Friday, March 22, 2013

Is Sheep's Wool, The Source Of Most Vitamin D3 In Supplements, Vegetarian?

New Chapter's Bone Strength supplement which is labeled "100% vegetarian" contains vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is sourced mostly from animals since it is produced from cholesterol; plants make very little cholesterol:
"While cholesterol averages perhaps 50 mg/kg total lipid in plants, it can be as high as 5 g/kg (or more) in animals."
- Cholesterol And Plants, Journal of Chemical Education, 2005
"We now demonstrate that cholecalciferol* is formed in T. flavescens [a common grass] only in the presence of UV light, thus suggesting a similar path of synthesis in plants to that which occurs in vertebrates."
Light-Dependent Synthesis Of Cholecalciferol In A Green Plant, Nature, 1980
* Cholecalciferol is vitamin D3.

I wondered what the source of New Chapter's vitamin D3 was, given the 100% vegetarian claim. From their site:
"New Chapter’s Probiotic Nutrients™ Made with Organic Ingredients do not meet strict vegan standards as the vitamin D utilized for culturing with organic whole food ingredients in our vitamin D-containing products is derived from wool wax."
Is wax from sheep's wool vegetarian?

I was curious how vitamin D3 is made from sheep's wool. Harvesting of the wool itself doesn't look to be a very humane undertaking.

I found this process from Vitamin D Wiki:
  • Wool is sheared from mature, live sheep.
  • Crude lanolin is extracted from the wool using a scouring process, during which the fleece is washed in hot water with a detergent.
  • Crude lanolin undergoes a saponification process; this separates the fatty component which is removed via centrifugation, from the ‘unsaponifiable’ component, known as ‘lanolin alcohols’. These undergo further steps of saponification and separation to increase purity.
  • Crude cholesterol is extracted from lanolin alcohol using solvent washes and / or column chromatography.
  • The crude cholesterol undergoes a series of further solvent extractions, washes and drying until it is extremely pure and crystalline. This purified cholesterol has been assessed as being fully compliant with the quality required for pharmaceutical manufacture by the European Directorate for Quality of Medicines.
  • Purified cholesterol is then taken through a four-step chemical process to make 7-Dehydrocholesterol, this is otherwise known as ‘pre-Vitamin D3’
  • Next, the pre-Vitamin D3 is irradiated to produce Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol); this is the same reaction that is used by human skin to manufacture the vitamin from sunlight. Finally, the pure crystals of Vitamin D3 are used to make the stabilized product forms that can be used to manufacture dietary supplements and other end use applications such as foods and beverages."

That's a fairly involved process. Can a supplement that involves inhumane harvesting, industrial detergents, solvents, bleaches, deodorants, and irradiation be good? I don't know. But lots of people are saying we should take vitamin D3, and most of the vitamin D3 in supplements comes from sheep's wool.
Related: Source of Life and Its “Vegan” Vitamin D3 from Mushrooms

Photo by Heather Faulkner.


preserve said...

Thanks for the informative post. It places me on the cross roads. D3 is the supplement I take (winter).

Bix said...

Have to say, it's been an education for me too.

Angela and Melinda said...

What an interesting post, as well as a conundrum! My understanding is that strict vegans don't use any animal product, including wool, leather, silk, honey, etc. I suppose vegetarians might be able to justify wool, just as they do dairy and eggs (some of them at least). Shearing doesn't kill a sheep, but generally they end up getting slaughtered anyhow after a few years (just like laying hens and dairy cows). Wasn't there a sheep in that post of yours about photos of aging animals? Very moving images....

Bix said...

Just awful how they maim these animals to get wool, mutilating their ears, tails, castrating them with no drugs, slicing off the skin on their butts. And then breeding them to have more of what we want, in this case wool, at the expense of the animal's health. Reminds me of breeding turkeys to have big breasts; they can't even walk. What we do to animals...