Need a Vegan Vitamin D Supplement? Try Mushrooms!
Since the pandemic, more people have become health-conscious, and nutrition and healthy foods have taken center stage. Millennials and Gen Z have taken the lead, and discussions on essential nutrients have never been brighter and louder.
One widely discussed topic nowadays is the role of Vitamin D in maintaining and promoting overall well-being. However, a large portion of the population is deficient in this crucial vitamin.
The growing awareness of the importance of Vitamin D has also led to the quest for a reliable source that can particularly suit the fast-growing vegan lifestyle.
We present to you – Mushrooms: the unsung heroes in the realm of plant-based nutrition. Are mushrooms the best vegan-friendly Vitamin D supplement?
Let’s delve deeper into the topic of Vitamin D and the unique attributes of mushrooms that make them the ideal plant-based source of essential nutrients.
The Importance of Vitamin D
While all vitamins are important for maintaining optimal health and overall well-being, Vitamin D deserves special mention. It is certainly one of the most discussed vitamins. Furthermore, its importance increases as we age. Why is Vitamin D so crucial, and how does it boost our health? Let’s find out.
Mood and Mental Health
Vitamin D is also called the happiness vitamin for a reason. It helps regulate mood and treat anxiety and depression.
Vitamin D is known to enhance mood and mental health by regulating certain neurotransmitters in the brain. The primary beneficiary of optimal vitamin D levels is serotonin. Higher vitamin D levels have been linked to better focus, concentration, restful sleep, and a more positive outlook on life.1
Immune System Support
Vitamin D has an immunomodulatory effect that impacts both innate and adaptive immune responses. The sunshine vitamin influences multiple immune cells, including T cells, B cells, and antigen-presenting cells.
Studies show that optimal levels of vitamin D enhance immune response against invading pathogens and decrease autoimmunity (the ameliorative effect of the vitamin targets immune cells responsible for autoimmune diseases).2,3Vitamin D helps combat respiratory infections, chronic inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases.
Optimal Vitamin D is synonymous with bone health. This vitamin is crucial for the absorption of calcium from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. We need adequate calcium for strong and healthy bones. The mineral is also essential to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, especially in older adults4. The optimal presence of vitamin D also lowers the risk of fractures and bone loss.
Vitamin D improves cardiovascular health through multiple pathways. Several studies have shown that adequate vitamin D levels can reduce the risks of diabetes and hypertension – two major risk factors that contribute to heart attacks and stroke.
This vitamin is also connected to vascular health. Vitamin D supports cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation.5
There is growing evidence to support the claim that vitamin D can reduce the risks of cancer. Although the exact mechanism is still being studied, many experts believe that the vitamin’s anti-inflammatory properties and immunomodulatory effects contribute to cancer prevention.6
Why Vitamin Deficiency Is a Major Problem?
Whether you’re a teen or a septuagenarian, Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the optimal functioning of the body and mind. While Vitamin D is commonly known as the mood or happiness hormone, this nutrient is associated with various functions, from maintaining bone resilience to enhancing the immune system.
Moreover, Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a broad spectrum of health problems, including diabetes, cancer, muscle weakness, bone pain, and weakness. This is an essential vitamin required by nearly all organs.
Unfortunately, 4 out of 10 Americans don’t produce this vital vitamin in sufficient amounts. Our body is capable of producing certain vitamins, but vitamin D isn’t one of them. We rely on the sun and its rays for the production of this vitamin. The ultraviolet rays in the sun trigger the production of a vitamin D precursor called Cholecalciferol, which is further converted by the body into Vitamin D3.
Whether through sunlight, food, or supplements, the vitamin available to the body undergoes two stages before it’s fully absorbed and utilized for chemical functions. The first chemical process occurs in the liver, and the second in the kidneys.
Although we source some of the Vitamin D we need from food, most of it comes from the sun. As we just mentioned, 42% of people in the United States suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Why?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the US is situated in a way that the sun’s rays hit the land at an angle. The sun’s rays are not strong enough to produce the necessary amount of Vitamin D. Moreover, many states in the US experience short days and long nights without sufficient sunlight, especially during the winter months.
Vitamin D is present in foods such as cheese, egg yolks, and oily fish. However, the amount of vitamin D in these foods is negligible. That leaves people in the US with no option but to turn to supplements for their fill of the sunshine vitamin.
How Are Vitamin D Supplements Sourced?
Now that you understand the importance of vitamin D and why a significant portion of Americans suffer from a deficiency of this crucial nutrient, let’s explore the available sources of vitamin D.
Most supplements on the market contain vitamin D3, primarily sourced from animals, particularly sheep lanolin. Vitamin D3 is derived from a wax-like substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep or other wool-bearing animals.
For centuries, various cultures worldwide have utilized the wax from sheep for diverse purposes. This waxy substance plays a crucial role in lip balm, cosmetics, and various skin and hair products. Several decades ago, scientists uncovered that the wax is also an excellent source of vitamin D3.
The wool undergoes a cleaning process, and crude lanolin is extracted. This raw ingredient is then further processed to obtain crude cholesterol. This cholesterol-like substance is known as 7-dehydrocholesterol or pre-Vitamin D3.
As the name implies, this substance serves as a precursor to vitamin D. It is subsequently exposed to ultraviolet light to produce vitamin D3. Treating the cholesterol-like substance with ultraviolet light mimics the chemical reaction that occurs in the skin.
Differences between Vitamin D2 and D3?
Veganism, or the plant-based food movement, is on the upswing. In comparison to 2010, the search volume for terms like ‘vegan diet’ and ‘plant-based foods’ has more than doubled. Veganism is no longer a fringe lifestyle; it has become mainstream, with the vegan product market growing into a multi-billion dollar industry.
