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Vitamin D2 vs. Vitamin D3: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 12, 2024
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from plant sources, while Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is obtained from animal sources or synthesized by skin exposure to sunlight.

Key Differences

Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is typically sourced from plants, particularly fungi, and is used in fortified foods and supplements. Vitamin D3, known as cholecalciferol, is derived from animal sources like fish oil and is also produced in the human skin upon exposure to sunlight.
Both vitamins D2 and D3 are essential for maintaining healthy bone density, D3 is generally considered more effective in raising and maintaining vitamin D levels in the blood. Vitamin D2, though beneficial, is less potent compared to D3.
Vitamin D2 is often used in fortified foods and vegetarian supplements due to its plant-based origin. In contrast, vitamin D3, found in animal-based products, is commonly used in non-vegetarian supplements and is the form naturally synthesized by humans.
The body metabolizes vitamin D2 and D3 differently; D3 tends to be metabolized more effectively and is retained in the bloodstream longer than D2. This difference influences their efficacy in vitamin D supplementation.
Both vitamin D2 and D3 play crucial roles in calcium absorption and bone health, but vitamin D3 is also more closely linked to improved muscle strength and immune system functioning due to its higher efficacy and longer duration in the body.

Comparison Chart


Derived from plants (fungi).
Derived from animal sources or skin exposure to sunlight.

Efficacy in Raising Blood Levels

Less potent than D3.
More effective at raising and maintaining blood levels.

Use in Supplements

Often in fortified foods and vegetarian supplements.
Common in non-vegetarian supplements and produced naturally in the skin.

Metabolism and Retention

Less effectively metabolized and retained.
More effectively metabolized and longer retention in the body.

Associated Benefits

Supports bone health and calcium absorption.
Supports bone health, muscle strength, and immune system.

Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 Definitions

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2 is often added to fortified foods.
The milk was fortified with vitamin D2.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, is synthesized by the skin when exposed to sunlight.
Sunbathing helps the body produce vitamin D3 naturally.

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2 is a form of vitamin D derived from plant sources.
The mushrooms were high in vitamin D2.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is more effective in maintaining blood levels of vitamin D.
To effectively raise her vitamin D levels, she chose a supplement with vitamin D3.

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is used in dietary supplements.
Her vegetarian supplement contained vitamin D2.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 supports bone, muscle, and immune health.
Regular intake of vitamin D3 can boost immune system function.

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2 helps maintain healthy bones and teeth.
To support bone health, he included vitamin D2 in his diet.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is a form of vitamin D obtained from animal sources.
The fish oil was a rich source of vitamin D3.

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2 assists in the body's calcium absorption.
Adequate vitamin D2 intake aids in preventing osteoporosis.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is commonly found in non-vegetarian dietary supplements.
His supplement regimen included vitamin D3 capsules.


Can vegetarians get vitamin D3 naturally?

Vegetarians can synthesize vitamin D3 through skin exposure to sunlight.

What is the main source of vitamin D2?

Vitamin D2 is primarily obtained from plant sources like fungi.

Is vitamin D2 as effective as D3?

Vitamin D3 is generally more effective than D2 in raising blood vitamin D levels.

Which vitamin D is better for the immune system?

Vitamin D3 is more closely linked to improved immune function.

Do both vitamins D2 and D3 help prevent osteoporosis?

Yes, both are important for bone density and can help prevent osteoporosis.

Are both D2 and D3 essential for bone health?

Yes, both contribute to bone health and calcium absorption.

What foods are high in vitamin D2?

Foods like fortified cereals and certain mushrooms are high in vitamin D2.

Are vitamin D2 supplements suitable for vegans?

Yes, vitamin D2 is suitable for vegans as it's plant-derived.

Can vitamin D3 supplements be derived from plants?

Plant-based vitamin D3 supplements are available but less common.

How is vitamin D3 acquired?

Vitamin D3 is obtained from animal sources and skin exposure to sunlight.

Can vitamin D2 be synthesized by the human body?

No, vitamin D2 cannot be synthesized by the body; it must be ingested.

Does vitamin D2 also support muscle strength?

While D2 helps with bone health, D3 is more effective in supporting muscle strength.

How long does vitamin D3 stay in the body?

Vitamin D3 stays longer in the body compared to D2, enhancing its effectiveness.

Is sunlight exposure enough to get adequate vitamin D3?

Sunlight exposure can provide sufficient vitamin D3, but it depends on location, skin type, and sun exposure.

Is vitamin D3 more expensive than D2?

Vitamin D3 supplements can be more expensive than D2.

Can you overdose on vitamin D2 or D3?

Yes, excessive intake of either can lead to vitamin D toxicity.

What are natural sources of vitamin D3?

Natural sources include fatty fish, egg yolks, and liver.

Are both D2 and D3 available in fortified foods?

Yes, both can be found in fortified foods like milk and cereal.

Can both D2 and D3 be taken together?

Yes, they can be taken together, but D3 is often sufficient on its own.

How do I know if I need vitamin D2 or D3 supplements?

A blood test can determine your vitamin D levels, and a healthcare provider can recommend the appropriate supplement.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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