Garden of Life Vitamin D3 Derived from Lanolin;
a Provitamin D3 Made from Genetically Modified Yeast Is Available
by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director
In November 2009, a VRG member asked us to confirm with the vitamin company, Garden of Life, what the company told him about their vitamin D3, sold as Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin D3:
A preliminary look at the Garden of Life website in November 2009 yielded confusion because the term “vegetarian,” (not “vegan”), was used to characterize their Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin D3. They told a customer that the vitamin D in the Vitamin Code products was from a single cell plant (yeast) rich in vitamin D3. Given that the usual commercial source of vitamin D3 is sheep’s lanolin, the VRG had questions for Garden of Life about its production methods and wanted to determine whether the product was “vegan.”
By the end of January 2010, as we continued to call and email Garden of Life, requesting more detail on their production methods and detection methods, we were informed by Barbara, a Product Support Supervisor at Garden of Life, that the yeast are “fed” lanolin as their starting material. Barbara stated: “The D3 that we use has been synthesized from animal cholesterol, primarily lanolin. For a more detailed explanation, please visit our website www.gardenoflife.com/d3.”
The company said there is no known plant source of Vitamin D3. Wondering whether Garden of Life was correct about there not being a non-animal derived vitamin D3, I further examined the question. After searching patent websites and speaking with several doctors and scientists at biotech companies, vitamin companies and universities, we discovered that there is a patented process, discovered in the late 1980s-early 1990s by Amoco BioProducts Corporation in Illinois to produce a mutant yeast-derived provitamin D3. The patented process is considered “semisynthetic” because petrochemical materials are used in conjunction with the fermentation of genetically engineered yeast to produce the provitamin D3.
Then, during the manufacturing process, the yeast-derived provitamin D3 is exposed to light and transformed to “High Density 25-hydroxy
vitamin D3” used in poultry feed and as an injectable vitamin supplement in Europe. Currently, Roche holds the US patent while DSM holds the European version.
According to the scientists whom we interviewed, one of whom was directly involved in the genetic engineering of the yeast at Amoco which led to the patent and another who is a technical director at DSM, 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 made through the patented process is currently used in poultry feed in the United States because it “ameliorates the effects” of leg bone deformation while maintaining weight gain during the rearing process. It is produced in high yield, too. One source stated that its widespread use in the livestock industry suggests that it is economically feasible to produce it semisynthetically and saw no reason why it couldn’t be used in humans, too. He suggested that since lanolin was an abundant enough source of a vitamin D3 supplement, manufacturers lack an incentive to make it any other way for human use. Nevertheless, the patent application proposes that the semisynthetic process to make provitamin D3 could be “useful in a number of contexts, e.g., in topical pharmaceutical formulations (for the treatment of skin disorders or the like), in oral vitamin compositions, and as livestock feed additives.”
Several scientists told The VRG that 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 made through the patented process is used in injectable form throughout Europe to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases in people. The VRG has not currently identified European doctors or clinics using this non-animal derived 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 in humans.
American vegan consumers who wish to see the semisynthetic, non-animal-derived 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 available in the U.S. for humans are encouraged to inquire of their healthcare providers and supplement manufacturers about the likelihood of its future use in humans as an injectable, or as an oral supplement like that in poultry.