What to look for in a vitamin D supplement, according to doctors

best vitamin D supplements
Amazon / Mic
ByJenny White

According to Dr. Arielle Levitan, M.D., internist and co-founder of Vous Vitamin, it can be difficult to get all the vitamin D that your body needs. “Most of us do not get enough year round sun exposure to absorb vitamin D," she tells Mic. "There are few sources that provide enough vitamin D for us to get it through diet." Fortunately, the best vitamin D supplements can make it much easier to get this essential nutrient by providing the right dose for your body in a form that you're comfortable taking.

When it comes to dosage, Dr. Paul R. Thomas, RDN, a scientific consultant for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, advises that “the amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age.” According to NIH recommendations, adults between the ages of 1 and 70 generally need 600 IU a day, and adults over 71 need 800 IU. While this is a good starting point, Dr. Levitan points out that other factors, such as “demographics, race, other health concerns, and symptoms can play into this determination.” For example, she notes that “those with darker skin often need higher doses of vitamin D because the melanin in their skin blocks absorption of D from the sun.” Also remember that many multivitamins contain vitamin D, so if you're currently taking one, you may already be getting what you need.

Before you make any moves to self-diagnose and dose, know that both experts caution that getting too much vitamin D can be harmful to your health. For most adults ages 19 and up, 4,000 IU per day is the max upper limit of vitamin D that should be received from all sources combined, including food, beverages, and supplements. In order to help find what your specific needs are and decide how much to take, your best bet is to consult with a physician before starting a new supplement.

Once you know how much vitamin D you need, you'll also want to consider the format. While vitamin D comes in two main formats (vitamin D2 and D3), Dr. Thomas recommends opting for vitamin D3. “Both forms raise vitamin D blood levels,” he advises. "However, most evidence indicates that vitamin D3 increases blood vitamin D levels to a greater extent and maintains these higher levels longer than vitamin D2.” In order to assure "quality and purity" when it comes to your D3 supplement, Dr. Levitan suggests looking for third-party certifications from organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF) International or United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Products that meet the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) also achieve certain safety and efficacy standards.

These six vitamin D supplements come in a range of forms and dosage amounts, so you’ll be able to find the best option based on your unique needs.

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The basic capsules

The NIH's general vitamin D recommendation for people ages 1 to 70 is 600 IU per day, and if your doctor agrees this amount is right for you, these capsules from Solgar are the perfect way to get it. Each capsule contains 600 IU of vitamin D3 is free from gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, yeast, sugar, and sodium, as well as artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and colors. This option is also non-GMO, halal, and kosher. Solgar's products comply with the CGMP standards set by the FDA, ensuring that you're receiving a high quality product.

One reviewer wrote: "It's so hard to find good vegetarian capsules! These are great, and have helped me keep my vitamin deficiency under control."


The fan favorite softgels

With more than 15,000 reviews on Amazon and an impressive 4.8-star rating overall, these 1,000 IU vitamin D3 supplements from Nature Made are a favorite on the site for a variety of reasons. They're USP-verified, ensuring the vitamins actually contain the ingredients that are listed on the label, and in the declared potency and amounts. The supplements are also gluten-free, and they don't have any added colors or artificial flavors. Plus, with 300 vitamins for less than $15, it's a solid deal.

One reviewer wrote: "I purchased these on recommendation from my physician to treat a chronic vitamin D deficiency. (I live in Oregon where such a thing is rampant.) The doctor has said these are working well, and I am showing fewer VitD Deficiency symptoms. So, good. I also like these because they are gel capsules. They don't taste funny and they go down easily."


The low-dose softgels

If your doctor recommends that you take 400 IU of vitamin D, this D3 pick from Natural Nutra fulfills the requirement. The D3 vitamins meet CGMP standards, ensuring they are high quality. The supplements are also non-GMO, and free from fillers, binders, and gluten. They're vegan as well.

These easy-to-swallow softgels come in a BPA-free glass bottle that’s recyclable.

One reviewer wrote: "I like that it is easy to swallow and comes in the exact dosage my doctor prescribes. It’s difficult to find this dose!"


The unflavored drops

This vitamin D supplement from Carlson comes in a simple-to-use liquid form that can be dropped into your food or drink (or even directly on your tongue, if you prefer). And since the supplement is unflavored, you’ll hardly even notice that it's there. The bottle contain 365 drops, each with 1,000 IU of vitamin D3. The included dropper ensures that only one drop comes out at a time, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally getting too much.

All Carlson products are tested by an FDA-registered laboratory for potency and quality, so you can rest assured that you're getting what's promised by the label. This option is gluten- and soy-free, plus it has no artificial preservatives.

One reviewer wrote: "I ordered this for my mother as her doctor suggested using the drops would be easier for her. Drops can easily be put on a small cracker or as my mother prefers a slice of banana. The bottle lasts a long time since she only gets two drops daily."


The chewable gummies

Amazon reviewers confirmed that these wild berry flavored gummy vitamins from Nordic Naturals actually taste good, and they’re easy to both chew and swallow. One gummy vitamin provides 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, and the supplements have undergone independent third-party testing to ensure they’re high quality. Nordic Naturals follows CGMP procedures as well.

This vegetarian pick leaves out artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, plus it’s gelatin-, gluten-, and dairy-free. The vitamins are sold in both 60 and 120 counts, depending on your needs.

One reviewer wrote: "These vitamin D3 gummies are great. I've been having the worst time finding a D3 brand that wasn't cross contaminated with milk/wheat/fish. [...] Since I have been taking these I have felt much better and can tell they are working. So nice to find a supplement that is free of what it states it is. I will continue to buy these from now on."


The chewable tablets

With a solid 4.7-star rating overall on Amazon and thousands of positive reviews, these 2,000 IU vitamin D3 supplements are well-liked by users. And it makes sense that people are into them. For one, the vitamins come in an easy-to-chew tablet form with a tasty raspberry-lemon flavor. For another, this pick is certified vegan and organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free. Its NSF certification means that you can rest assured that Garden of Life adheres to strict standards and procedures during manufacturing.

The vitamin D in this option comes from lichen, and the tablets also include a blend of mushrooms, as well as blended flax seeds and vegetables.

One reviewer wrote: "I love all the Garden of life supplements. I have a hard time swallowing pills so this chewable vitamin D tablet is so easy to take... and it tastes really good too. My Dr recommended a vitamin D3 vitamin because my level was so low. (I have to stay out of the sun because I am fair and burn easily). I have been taking this everyday over the past month and my dr checked my vitamin D level and Good news... my Vitamin D level is finally within normal limits!!"


Dr. Arielle Levitan, internist and co-founder of Vous Vitamin

Dr. Paul R. Thomas, RDN and scientific consultant for the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements