There can be no doubt that vitamin D is critical for health, yet many people simply don’t get enough of it.
In fact, vitamin D deficiency is so common that researchers frequently call it an epidemic (1,2) and estimates suggest that more than a billion people globally aren’t getting enough of the vitamin (3).
This concern is even greater during this time of the year, as we enter colder weather and shorter days.
All of these issues make it critical that you get enough vitamin D, especially as there are also health benefits from vitamin D. One of the best ways of doing so is with a supplement.
This post takes a look at the best vitamin D3 supplements currently available.
The Most Powerful Brands
These are the best vitamin D3 brands currently on the market, based on a range of factors, including quality, reviews and independent testing. Most of them offer multiple sizes, including more options than the section covers.
The appropriate dose will depend on your needs and current vitamin D levels. But remember, more isn't always better!
BioTech is a good brand all around and offers a range of different vitamin supplements. The company is particularly significant as their vitamin D3 has passed independent testing. Plus, they tend to receive positive reviews overall.
The dose here is 5,000 IU daily dose, which tends to sell exceptionally well and is a popular choice. For that matter, most of the supplements on this list are 5,000 IU for the same reason. In most cases, you will also find that the same company produces supplements of varying strengths if you are wanting a lower amount.
In many ways, 5,000 IU is appealing, as this should help bring low vitamin D levels up, while also giving access to health benefits from the vitamin D. However, do be aware that many recommendations suggest levels of 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU and there has been much less research conducted on higher doses (12).
Also of note, the pills here are powder-based, rather than liquid gel. While this style is likely to be equally effective, many people do prefer a different style of capsule.
- Passed independent testing
- More than 200 Amazon reviews
- Mostly positive reviews
- Powder-based pill
- Brand isn't that well-known
#2 Bronson Vitamins
This supplement is a somewhat unusual choice for two different reasons. First of all, the pills are in the form of tablets. This is relatively uncommon for vitamin D3, with many companies going with gel capsules instead.
The other unusual aspect is that the product is certified organic, which you don’t often see with vitamin D3. Additionally, the supplements are GMO-free as well, although that component is not as rare. The tablets are roughly the size of an aspirin, which should make them easy for most people to swallow.
On a side note, this product does include corn syrup and potato starch as ingredients. These are important binders, as the product is a tablet, rather than a gel capsule. Still, the ingredient choice may not suit everybody, especially if you are trying to cut down your intake of sugars or starches.
- USDA Organic certification
- Small tablets should be easy to swallow
- Inexpensive with a large number of tablets
- 400+ reviews on Amazon, mostly positive
- Powder-based tablets
- Includes potato starch and corn syrup, along with other ingredients
#3 Garden of Life
The Garden of Life brand always has a strong focus on natural products, including this all natural vitamin D. Once again, the dose with the supplement is 5,000 IU and the product has passed independent testing. As you can see, there is also a 2,000 IU option.
However, there are also some notable things about it. In particular, the company includes additional ingredients, which are supposed to help promote health and may also improve absorption. The most significant of these is a form of chlorella (which has some similar benefits to spirulina). There is also an organic fruit and vegetable blend, along with a blend of probiotics and enzymes.
Collectively, these extra ingredients could well help to promote overall health and wellbeing. However, they may be less desirable to anyone who just wants vitamin D3 on its own.
The other thing to note is that the ingredients are all raw, dairy free, gluten free, non-GMO and also vegetarian. These aspects may make the supplements particularly relevant to many people.
- Emphasis on natural ingredients
- Supplement is dairy free, gluten free, raw, vegetarian and non-GMO
- Popular brand with a good reputation
- 600+ reviews on Amazon, mostly positive
- Contains a range of added plant-based powders, probiotics and enzymes
- Relatively few pills per container
- Expensive compared to other brands
- Doesn't just include vitamin D
#4 Source Naturals
This is another brand that has passed independent testing and the company actually offers a few different types of vitamin D3, including the more traditional supplements.
However, this particular product is interesting because it is a lower dose than some of the other options (2,000 IU). Additionally, it is in a dropper form, rather than a pill. For some people, this approach is more practical, especially if you struggle to take pills for any reason.
Having the supplement in a liquid also means that you don’t have to worry about what is used to create the capsule. Nevertheless, there are some added ingredients here, including lemon essential oil and natural orange flavor. Those additions could be advantages or disadvantages, depending on your perspective.
At the same time, the ingredients mean that this supplement is flavored, which is somewhat unusual. Still, the style can work well, especially if you like the flavor at hand.
- Has passed independent testing
- A flavored supplement
- A liquid supplement, which makes it easier to take
- Includes extra ingredients
- Less than 150 reviews on Amazon and a lower average than other brands
- Relatively obscure company
#5 Sports Research
This vitamin D3 supplement is slightly different than the rest as it is blended with coconut oil. This idea is particularly important, as coconut oil is a source of healthy fats and is also associated with significant health benefits.
The decision to use coconut oil is based on absorption, as vitamin D3 is fat soluble and taking the supplement with fat is thought to improve absorption. Not all research agrees with that claim (13) but choosing a supplement like this one may still make sense, just in case the fat does have an impact.
This is also another supplement that is non-GMO and is gluten free. Additionally, the supplements have been tested by a third party. However, the product isn’t vegetarian, as the gelatin used is sourced from bovine. This is something to bear in mind for anyone who is a vegetarian.
On a side note – the capsules from this company do sometimes turn cloudy. This is normal and it is a result of the coconut oil that is included.
The link provided for this product also lets you pick the size you’re interested in and there are 1,000 IU and 2,000 IU options as well.
- A popular and well-known brand
- More than 3,500 Amazon reviews and a good average rating
- Large number of capsules
- Includes coconut oil
- Has passed third party testing
- Not vegetarian
- The coconut oil may not be appealing to everyone
This is an extremely popular option for vitamin D3 and you’ll notice that it is another 5,000 IU option - although there is a 1,000 IU available too. In this case though, the vitamin D3 is provided in olive oil, which is another healthy fat. Again, this approach is designed to aid with absorption of the vitamin D3.
The supplement is also free from gluten and dairy, along with most other allergens (such as nuts and soy, which aren’t normally found in vitamin D anyway). However, as with the previous example, this is not a vegetarian option due to the gelatin that is used.
One other appealing aspect is that the pills themselves are small. This is extremely good for those that struggle with large pills. Finally, the company also provides solid customer service, which is more than many other brands.
- 5,000+ Amazon reviews
- Extremely good distribution of ratings
- Uses olive oil as an ingredient
- Has been tested
- Small softgel capsules
- Inexpensive with 360 softgels
- Not vegetarian
- Testing appears to be in-house, rather than by a third party
#7 Vita Optimum
In many ways, this supplement from Vita Optimum is roughly the same as the previous example from NatureWise. Both brands are offering 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 in organic olive oil and both state that their ingredients are non-GMO.
You’re even getting the same number of pills and the pills are small in both cases. However, of the two, NatureWise does get more positive reviews and offers a slightly less expensive product. Still, they are both good options, especially as each gets around 2,000 (or more) reviews on Amazon.
One interesting thing to note in this case is that the ingredients are also Kosher, although the product isn’t vegetarian.
- Includes organic olive oil and MCT oil
- 360 small capsules for a low price
- Almost 2,000 Amazon reviews
- Made in the USA
- Not vegetarian
- Less common brand
- The MCT oil is palm-sourced
How We Found the Best Vitamin D3 Supplement
All of these supplements are high-quality and most have been verified through independent and/or third-party testing. As a result, they can all be good approaches for improving your health and ensuring that you aren’t deficient in vitamin D.
As a result, there is no single best option. Instead, which you choose is likely to come down to your own needs and the price differences. For example, the Garden of Life supplement is particularly relevant for vegetarians or anyone on a raw food diet. It's also a good example of a natural vitamin D3 supplement.
In contrast, the supplement from Sports Research would be interesting for those who are trying to get health benefits from coconut oil.
One final thing to mention is that the only certified organic product is from Bronson Vitamins. Other supplements state organic on the label but this only applies to some ingredients. For example, NatureWise has organic olive oil as an ingredient but the vitamin D itself isn’t organic.
Vitamin D2 vs D3
Throughout this post, we've talked about one type of supplement - vitamin D3. Basically, there are two types of vitamin D: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
The emphasis here is on vitamin D3 because this is the most bioavailable form of vitamin D (14,15). Research consistently shows that taking vitamin D3 is more effective at increasing serum 25(OH)D levels, which is how we measure vitamin D in the blood (16,17,18).
As such, D3 is the best form of vitamin D - and is the one you should always look for.
Vitamin D3 is also the form that our bodies manufacture, while the alternative (vitamin D2) is plant-based. The site Save Our Bones offers more details about the differences between these two forms, as does Consumer Labs.
