Fact: Vitamin D is an important nutrient that no one can’t afford to skimp on. This fat-soluble vitamin plays many important roles in the human body, including aiding in calcium absorption, modulating our immune system, supporting a healthy inflammation response, and supporting our mood and energy.
As important as it sounds, though, 42 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. This is likely due to lack of sun exposure, which is how we glean the majority of the nutrient, according to research published in the medical journal Cureus. (In fact, research published in StatPearls has found that 50 to 90 percent of vitamin D in the body is produced in the skin.)
Yes, certain foods like cod liver oil, egg yolks, salmon, and fortified beverages contain vitamin D, but it’s difficult to reach the daily recommended amount (600 IU, or 15 micrograms) through diet alone.
Without ample amounts of vitamin D, we face an increased risk of depression, anxiety, fatigue, changes in metabolism, a suppressed immune system, decreased pancreatic function, and hormonal influence, among other issues, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N. Research published in The American Journal of Public Health has even linked vitamin D deficiency with several cancers, as well as heart disease.
Risk of deficiency increases with age, but luckily, supplementation can help ensure your levels are high enough.
If you’ve searched the web or your local The Vitamin Shoppe for a vitamin D supplement, you’ve likely noticed that there are all sorts of vitamin D options available. How do you know which one is best for you? Here’s how to choose the right vitamin D supplement for your routine, according to the experts.
First things first: Check your D Status
Before shopping for a vitamin D supplement it’s a good idea to get your levels checked, which can be done with a simple blood test at your doctor’s office. “This will let you know whether you already have a deficiency that needs to be corrected, or if your levels are in a good range,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. “The information will help you determine how much vitamin D to take, or if you even need it.”
Read More: 7 Groups Of People Who Need More Vitamin D
Blakely recommends continuing to get your vitamin D levels checked once or twice per year, as they can change with diet and the seasons.
Next, Choose The Right Form Of Vitamin D
There are two main types of vitamin D available through the consumption of foods or supplements—vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). One distinct difference is that vitamin D2 is produced by plants exposed to sunshine, while vitamin D3 is generally animal-derived, explains Michels. Vitamin D3 sources include oily fish, egg yolks, liver, and butter, whereas vitamin D2 sources include foods like UV-exposed mushrooms, as well as fortified milk and orange juice. Vitamin D3 is also the type produced in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight, adds Michels.
Research, including one American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, shows that D3 is the better form of vitamin D to supplement with, especially when it comes to keeping vitamin D levels healthy. “Vitamin D3 has a superior bioavailability (ability to be absorbed in the human body) and stability than D2 does,” explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. “Vitamin D3 is also significantly better at raising your biomarker for vitamin D status and keeping it there.” Additionally, D3 has been found to be more potent and to last longer in the body than D2 does, per research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Bottom line: Vitamin D3 is the most preferred and body-friendly version of D—and the one that you stand to benefit most from.
Consider Your Personal Preferences
Now that you know that vitamin D3 is the ideal form to take in a supplement, you can narrow down your search based on your needs and routine.
When it comes to dosage, Blakely recommends starting with 1,000 to 4,000 IU (25 to 100 micrograms) daily, unless otherwise advised by your healthcare provider.
Read More: The Best (And Worst) Time Of Day To Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements are available in a variety of forms—pills, liquids, and chewables being the most common. All can be effective, according to Blakely, so she recommends choosing the one that works best for your preferences and lifestyle. “If you need a higher dose, a liquid or pill may be better to avoid the excess sugar that comes with taking several gummies,” she notes.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in keeping you feeling your best—and supplements can help you ensure you get enough. In order to choose the right vitamin D supplement for you, there are a few factors to keep in mind, like the differences between D2 and D3. Just how much you take (and in what form) depends on your existing levels and preferences. “If you’re not sure whether you should take a vitamin D supplement, or are confused about how much to take, book a free one-on-one nutrition consultation with a The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist,” Blakely suggests.