Vitamin D Supplements Are Still Important for Some Vegans

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is recommending that healthy postmenopausal women avoid low-dose supplements of vitamin D (up to 400 IU) or calcium (up to 1,000 milligrams) because evidence is lacking for a protective effect and there may be a small increase in risk of kidney stones.

It’s not really clear whether these supplemental doses are too low to have an effect (the evidence was lacking for a recommendation regarding higher doses) or whether it’s just that supplements are unnecessary if your diet already provides enough of these nutrients. The preliminary draft report makes no mention of diet (other than the incorrect statement that vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is the main dietary source of vitamin D and is provided by plants and fish—which leaves me a little worried about general nutrition knowledge among the members of this task force).

It’s important to note, though, that no one is saying you don’t need to meet needs for these nutrients. While it may not be beneficial to take vitamin and mineral supplements in addition to a diet that already meets requirements, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay to not meet needs. For almost all people who don’t get adequate sun exposure, the only sources of vitamin D are supplements and fortified foods. Technically, omnivores can get it from fish, but they would have to eat fish daily which is certainly not practical for most or a responsible and sustainable choice.  And most fortified foods don’t have enough to meet needs; you’d need to drink 6 cups daily of cow’s milk or plant milk to meet the RDA for vitamin D.

Here in the Pacific Northwest where I live, I could probably make enough vitamin D during three months of the year if I went out in the sun without sunscreen (which I generally don’t do). I don’t consume any vitamin D-fortified foods on a regular basis so, for me, vitamin D supplements continue to be essential.

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9 Responses to Vitamin D Supplements Are Still Important for Some Vegans

  1. Lindsay Loves Veggies June 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    I’ve been taking a vitamin D supplement since I became vegan. I don’t eat loads of mushrooms, and I live near Seattle, where there isn’t a ton of sunshine (plus I always seem to be at work on the sunny days! ;)), so I feel that a supplement is necessary for me. I actually take twice what is recommended, since I have heard that vegetarian-sourced vitamin D isn’t absorbed as well as the oil-based supplements.

  2. April June 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    I am not very knowledgeable about D2 and D3, except that I think D3 is from only animal sources and D2 from both. I’m wondering if you take D3 supplementation, or just D2. Will taking enough D2 meet one’s need for D3 by conversion?

    Thanks.

    • TaVe June 16, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

      There are is some vegan D3 http://www.veganstore.com/category/s?keyword=D3

      It is more expensive though.

      For some, D2 is enough. But some people have problems converting (whether it be due to diet or genetics). To find out if you have problems converting get you can get your levels tested.

      • Dana June 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

        There is a genetic problem where you can’t convert D2 to D3, but its really rare. I don’t know that its common enough to really worry about it. In those rare cases, you would be really sick because your body wouldn’t be able to make D from sunshine at all. You’d be dependent on supplements or a few foods (all animal based.) But again, its rare.

    • Daisy June 24, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      Vitamin D3 is not vegan, but it has been shown to be more effective than vitamin D2. You’ll need to take D2 more often and larger doses to get the effect of D3.

      From THE JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ENDOCRINOLOGY & METABOLISM:

      “Vitamin D2 potency is less than one third that of vitamin D3. Physicians resorting to use of vitamin D2 should be aware of its markedly lower potency and shorter duration of action relative to vitamin D3.”

      Link: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/11/5387.long

      • vegan_scientist June 26, 2012 at 10:02 am #

        vegan D3 sourced from lichens is now widely available.

      • Dana June 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

        Fortunately, the amount of D3 that is required is tiny! So taking three times that amount of D2 is not that much of a big deal.

        When it comes to D, we’re not talking grams or even milligrams, but IUs. Most of the D pill you may be taking is filler.

        When my doctor tested me, my D blood levels were down to a 7!!! But supplementing with D2 alone has raised them into the high healthy zone. We did 50,000 IU once a week for a month and now I just do 2000 IU a day. I feel the difference in about a week if I stop taking them, too. Its still in the back of my mind that one shouldn’t take too much. I remember when I was taking nutrition classes in school and we were taught that D can become toxic. It makes me feel safer to know that D2 needs to be converted by the body – like maybe that will pad any potential overdose. But that’s just me. I have no science that says this is a factor, except for the fact that we know other vitamins do work this way.

  3. Marty June 16, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    I live in Fairbanks, AK and both my husband and I take 5,000 IU daily year-round as well as have yearly blood levels checked, and we’re ok. Even if I lived in sunny “lower-48″ States we’d take Vit-D as we’re both not sun-seeking individuals. Re: B-12, I’m vegan (7 years) and my blood tests showed I was low even though my diet is excellent, I take it daily and will always. I believe its’s important to have your blood levels checked yearly to determine if you’re within or out of range.

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