In many pharmacies supplement aisles, vitamin D – the most popular supplement in the United States – comes in two varieties, D2 and D3. For decades, most medical professionals thought it didn’t matter what you took. Once activated inside the body, both float to vitamin D receptor sites in the same way.
But an overabundance of recent research has shown that D3 is more effective at raising vitamin D levels in the blood. Now, a study published in Frontiers in immunology indicates that only D3 helps activate a critical immune system response to bacterial and viral infections.
The same body of research indicated that it is a choice: high levels of vitamin D2 seem to deplete the body of D3.
“We know that taking a vitamin D2 supplement actually displaces your body’s normal, native D3,” Colin P. Smith, study author and professor of genomics at the University of Surrey in the UK, told Inverse. United. “So by taking a vitamin D2 supplement, you could be making yourself vitamin D deficient, certainly in certain pathways in the body.”
Science in action — Over the past decade, vitamin D has become a health fad, with its consumption increasing exponentially (an estimated 20% of adults in the United States take it) and blood tests for vitamin D levels. vitamin D.
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We can partly attribute this to a reaction to startling estimates of the frequency of vitamin D deficiency. One billion people worldwide may be getting too little due to the mass adoption of a predominantly vitamin D lifestyle. indoors that keeps us away from sunlight, the main natural source of vitamin D. development, shop around the internet.
Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin but a hormone, and there are five molecules that can do the hormone’s main job in the body. The two main ones, D2 and D3, are generally differentiated by their sources: D2, also called ergocalciferol, comes from plants, in particular fungi and yeasts. D3, cholecalciferol, comes primarily from sunlight and animal food sources. Eggs and fatty fish are rich in them.
To analyze the possible separate effects of the two, the University of Surrey recruited 335 women, of European and South Asian ethnicity, and randomly assigned them to groups. Some were consuming 15 micrograms (600 international units) of vitamin D2 a day, either in a biscuit or in a glass of orange juice provided by the researchers. Others took the same amount of D3 through the same foods. Finally, there was a placebo group. The study took place over 12 weeks during another gray English winter.
“By taking a vitamin D2 supplement, you could make yourself vitamin D deficient.”
The main conclusion of this research, published in 2017, was that D3 was more effective in increasing vitamin D levels in the blood. It was not surprising. In 2010, an American study concluded the same thing. The same was true for those conducted in New Zealand and Norway and subsequent studies in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Smith and his associates used some of the blood samples from this study to compare gene expression among the cults studied.
A brief overview of how gene expression works: Health factors, such as vitamin D intake, can affect which genes are expressed in protein coding, which determines how our cells and bodies function. Biomarkers in blood samples contain information about which genes have been expressed.
The group that took vitamin D3 had expression profiles that showed stimulation of genes associated with the activity of interferon, an essential part of the immune system’s defense team to fight bacterial infections and viral. Vitamin D2 had the opposite effect.
“Now there was a negative correlation,” Smith says. “These genes appear to be suppressed by D2.”
A finding from the 2017 study may make the apparent existence of D3-specific effects even more concerning. After 12 weeks, the D2 supplement group had less D3 in their blood than the placebo group, suggesting that D2 may deplete D3.
“When you get a little D2, your natural vitamin D3 levels are depleted,” Smith explains, “so the actual amounts of that – what we think of as the good stuff now – are actually reduced by taking a vitamin supplement. D2.”
How it affects longevity — Interferons are released by cells to communicate that a certain cell is under attack, causing neighboring cells to increase their defenses. They coordinate defenses against an infection and interfere with viruses and bacteria by helping block them from the cells they need to replicate. (Hence the name interferons.)
Some research has indicated that low levels of interferon are associated with severe cases of Covid-19, which would make sense given their virus-fighting abilities.
Why it’s a hack — This isn’t the only study that found an effect, other than potency, that seemed to elevate vitamin D3 over D2.
Some research indicates that only D3 is correlated with a reduced risk of death from cancer. A study published last year showed that high levels of D3 were correlated with less severe symptoms of depression, while D2 levels had no statistically significant relationship.
After ten years of research to beat it, you might be wondering why vitamin D2 supplements haven’t been labeled obsolete and pulled from drugstore shelves.
D3 supplements are typically derived from sheep’s wool, making it an animal product unsuitable for vegans or some people with religious dietary restrictions. (If you hunt, you can find vegan D3 made from lichen, an algae/fungus plant organism.)
Also, some medical professionals are not convinced that it achieves much better end results. From the Cleveland Clinic blog: “D3 may be a bit more potent than D2, but there’s not a huge difference, so either is fine.”
It should also be noted that while vitamin D receptors appear intriguingly throughout the body, medical authorities more or less agree on only one purpose of use: to increase vitamin D levels. improves bone strength. Other results only suggest benefits for cognitive, cardiovascular, and immune health.
The effects on the immune system described in the new study are inconclusive. The data “suggests that further investigation … is warranted,” he says.
It’s probably not available soon, Smith says, because of the $1.5 million price tag for a full clinical trial comparing D3 versus D2 to a placebo with thousands of ethnically diverse participants.
On this note: the effect on gene transcription was limited to white participants in this study and did not show up in women of South Asian ethnicities. Academic research has often shown that white people are more deficient in vitamin D.
If D3 really is the best vitamin D, you probably don’t get it through fortifying the food supply, the first and most common way the industrialized world dealt with mass deficiencies. This relies almost exclusively on D2.
Beginning in the 1930s, medical authorities successfully pressured food suppliers to fortify their products with vitamin D, slipping it into bread, breakfast cereals, orange juice especially milk. They mainly use D2, derived from mushrooms, which is cheaper to produce.
Smith says it’s obvious that D3 is the best choice when shopping for supplements.
“Well, let’s put it this way: if you were faced with taking a vitamin that your body naturally produces or one made by shining ultraviolet light on mushrooms, what would you take?” He adds that until very recently in their history, humans consumed very little D2″ compared to D3. It could be that D2 has no real physiological role in humans.
After millennia of evolving in sunlight, synthesizing a healthy load of D3, humans started relying on D2 only a century ago, which makes any difference between the two extremely important.
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