What’s the Difference Between Vitamin D and Vitamin D3?

Difference Between Vitamin D and Vitamin D3
Photo by engin akyurt

Vitamins are essential for good health. Vitamin d is one of the crucial nutrients the body needs to function correctly.

This article will explore the difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3. Before we proceed, let’s understand what these vitamins mean.

Vitamin d is fat-soluble in a family of compounds that includes five molecules, the most important being vitamins d2 and d3.

The human body needs vitamins to grow and develop bones and teeth. Vitamin d performs the function of regulating calcium and phosphorus absorption by the body and facilitates the immune system’s normal function.

In our definition above, you must have noticed that we said vitamin d is a compound that includes vitamins d2 and d3. Vitamin d describes these vitamins, which are different in some ways but function similarly in the body. 

This then means that vitamin d3 is just a subset of vitamin d. Hence we notice a stark difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3.

We can see that vitamin d is an umbrella term for nutrients that comes in different forms, just like the “b” family of vitamins that comprises folic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and others.

The truth is one cannot find anything labeled as just “vitamin d” on the vitamin counter in any pharmacy. Instead, one will be faced with the option of vitamins d2 or d3.

So technically speaking, the difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3 lies in the fact that vitamin d is a family name for nutrients that shares certain likenesses in chemical configuration. 

Difference between these vitamins

As we mentioned earlier, Vitamin d is the umbrella term for vitamins in the “D” family. These terms are often confusing, so sometimes customers go to the drug store in search of vitamin d, only to discover that there is no label for just vitamin d.

They find out just two options, either vitamin d2 or d3. Generally, whenever one mentions vitamin d, the person’s implied choice is vitamin d2.

As we highlight the difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3 in this article, when vitamin d is mentioned, we will be referring to vitamin d2.

Let’s dive deeper and discover the difference between these vitamins. Don’t forget that in this article, when we mention vitamin d, we refer to vitamin d2. 

Generic name

A difference between vitamin d (d2) and vitamin d3 is their generic name. The generic name of vitamin d is Ergocalciferol. It is also referred to as Drisdol, Calcidol, and calciferol, whereas the generic name of vitamin d3 is Cholecalciferol. It is also referred to as Decara, and Dialyvite D3 Max.

How we get them

Another difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3 is their dietary source. Vitamin d naturally comes from plant sources such as mushrooms and yeast.

Vitamin d3, on the other hand, can be gotten from animal sources of food such as liver, fish oil, egg yolks, and fatty fish.

One other distinctive difference between these vitamins is how the body manufactures them. The human body can make vitamin d3 in the skin when sunlight strikes the skin.

No wonder it is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.” But the human body does not manufacture vitamin d.


A further difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3 is that vitamin d, I.e., d2, is less expensive to produce. Hence, it is widely used to fortify foods such as orange juice, milk, and cereal products.

Let’s delve a little into history to ascertain why foods were fortified. Back in the 1930s, rickets was rampant (rickets comes from vitamin d deficiency).

And to fight against this disease that weakens the bones, vitamin d was introduced into certain foods. Today, nearly all milk supply is fortified.

A cup serving contains about 3mcg (120IU) of vitamin d. Plant-based milk varieties like almond and soy milk are fortified with vitamin d.

Effects on the immune system

Both vitamin d2 and vitamin d3 are effective in boosting the human immune system. But, regarding how effective they are to the human system, research suggests that vitamin d3 is approximately 87% superior in boosting blood levels in the body.


Vitamin d is essential for health. Health professionals recommend the intake of 10 micrograms of vitamin d a day. This is because it plays a crucial role in our well-being by supporting healthy bones, the nervous system, and the immune system.

As we have seen so far, the significant difference between vitamin d and vitamin d3 lies in the fact that Vitamin d is an umbrella term for vitamins in the “D” family.

Notwithstanding, we also established that vitamins d2 and d3 are the primary forms of vitamin d, and both perform the same role in the body. They can be obtained from plants, animals, sunshine, and dietary supplement.

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