The role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D, also known as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ because of its unique ability to be synthesized by the human body through the action of sunlight, is essential for increasing calcium absorption and supporting phosphorus absorption to help promote healthy bone mineral density. Beyond bone health, Vitamin D has also been shown to play an incredibly important role in the proper functioning of the heart, brain, immune system, thyroid and muscles.
The two major forms are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is largely human-made and added to foods, whereas vitamin D3 is synthesized in the skin of humans from the sun and is also sourced in food.
While symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency are rare, signs of deficiency can include weakness, fatigue, muscle aches and twitches, osteoporosis, depression and rickets in children.[3,4] In the long term, Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with vascular stiffness - a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and recent research has linked low Vitamin D levels to the development of various cancers. [5,6]
How much Vitamin D do we need?
The Australian Nutrient Reference Values indicate that the adequate intake (AI) of Vitamin D vary depending on age, sex and life stage. For adults from 19 to 50 years of age, an intake of 5 mcg/day (200 IU/Day) of Vitamin D is recommended. This number is raised to 10 mcg/day (400 IU/Day) for adults aged 51-70 years to account for the reduced capacity for the skin to produce vitamin D with ageing. Past 70 years, adults are recommended to consume 15 mcg/day (600 IU/Day).
It’s worth noting, however, that these figures are calculated with the assumption of zero sun exposure. Therefore, actual intake levels may be lower. The upper level for Vitamin D has been set at 80 mcg/day (3200 IU) for all individuals, save children aged 0-12 months, who must not consume more than 25 mcg (1000 IU).
Vitamin D in a plant focussed diet
While the sun is the primary source of Vitamin D, a variety of factors from busy lifestyles, pollution and skin sensitivity can make it extremely difficult to get your daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun. Furthermore, because there are a few naturally occurring food sources of Vitamin D, a deficiency of this vitamin can occur regardless of diet. In fact, the medical consensus is that current food supplies and patterns of eating make it almost impossible to obtain sufficient Vitamin D from diet alone. Unsurprisingly, it is estimated that more than 50% of the global population are affected by a Vitamin D deficiency.
Regardless, studies looking at vegetarian and vegan intakes have suggested that those consuming a plant-based diet may indeed consume less Vitamin D in their diet compared to their omnivore counterparts, and may therefore be at an increased risk of developing a deficiency . This can be of particular concern during summer months, when sun exposure may be limited.
Getting enough Vitamin D living a plant-focussed lifestyle
Regardless of diet, in winter months or if sun exposure is limited, it is advisable to get your daily dose of Vitamin D from a supplement, as this is the easiest and most reliable way to avoid developing a deficiency. If supplementing, despite being above RDI levels, several studies have shown that 25-50mcg/day (1000-2000 IU/day) are very effective and safe dosages for the average person to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels and reduce the risk of disease. [13,14,15] As such, our Essential 3 has been formulated with 25mcg (or 1000 IU) of plant-based Vitamin D3, providing you with an effective dose while still allowing you to get some sunlight without exceeding the Upper Limit recommendations for this vitamin.
Dose aside, when it comes to selecting a Vitamin D supplement, there are a few things to consider:
- The form of Vitamin D - A recent Systematic Review & Meta Analysis found that Vitamin D3 is superior to D2 in raising Vitamin D levels in the blood. 
- The origin of Vitamin D - Vitamin D2 is derived from plant sources (fungi & yeast) while Vitamin D3 can be found in animal sources (typically wool or cod liver oil) or plant sources (lichens).  It’s worth noting that while studies have shown that supplements deriving their Vitamin D from cod liver oil are effective, these also contains toxic levels of Vitamin A. [18,19] Therefore, a safe and equally effective alternative to supplement Vitamin D3 is derived from plant lichens.
For these reasons, although plant-based versions of Vitamin D2 are cheap and easy to come by, we have formulated our Essential 3 with plant-based Vitamin D3 that has been ethically sourced from plant lichen. Our plant-based Vitamin D3 is supplied by Vitashine™, the world’s only Vegan Society & Vegetarian Society registered company producing plant-source Vitamin D3. Their Vitamin D3 was developed after working with Independent expert laboratories - including Stirling University, who are world-renowned experts in lipid analysis - making it the perfect choice for those wishing to increase their Vitamin D intake without consuming fish oils.