Vitamin D - The Hidden Epidemic
Vitamin D is actually a hormone and our bodies produce it, in the presence of sunlight. This implies that most people should already get enough vitamin D, without ever needing to supplement it. But, that's not the case.
Instead, vitamin D deficiency is considered an epidemic in the United States and elsewhere in the world (19,20). Estimates suggest that more than 40% of American adults aren't getting enough vitamin D (21).
To make matters worse, the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are easily missed. These include fatigue, general aches and pains, along with depression and a compromised immune system. Even if you noticed these symptoms, you might attribute them to something else.
So, vitamin D is necessary. But, why are we talking about supplementation? There are other sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin D from the Sun
Getting out in the sun more can help but it's often not enough. After all, if getting enough vitamin D through diet and lifestyle were realistic for most people, then the rates of vitamin D deficiency would be considerably lower.
As the blogger at RA Rebel highlights, some people find that their vitamin D levels are low even if they're getting significant sunlight exposure. And, as PRI explains, the relationship between the sun and vitamin D isn't as straightforward as we often assume.
The best way to get vitamin D from the sun is to get unprotected sun exposure (i.e. the sun on your bare skin, no sunscreen) in the middle of the day.
- But, this comes with it's own health risks, especially in relation to skin cancer.
- Getting outside in the middle of the day isn't viable for everyone anyway.
- If you're in the middle of the city or it's winter, you mightn't get that much sun exposure even if you could get outside at the right time.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
You can get vitamin D through your food too but this mostly comes from fortified foods, like milk and juice.
- Fortification has been enough to prevent conditions like rickets but vitamin D deficiency is still prevalent.
- One reason is that foods are fortified with the D2 form of the vitamin. As such, you'll get much better outcomes from supplementation.
Other food sources of vitamin D include some fish (like sockeye salmon and canned tuna), along with maitake and chanterelle.
Theoretically, you could avoid vitamin D deficiency through food alone. But, you'd need to have multiple servings of vitamin D rich foods every day. Even then, you wouldn't be getting the optimal dose.
In practice, most people won't be getting nearly enough vitamin D from their food. Supplementing is the most reliable way to make sure you're getting enough vitamin D every day.
Taking Vitamin D3
Beyond just buying vitamin D, there are a few other areas to consider.
What's the Ideal Dose?
How much vitamin D3 should you be taking? There currently is no consensus about the exact dose. The studies that have shown benefits often use very different levels to one another. Your ideal dose will depend on your initial vitamin D levels as well.
But, as Examine.com points out, there are some clear patterns.
- Official recommendations are around 400 - 800 IU in adults. This may be enough to prevent rickets but it still leaves your vitamin D levels far too low for health benefits. 400 - 800 IU may not even be enough to prevent deficiency.
- Most people would benefit from between 1,000 IU and 2,000 IU per day.
- People who are vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency may need more. This includes those who are housebound, the elderly and people with dark skin.
- The official safe upper limit is around 4,000 IU per day - although research suggests this may be higher, up to 10,000 IU each day.
- Large doses (e.g. 50,000 IU) are typically taken weekly and only in the short-term. Such doses should only be taken under your doctor's supervision.
- Vitamin D should be taken along with fat. The easiest way is to take it with a meal, although some people use fish oil instead.
When to Take Vitamin D
Even so, there is no proven best time to take vitamin D3. You can choose based on the theories above, along with what works best for your lifestyle. For example, what about taking a vitamin D supplement with your breakfast?
How to Take Vitamin D
There are multiple forms of vitamin D to choose from, including liquid (tinctures), softgel caps, pills and chewable supplements. Research hasn't focused on the best form of vitamin D3 to take for absorption, so it's not clear which is ideal.
Limited evidence suggests that the liquid forms may be best, as they can be absorbed faster. But, these are also more expensive and there isn't much proof.
However, choosing either softgels or the tincture version is probably the best approach. These two types are likely to be absorbed faster. Softgels are also easy to find and there are plenty of brands to choose from.
Vitamin D Absorption
Finally, some other areas can affect how you absorb vitamin D.
- The supplement should be taken with fat-containing food.
- Some medications may decrease vitamin D absorption, such as steroid medications and weight loss supplements. WebMD provides details about specific medications that are significant.
- Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are all related. This often means that you need to supplement calcium at the same time as vitamin D to see optimal health benefits.
- There are also links between vitamin D and vitamin K (24), suggesting that you need sufficient vitamin K as well (ideally the vitamin K2 form).