The importance of vitamin D for the human body and its alarming deficiency across the population at the same time motivates most of us to use supplements (especially during winter). The offer on the market is really wide and although it might seem that all vitamin D products do not differ much, the opposite is true. The difference is mainly due to the type of vitamin D (the best known forms are D2/ergocalciferol and D3/cholecalciferol), quality of raw material used in production and in the technological process and production.
Our goal is not to criticize one or the other source used for production, but to outline the basic differences between the individual sources (and therefore the products on the market to facilitate the decision between vitamin D of animal or plant origin). We have gathered the most up-to-date information about this molecule and the sources used to produce it, and we have summarized it in this article in a clear way.
Article at a Glance:
- First little about vitamin D
- Can vitamin D be obtained naturally?
- Deficiency of vitamin D among population is alarming
- When choosing food supplements, it is worth paying attention to quality source
- Animal origin of vitamin D supplements
- How vitamin D is extracted from lanolin?
- An animal resource is not just a question of ethics, but also a number of chemicals
- Plant resources - sustainability and respect for nature
- What is Algae?
- What are the biggest benefits of vitamin D obtained from algae?
First little about vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. In the body, however, it acts more like a hormone that regulates bone formation and the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine. It helps to control the exchange of calcium between bones and blood. In infancy and childhood, vitamin D deficiency causes bone deformation, called rickets, while in adults it causes bone softening called osteomalacia. But bone health is far from its only function. Today we already know that vitamin D has a much wider application for the human body and interferes with a number of physiological processes. According to legally approved health claims, it contributes to maintaining the proper condition of bones, teeth, muscles, participates in the proper functioning of the immune system and the proper division of cells.
Can vitamin D be obtained naturally?
The main source of vitamin D is exposure of the skin to sunlight. However, the condition for starting the synthesis in skin cells is sufficient exposure to UVB radiation with a wavelength of 280 - 315 nm, which can be captured in the Czech Republic from approximately May to September between 11 and 15 hours. The intensity of UV-B radiation incident on the ground is characterized by the UV-index. Geographical areas that have a UV index permanently or most of the year above the value of 4 (in our country it is only during summer sunny days), the conditions for the synthesis of vitamin D are much better. There are applications that calculate exactly whether the exposure angle is sufficient based on your current geographical location. You can also follow a simple shadow rule - if your shadow is much longer than you, the sun is not at a sufficient angle and the synthesis does not take place. But there are a number of other factors that greatly affect the final amount of vitamin D stores in our body. You can read more about this in our article → The sun as a beneficial source of vitamin D.
So for many of us who live city life and have fixed office hours, getting vitamin D in a natural way during the summer may seem more like a treasure hunt. In winter, the only source of vitamin D is fatty fish and other foods that are slowly disappearing from the food chain in our conditions. It is therefore not surprising that we do not receive vitamin D permanently and we are in pathologically low values all year round.
Deficiency of vitamin D among population is alarming
Vitamin D is a very necessary nutrient for our body, so we could not rely on endogenous production in the skin or on food sources only. Many researchers are even calling for an increase of the minimum recommended daily intake, which is currently 15 μg / day (600 IU) for an adult according to EFSA. The Society of Endocrinology already recommends higher doses between 1500 - 2000 IU for all men and women over the age of 18, including breastfeeding and pregnant women, especially with proven vitamin D deficiency. Higher doses of vitamin D for children and adults are also generally recommended because of the current global the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impact on exercise and leisure activities outdoors.
When choosing food supplements, it is worth paying attention to quality source
There are a huge number of products on the market, which differ both in the source used for production and also in its quality. In addition, many supplements contain a list of illegible ingredients. The long-term consumption of cocktail of many ingredients can have an adverse effect on health. The manufacturer is not obliged to state a number of additives on the label (as they are only part of the so-called production technology). Suspiciously low price, long shelf life of the product or striking color or taste, all this may indicate the content of additives whose safety profile is debatable. It is often not easy for the average consumer to find his way around the menu.
So what are basic sources for vitamin D production and the difference between them?
Animal origin of vitamin D supplements
A common raw material for the production of vitamin D, one might say for most products on the market, is lanolin. The term lanolin has Latin origin - lana (wool) and oleum (oil), although its chemical composition is similar to wax. It is secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep to protect the wool from rain and other adverse environmental influences. Although it does not harm the sheep when taking lanolin from the fleece during shearing (if it is done in a correct and gentle way), it is an animal resource and therefore its products are not suitable for people who live a vegan lifestyle.
How vitamin D is extracted from lanolin?
The extracted wool is first washed in hot water with detergent to remove any parasites or impurities. First crude lanolin is produced. The fat component is then separated from the non-fatty component by a process called saponification and subsequent centrifugation. Crude cholesterol is isolated using extractants and solvents. After further chemical treatment, 7-dehydrocholesterol (provitamin D3) is finally produced, chemically identical to the provitamin under our skin, which interacts with sunlight to produce vitamin D3. In the last step, 7-dehydrocholesterol is exposed to light to form the final stable form of vitamin D3 ready for supplement production.
An animal resource is not just a question of ethics, but also a number of chemicals
Sheep wool can be contaminated with pesticides, as it comes into contact with on pastures from chemically treated plants. Also the animals themselves and their skins are subjected to disinfection baths against ticks and other pests.
Because lanolin is fatty in nature, it can turn rancid or oxidize on contact with air. To extend shelf life, many manufacturers add BHT (butylhydroxytoluene) to lanolin, the most widely used synthetic antioxidant to retard rancidity of oils and fats. Although BHT is considered safe in adequate amounts, trace amounts remain in human adipose tissue and there are a number of doubts about its effect on health (the substance has been shown to be an animal carcinogen).
Plant resources - sustainability and respect for nature
There is no doubt that the world is choosing ways to live more sustainably. Ethics plays a big role in product selection. If you have decided to follow a plant-based diet, you care for the environment in order to be friendlier to the planet, respect nature and animals, then products with lanolin extract are definitely not the right solution.
For a long time, the production of vitamin D from mushroom extract was the only non-animal alternative. Chemically, this form corresponds to vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), which is currently reported as an insufficient source of vitamin D and should not be considered a nutrient suitable for the production of food supplements or food fortification. A 2011 study published in the Clinical Journal of Endocrinology Metabolism compared vitamin D2 with vitamin D3 and concluded that vitamin D3 is approximately 87% more effective and maintains a much longer serum 25 (OH) D concentration.
What is Algae?
The term "alga" comes from Latin and means 'seaweed' (algae is a plural of alga). Genetically unaltered (non GMO) algae are used for the production of vitamin D, grown under strictly controlled conditions, without the use of pesticides. Vitamin D3 obtained from algae is chemically identical to that obtained from lanolin and can be used as a direct replacement. It has the same effect in our body, but it is a 100% plant source of the highest quality and purity.
What are the biggest benefits of vitamin D obtained from algae?
- Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
- Cultivation in strictly controlled conditions in the so-called closed cycle, where there is no risk of contamination from the environment (heavy metals and xenobiotics as in the wild)
- Sustainable production method
- Energy saving (production process is not energy intensive)
- No unnecessary chemistry - no pesticides, solvents, etc. are used during production.
- Our product does not contain chemical preservatives
- Bioavailability and half-life is same as vitamin D3 from animal sources