Appalachian State

Vitamin D2 vs D3

February 15, 2014

 Known for decades as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D today is clouded by controversy.

Physicians and scientists are in heated debates over the actuality of a global rise in vitamin D deficiency as well as the effectiveness of and need for more vitamin D testing. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to rickets and other bone deforming diseases as well as some cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension and infectious diseases.

The health benefits of vitamin D, which include the maintenance of not only bones but the immune system, cognitive functions, body weight and the heart, are still being investigated and discussed. Add to that new research, including a study done at the NC Research Campus, that indicates the human body responds to vitamin D2 differently than it does to D3.


Vitamin D3 is produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It is also in most supplements. Vitamin D3 is found in fatty fish like salmon or tuna and fish liver oils. Beef liver, cheese and egg yolks have small amounts of vitamin D3. Milk and cereals are examples of products fortified with vitamin D3.


Vitamin D2 is a plant-based form of vitamin D that differs chemically from D3 by one double bond. The difference in the chemical structure is enough to cause David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory, to recommend that athletes use a vitamin D3 supplement. His recommendation is based on the results of a study he recently conducted with Dole Foods involving vitamin D. In fact, the Vitamin D council also recommends vitamin D3 supplements. Make sure to talk to a doctor before adding any supplement to your diet.

“Typically when people refer to vitamin D supplements, they think vitamin D2 and D3 are interchangeable,” said Vice President of Nutrition Research and Director of the Dole Nutrition Research Institute Nicholas Gillitt, PhD. “We have illustrated one example where that is not the case. That might not mean that D2 is harmful in all cases. We have identified one scenario where it is not good. More science needs to be done.”

Read more on vitamin D research. Visit the Vitamin D Council website.

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