There are two types of vitamin D supplements available on the market. The first one, which is commonly recommended as suitable for vegans and vegetarians, is known as ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). The second and much more popular form of vitamin D is known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
Unfortunately, the question whether cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) is suitable for vegans and vegetarians is not easy to answer. First of all, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) doesn’t have anything to do with neither meat nor dairy as it is derived from sheep’s wool by purifying lanolin (wool grease). More important, however, is the fact that this lanolin goes through so many processes and purifications that the final product is actually a pure chemical (cholecalciferol). Therefore, in my opinion it can be regarded as suitable not only for vegetarians but also for vegans, all the more since production of cholecalcipherol doesn’t require killing animals. However, since cholecalcipherol (vitamin D3) is still linked to an animal (as it is initially derived from the wool) some manufacturers decided to compromise a little and state that it is suitable for vegetarians, excluding vegans.
On the other hand, the vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), although not linked to any animal sources and therefore often recommended as suitable for vegans, is much inferior to cholecalciferol (D3) due to low bioavailability. Unfortunately, in addition to its poor absorption it is also expensive and usually sold in capsules containing very low strength of this vitamin. The low strength of supplements with vitamin D2 is often the most important factor discouraging even vegans and vegetarians from choosing it over vitamin D3, all the more since most of us need at least 5,000 and in some cases even 10,000 to 20,000 IU a day.
Another argument often used against ergocalciferol (D2) is that unlike cholecalciferol (D3) it is made by radiating fungus and therefore regarded as not natural. Some vegans prefer taking this form because it is not derived from animals, but to tell the truth, it is foreign to the human body, poorly absorbed, sold in insufficient very low strength doses and therefore not very effective. In addition, used in higher doses it is not only very expensive but has much greater chance of toxicity.
LICHEN-BASED VEGAN CHOLECALCIFEROL (D3)
It is true that Cholecalciferol (D3) – considered to be much more bioavailable/absorbable form than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) – can be also extracted from lichen, which is a cross between fungus and algae. Unfortunately D3 extracted from lichen is expensive, especially when you take into consideration recommended by experts today daily high daily doses of vitamin D. In addition, extraction of cholecalciferol from lichen may involve some toxic solvents and manufacturers do not include info on the extraction process, which makes me suspicious.
THE MORE VITAMIN D YOU TAKE THE MORE MAGNESIUM YOU NEED
With regards to Vitamin D supplements it is also very important to know they must be taken with well absorbed magnesium (such as citrate) as vitamin D slowly leads to magnesium deficiency (it requires magnesium in our body for conversion) and since people are usually already deficient in magnesium and almost never informed that Vitamin D requires magnesium supplements they usually end up with sleeping problems and other unpleasant symptoms.
It is also better to take vitamin D supplements in the morning as some people reported that after taking it in the evening the experienced some sleep difficulties. Vitamin D is essentially a hormone created during the daytime (in sunlight) and therefore taking it with breakfast makes sans.
VITAMIN K FOR PROPER ABSORPTION OF VITAMIN D
Another requirement for proper absorption of vitamin D is 100–200 mcg of Vitamin K2 MK-7 (Derived from Natural Natto) every day. To maximize the benefits of vitamin D supplementation while also minimizing the potential risk of toxicity vitamin D should be taken with K2. Vitamin K activates the MGP, a protein that helps direct calcium to the right places (bones) and lead calcium away from the undesirable areas (pineal gland, kidneys and arteries) eliminating risk of hypercalcaemia and calcification of these organs.
EXCESS SUPPLEMENTAL VITAMIN D & CALCIFICATION
Vitamin K2 should be always taken with Vitamin D supplements (especially high doses), to prevent calcification of blood vessels or kidney stones.
The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a build-up of calcium in the blood (hypercalcaemia), which may cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, frequent urination, etc. Symptoms might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
Taking 60,000 international units (IU) a day of vitamin D for longer time such as 6 months has been shown to cause toxicity. Such mega doses can be taken but for shorter periods of time (1 to 2 months) followed by the reduction of the dosage to 5-10,000 IU per day and always with 200-400mcg K2 (MK7) and 2 times 200mg of Magnesium (such as citrate). Without K2 mega doses of Vitamin D3 should never be taken for longer than few day to one week.
Treatment of Vitamin D toxicity includes stopping vitamin D intake and restricting dietary calcium.
Read more about Vitamin K >
Recently I have read an article about a lady (aged 86) who was prescribed by his physician 40,000 IU of vitamin D3, which dose was supposed to be taken once a month, but by a mistake she was taking it every day. As a result, she died, having suffered gastrointestinal bleeding caused by high calcium levels in her blood (hypercalcaemia). The problem, however, is we don’t know all the details behind that tragedy in order to know what really contributed to her the death. It is impossible vitamin D alone, under normal conditions, could lead to death as there were many studies that demonstrated even extremely high mega doses of this vitamin taken for more than 6 months resulted in some level of toxicity but ware not lethal. I can only assume that the person who died suffered from some underlying serious health problems, was on medication, and probably was taking calcium supplement (as she was diagnosed with osteoporosis) or consumed dairy products (high in calcium) on a regular basis. As a result mega doses of vitamin D accumulated too much calcium and caused calcification which together with underlying health problems resulted in bleeding and death. Another problem is that physicians should always prescribe Vitamin D with vitamin K2 (50mcg per every 1000 IU of vitamin D) to prevent vitamin D from leading to calcification of different organs and from accumulating calcium in the blood, colon, kidneys, brain, arteries, etc. Unfortunately only few of them know about the role of vitamin K2 in preventing calcification and therefore prescribe vitamin D (often with calcium) without K2.
Taking 5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day is perfectly safe and never caused any problems. It should be taken with magnesium (without which it can’t be converted in the body) and with Vitamin K2 (MK7 – 50mcg per every 1000IU of D3) to prevent Vitamin D from leading to calcification.