The role of a vitamin D2 and D3 supplements in human health

The role of a vitamin D2 and D3 supplements in human health
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New research from the Universities of Surrey and Brighton has found significant differences between vitamin D2 and D3 supplements.

The study uncovered the differences between the two types of vitamin D supplements, with vitamin D2 having a questionable impact on human health and vitamin D3 having the potential to support people’s immune systems and strengthen defences against viral infections.

In a collaborative study by the Universities of Surrey and Brighton, researchers investigated the impact of vitamin D supplements taken daily over a 12-week period on the activity of genes in people’s blood.

The study is published in Frontiers in Immunology.

Vitamin D2 and D3 supplements

Vitamin D supplements are widely available, with the NHS recommending that everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter.

The body naturally creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin and can be found in a small number of foods. However, it can be difficult for people to get the required amount of this vitamin from food alone, therefore, taking a vitamin D supplement is beneficial.

Vitamin D is best known for its role in maintaining bone health and calcium homeostasis, however, it also possesses a broad range of extra-skeletal effects on cellular physiology and on the immune system.

Vitamin D2 and D3 share a high degree of structural similarity. However, the research team discovered that contrary to popular views, both types of vitamin D supplements did not have the same effect on the body.

They discovered, during their investigation regarding the impact of vitamin D supplements, that D3 had a modifying effect on the immune system, and that it could fortify the body against viral and bacterial diseases.

Professor Colin Smith, lead-author of the study from the University of Surrey, who began this work while at the University of Brighton, said: “We have shown that vitamin D3 appears to stimulate the type I interferon signalling system in the body – a key part of the immune system that provides a first line of defence against bacteria and viruses. Thus, a healthy vitamin D3 status may help prevent viruses and bacteria from gaining a foothold in the body.

“Our study suggests that it is important that people take a vitamin D3 supplement, or suitably fortified foods, especially in the winter months.”

Insufficient vitamin levels

Many people have insufficient levels of vitamin D3 because they live in locations where sunlight is limited in the winter, like the UK. The COVID-19 pandemic has also limited people’s natural exposure to Sun due to people spending more time in their homes.

Professor Susan Lanham-New, co-author of the study and Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey, concluded: “While we found that vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 do not have the same effect on gene activity within humans, the lack of impact we found when looking at vitamin D2 means that a larger study is urgently required to clarify the differences in the effects. However, these results show that vitamin D3 should be the favoured form for fortified foods and supplements.”


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