Consumer Reports analyzed 32 vitamin D supplements, including 12 vitamin D and calcium combinations.
The good news: Testers found they all contained at least as much vitamin D as their labels claimed and were within the safe maximum limit set by the Institute of Medicine. And they all met federal safety standards.
But analysis of some supplements raised a red flag.
"Our lab tests found lead levels in nine of the vitamin D plus calcium supplements that exceeded a strict California limit for reproductive risk," said Jamie Kopf, Consumer Reports.
California law requires that these be labeled, but they weren't.
Consumer Reports also found prices varied widely. Trader Joe's vitamin D softgels were the best deal at just 3 cents per capsule. Sundown Naturals liquid-filled calcium plus vitamin D softgels cost 8 cents each.
Consumer Reports medical experts examined the evidence about whether people need extra vitamin D.
"You probably don't need a supplement if you get some midday sun during the warmer months," said Dr. John Santa, Consumer Reports. "But if you have osteoporosis or a gastrointestinal condition that limits absorption, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement."
If you do opt for vitamin D, take care to stay within the recommended amounts. Too much can put you at risk for kidney damage.
A government advisory group recently recommended that healthy women past menopause need not take daily vitamin D and calcium supplements at low doses to prevent fractures. As for the benefits of taking it at higher doses, the group said more research is needed.