The two forms of Vitamin D include Vitamin D2 (from plants) and Vitamin D3 (from animals and from the sun).
Studies show that Vitamin D 3 is more effective than Vitamin D2 at raising and maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body.
Many factors affect how well your body uses Vitamin D, including age, skin color, how much sun exposure you get, where you live, and certain health conditions.
Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s best absorbed in the bloodstream in the presence of dietary fat.
Trying to understand your body’s “relationship status” with Vitamin D? It’s complicated.
You may already know that Vitamin D (a.k.a. “the sunshine vitamin”) plays a variety of important roles in the body, from supporting bone health and promoting muscle health and function to supporting immune health, [1,2] And you may have read that an alarming number of Americans (an estimated 95%) aren’t getting enough Vitamin D from diet alone. Other research shows that approximately 29% of U.S. adults have Vitamin D levels indicating Vitamin D deficiency (<50 nmol/L).▲†
But, given Vitamin D’s critical roles in the body, you might not realize that several factors come into play regarding what helps Vitamin D absorption. Since you want to avoid low Vitamin D levels or a Vitamin D deficiency▲, you might wonder what you can do to ensure that the Vitamin D you do get can be easily absorbed by your body.†
Learn more about the best ways to improve your body's absorption of Vitamin D.
How Does Your Body Absorb Vitamin D?
First, know that the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D depends on multiple factors, including age, skin color, how much sun exposure you get, where you live (certain geographical latitudes get less sunlight), the season, and if you wear sunscreen. In general, though, most adults need 15-20 mcg (600-800 IU) of Vitamin D every day.
Vitamin D2 (plant-derived). This is the form of Vitamin D primarily found as a prescription.
Vitamin D3 (animal-derived, sun-derived). This is the form of Vitamin D obtained from the sun. This is also the preferred form of Vitamin D and most commonly found in nutritional supplements. Why? Because it’s been shown to be more effective than Vitamin D2 at raising and maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body.  †
Once you get Vitamin D, the body stores it in fat cells, where it remains inactive until it’s needed. Then the liver and kidneys convert the stored Vitamin D (through a process called hydroxylation) into the active form the body needs (called calcitriol). 
As stated earlier, it’s complicated when it comes to Vitamin D! A variety of factors can influence your Vitamin D level and how efficiently your body synthesizes, absorbs, and metabolizes Vitamin D: [7,8]
Geography: Higher-latitude locations, such as far north of the equator or far south of the equator, have reduced amount of Vitamin D–producing UVB light reach the earth's surface.
Atmospheric conditions: Air pollution and clouds, for instance, affect the intensity of UVB rays that reaches the ground
Skin exposure. Wearing sunscreen (as well as clothing that covers most of your skin) limits UVB exposure.
Skin color: People with darker skin synthesize less Vitamin D from sunlight exposure than people with lighter skin.
Genetic factors: Common gene variations involved in synthesizing cholesterol, hydroxylation, and transporting Vitamin D influence a person’s Vitamin D level
Age: The elderly synthesizes less Vitamin D when exposed to UVB radiation and are more likely to use sunscreen and stay indoors, which affects Vitamin D
Health issues: People with certain conditions face increased risk of low Vitamin D levels or Vitamin D deficiency▲ due to the body’s reduced capacity to efficiently use Vitamin D.
Weight: Once Vitamin D enters the body, it can be stored in fat cells, making it less available to people with higher body fat mass.
Low Magnesium: Magnesium regulates the enzyme activity in Vitamin D metabolism, which may impact Vitamin D[9,10]
When Is The Best Time To Get Vitamin D?
Does it matter if you take Vitamin D in the morning or night. Not really. However, many people take vitamins as part of their morning routine to ensure they don’t forget.
What helps Vitamin D absorption? Keep in mind that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s best absorbed in the bloodstream in the presence of dietary fat. So, if you’re taking your Vitamin D supplement at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you can pair it with a food containing healthy fat. Try eating avocado, whole eggs, fatty fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, or full-fat dairy with your supplement to improve Vitamin D absorption. Also, make sure your dietary supplement contains Vitamin D3, the preferred form of Vitamin D.
Because the body stores fat soluble vitamins in fatty tissue, it’s important to take the recommended daily amount of Vitamin D, as high quantities of this nutrient could lead to Vitamin D toxicity.
How Should I Get Vitamin D Daily?
As mentioned above, you can get your daily dosage of Vitamin D from three main sources:
The sun. While you can spend 10-15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen every day to increase your Vitamin D intake, you might be worried about damaging UV rays.
Food. That’s why it’s important to ensure your diet includes plenty of Vitamin D-rich foods. Good sources include fatty fish, cod liver oils, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms, as well as Vitamin D-fortified foods (such as cereal, milk and orange juice).
Vitamin D provides a variety of health benefits. You can get Vitamin D from the sun, from food, and from dietary supplements. This key nutrient comes in two forms: Vitamin D2 (plant-derived) and Vitamin D3 (animal-derived and sun-derived). Studies show that Vitamin D3 is more effective than Vitamin D2 at raising and maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body.† Many factors affect how well your body absorbs and synthesizes Vitamin D, including age, skin color, how much sun exposure you get, where you live, and certain health conditions. What helps Vitamin D absorption? Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s best absorbed in the bloodstream in the presence of dietary fat. It also helps to eat Vitamin D-rich food from animals and take supplements that contain Vitamin D3.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
▲ Approx. 29% of the U.S. adults are Vitamin D deficient (<50 nmol/L) Source: Endocrine Society, NHANES
National Institutes of Health. “Vitamin D.” June 2, 2021. Accessed on: June 14, 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
J Nutr. “Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency among US adults: prevalence, predictors and clinical implications.” April 2018. Accessed June 14, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29644951/
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Comparison of Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 supplementation in raising serum 25-hydroxyVitamin D status: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” June 2012. Accessed on: June 1, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22552031/
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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