The demand for vegan supplements has compelled manufacturers to seek plant-based sources for their ingredients. Vegans and those following a vegetarian diet may prefer to avoid products derived from animal fat, such as sheep.
They may also harbor concerns about the housing, treatment, and wax extraction processes from animals. Various ethical and moral questions might dissuade a significant portion of the vegan population from taking essential vitamin D supplements.
Additionally, the primary raw material, wool, can trigger allergic reactions. Although well-tolerated by most, lanolin allergies are prevalent in around 6.9% of dermatitis patients.
An increasing number of people are now turning to Vitamin D2, derived from mushrooms as a vegan alternative.
It’s important to dispel any notion that vitamin D3 is superior or more effective than vitamin D2. The variants of vitamin D have similar actions and are metabolized comparably. Both variants can effectively increase serum levels of this essential vitamin.
Many experts and doctors assert that the therapeutic impact of vitamin D2 is on par with D3, provided the supplement is derived from the right source. Furthermore, Vitamin D2 from a plant source is preferable to taking no vitamin supplement at all.
Are Mushrooms the Best Vegan Vitamin D Supplement?
There is a serious shortage of vegan Vitamin D in our stores. In fact, it appears that mushrooms are the only viable vegan source of the sunshine vitamin.
The situation is quite alarming, with more than a billion people around the world suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Among them, millions of people who follow a plant-based diet have no other option but to rely on mushrooms for their daily dose of vitamin D.
If you’re wondering whether you can get adequate vitamin D by eating mushrooms, the answer is – No. Although most mushrooms contain a small amount of vitamin D, the amount varies depending on the duration and intensity of exposure to sunlight (UV rays).
This leaves us with no other choice but to consume mushroom supplements, which are carefully grown and treated with ultraviolet rays to increase their vitamin D content.
Much of what we know now about vitamin D in mushrooms and the effect of sunlight on vitamin D levels in fungus comes from a research paper published in 1994.
In this study, Finnish researchers were astonished to find that Chanterelle Mushrooms contain around 29.82µg/100g. In contrast, White Button Mushrooms had only 0.21µg/100g. This massive difference in vitamin D content was blamed on the ways these mushrooms are grown.7
White button mushrooms are mostly grown in dark surroundings with very little exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, chanterelles are mostly found in the wild with easy access to sunlight.
Learning from these studies, mushroom manufacturers have developed simple yet effective ways to boost vitamin D content in mushrooms.
Again, research shows that white button mushrooms (that are grown in the dark) when exposed to strong mid-day sun for 20 minutes or so, see an upswing in vitamin D levels to 10µg/100g.
In the same study, it was found that mushroom farmers who exposed fresh fungus to ultraviolet-B light increased the vitamin D content up to 40µg/1g in their dried mushrooms.8
Mushrooms dried in the sun, exposing the fungus to ultraviolet rays, or heated under a UV lamp, nutritionally relevant amounts of vitamin D are produced. The vitamin produced is mostly D2, along with small amounts of D3 and D4.
Many experts concur that mushrooms are the primary source of non-animal vitamin D. Research also shows that vitamin D2, present in mushrooms, is as effective as animal-based vitamin D supplements in increasing vitamin D levels in the body.9
In another single-blind, randomized study, one set of participants was given irradiated mushrooms, while the other group received a placebo. Measuring vitamin D levels in the body showed that irradiated mushrooms stimulated the production of D2 in the body. The vitamin levels were equal to those produced by D2 supplementation (mostly from animal sources).10
Vitamin D stands as a crucial nutrient, vital for optimizing your health and overall well-being. Moreover, it plays an indispensable role in reaching your personal wellness goals, encompassing heightened energy levels, improved cognitive functioning, bolstered immunity, and enhanced mood and mental health.
As discussed, vegan vitamin D from mushrooms presents a practical and accessible solution. Throughout this article, we’ve delved into multiple studies confirming that mushrooms provide substantial levels of Vitamin D to fulfill our requirements.
- Guzek, Dominika, et al. “Association between Vitamin D Supplementation and Mental Health in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine, vol. 10, no. 21, 3 Nov. 2021, p. 5156, https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm10215156
- Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the Immune System.” Journal of Investigative Medicine : The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, vol. 59, no. 6, Aug. 2011, pp. 881–6,https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
- Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the Immune System.” Journal of Investigative Medicine : The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, vol. 59, no. 6, Aug. 2011, pp. 881–6, https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
- Laird, Eamon, et al. “Vitamin D and Bone Health; Potential Mechanisms.” Nutrients, vol. 2, no. 7, 5 July 2010, pp. 693–724, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu2070693
- Danik, Jacqueline S., and JoAnn E. Manson. “Vitamin D and Cardiovascular Disease.” Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, vol. 14, no. 4, 12 June 2012, pp. 414–424, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11936-012-0183-8
- Garland, Cedric F., et al. “The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 96, no. 2, Feb. 2006, pp. 252–261, https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2004.045260
- Mattila, Pirjo H., et al. “Vitamin D Contents in Edible Mushrooms.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 42, no. 11, Nov. 1994, pp. 2449–2453, https://doi.org/10.1021/jf00047a016
- Cardwell, Glenn, et al. “A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 10, 13 Oct. 2018, p. 1498, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101498
- Outila, Terhi A, et al. “Bioavailability of Vitamin D from Wild Edible Mushrooms (Cantharellus Tubaeformis) as Measured with a Human Bioassay.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 69, no. 1, 1 Jan. 1999, pp. 95–98, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.1.95
- Urbain, P, et al. “Bioavailability of Vitamin D2 from UV-B-Irradiated Button Mushrooms in Healthy Adults Deficient in Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 65, no. 8, 4 May 2011, pp. 965–971, https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.53