Intestinal absorption of vitamin D: a systematic review

Nutr Rev. 2018 Jan 1;76(1):60-76. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux034.


Context: Vitamin D is frequently prescribed as a supplement, yet its absorption remains poorly understood.

Objective: This systematic review was performed to evaluate data on mechanisms involved in the intestinal absorption of vitamin D.

Data sources: PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Library databases were searched.

Study selection: The following studies were included: experimental laboratory studies of vitamin D absorption through the enterocyte brush-border membrane; absorption tests that used radiolabeled vitamin D; and clinical trials in adults that investigated a single dose of cholecalciferol or ergocalciferol and reported at least 2 measurements of serum cholecalciferol, ergocalciferol, or 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Data extraction: From 2069 articles identified, 46 met the inclusion criteria.

Results: Different methods were employed to evaluate vitamin D absorption. Recent research suggests that vitamin D absorption is not an exclusive simple diffusion process. Vitamin D was better absorbed when it was consumed with fat-containing meals, but absorption also occurred without fat or oily vehicles. Factors that modified cholesterol absorption also altered vitamin D absorption.

Conclusion: Vitamin D is probably absorbed through passive diffusion and a mechanism involving membrane carriers, especially cholesterol transporters, although data remain scarce. Some data suggest that fat, when consumed concomitantly with vitamin D, improves vitamin D absorption.

Keywords: absorption; bioavailability; enterocyte; membrane transport; vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Vitamin D* / metabolism
  • Vitamin D* / pharmacokinetics


  • Vitamin D