Choosing a calcium and vitamin D preparation for vegetarians or vegans

Michele Skipp, Senior Medicines Information Pharmacist, South West Medicines Information and TrainingPublished

This article explains how the source of vitamin D, or the inactive ingredients (excipients), may make preparations unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

The European Vegetarian Union defines food suitable for vegans as foods that are not products of animal origin and in which, at no stage of production and processing, use has been made of or the food has been supplemented with, ingredients (including additives, carriers, flavourings or enzymes), processing aids or other substances that are of animal origin.

Vegetarian diets meet the same food requirements as vegan diets, with the difference that in their production or processing, the following ingredients (or their components or derivatives) may be added or used: milk and dairy products, colostrum, eggs, honey, beeswax, propolis or wool grease (including lanolin derived from the wool of living sheep or their components or derivatives).

Choosing a preparation

When choosing a preparation that is suitable for a vegetarian or vegan it is necessary to consider the appropriateness of both the active and inactive ingredients.

Excipients (Inactive ingredients)

Certain excipients (such as gelatin) make a preparation unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans. See our other work on excipients and vegan patients: Excipients: What are the general considerations for vegan patients?

Whilst a specific excipient may not be listed as present in a particular product, it cannot be guaranteed that the product has not been in contact with milk-derived or animal-derived products during the manufacturing process. Where necessary, contact the manufacturer for further information on the manufacturing process.

Active Ingredients

The BNF lists many different calcium and vitamin D preparations. Proprietary calcium and vitamin D preparations contain calcium and colecalciferol (vitamin D3) or calcium and ergocalciferol (vitamin D2).

Licensed Calcium and Colecalciferol (Vitamin D3) Preparations

Colecalciferol is synthetically produced using 7-dehydrocholesterol derived from lanolin (wool fat). Products originating from wool fat are unacceptable to vegans. If the lanolin has been sourced from the wool of live sheep, not bred for slaughter for the meat industry, it is considered suitable for vegetarians. However, if sourced from the wool of sheep that have been slaughtered, or are about to be sent to slaughter, the colecalciferol is unsuitable for vegetarians.

Suitable for vegetarians (not vegans)

The following preparations contain colecalciferol derived from lanolin, but the manufacturers confirm they are suitable for vegetarians:

  • Accrete D3 One a Day 1000mg/880IU Chewable Tablets
  • Adcal D3 Caplets
  • Adcal-D3 Dissolve 1500mg/400IU Effervescent Tablets
  • CALCI-D 1000mg /1000IU Chewable Tablets
  • Evacal D3 1500mg/400IU Chewable Tablets
  • theiCal-D3 1000mg/880IU Chewable Tablets

Unknown suitability for vegetarians

The following products are not suitable for vegans as they contain colecalciferol derived from the lanolin of live sheep. The manufacturers cannot guarantee that these are suitable for vegetarians (it may be possible that the sheep go on to be slaughtered). An individual needs to decide for themselves whether they consider these suitable.

  • Calcichew D3 Chewable Tablets
  • Calcichew D3 Forte Chewable Tablets
  • Calcichew D3 1000mg/800IU Once Daily Chewable Tablets
  • Kalcipos-D 500mg/800IU Chewable Tablets

Unsuitable

The following preparations are unsuitable for both vegans and vegetarians as they include gelatin as an excipient:

  • Accrete D3 Film-Coated Tablets
  • Adcal D3 Chewable Tablets
  • Adcal D3 Lemon Chewable Tablets
  • Calceos 500mg/400IU Chewable Tablets
  • Calfovit D3 1200 mg/ 800 I.U. powder for oral suspension
  • Natecal D3 600 mg + 400IU Chewable Tablets

Unlicensed Calcium and Colecalciferol Preparations

A vegan friendly form of colecalciferol, which is derived from lichen, is available in unlicensed products.

You should confirm the suitability of unlicensed calcium and vitamin D preparations for vegetarians or vegans with the manufacturer.

Licensed Calcium and Ergocalciferol Preparations

Synthetic ergocalciferol is produced by irradiating ergosterol found in sun-exposed yeast. This active ingredient is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, although other excipients in the formulation may not be.

Calcium and ergocalciferol tablets are available from generic pharmaceutical manufacturers. Two examples are given here, other calcium and ergocalciferol tablets should be checked on an individual basis with the manufacturer.

Unsuitable

The following generic manufacturers confirm that their calcium and ergocalciferol preparations contain gelatin as an excipient, so would not be suitable for vegetarians and vegans:

  • Almus Pharmaceuticals Ltd
  • Crescent Pharma Ltd

Further advice

Manufacturers may change the formulations of their products or the suppliers of their excipients over time. Therefore it may be advisable to check the current status of the origins of the product ingredients with the manufacturer.

The list of manufacturers of calcium and vitamin D products is not exhaustive, nor are unlicensed preparations of calcium and vitamin D described here. Individual manufacturers can be contacted directly for further information where this is necessary.

Alternatives for vegetarians and vegans

Other work is available which looks at the suitability of vitamin D preparations (without the calcium) for people with a vegetarian or vegan diet.