a costly adventure at such doses.

  23. Mahk Says:

    To Kate O’Neill: [re. your 7/31/11 7AM post’s link, I found this]:
    “At the same time the yeast is growing in its tank, isolated Unites States Pharmacopeia (USP) grade vitamin D3 is put into a much smaller preparation tank. Widely used, the commercially available D3 we purchase has been synthesized from animal cholesterol, primarily lanolin. ”

    NOT vegan, regardless of their song and dance.

    They try to make excuses that since many fruits and vegetables us vegans eat may have similarly been grown in animal manure enriched soil, so too is their product arguably “vegan”. What they fail to admit, however, is that all the fruits and vegetables we eat are in theory capable of being grown “veganically”, should a farmer want to do so, without any added animal manure at all, whereas their magical D3 rich yeast is fundamentally *incapable* of existing without their addition of this animal based product.

  24. J. Hawkson Says:

    Vitashine may well be a scam. Until a qualified scientist stands and watches them extract the D3 from lichen in their production facility as they claim I am not sold. What happens in small test tubes is not always applicable in large scale production. There is no scientific test to find out the origin of D3 once it is purified. Since it is not scientifically possible to prove whether pure D3 is from animal sources or not they can say anything they want. They have no patent, no detail about their production on their website, just a couple of sentences about lichen. The fact that cholesterol or D3 exist in some plants (i.e. algae. lichen) does not mean ANYTHING. The amount of each and how expensive or inexpensive it gets to derive them from the raw material is the key here. They provide absolutely no convincing scientific evidence that large scale production of D3 from lichen is possible or economically viable. If it were really doable and profitable at least one other manufacturer would also follow right? Since they have no patent protection why would not anyone else make it? If they do have a patent then it is our right to know the details of their production and question them.

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