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Do Vitamins Expire? [Your Guide to Safely Taking Supplements]

Data from the U.S. News & World Report recently reported that Americans spend $12 billion annually on dietary supplements, but do not know what they are buying or how to calculate its expiration date .

Researchers at NSF International looked at the actual storage conditions of 30 bottles of 67 different vitamin supplements bought in America and found that many do not meet label standards. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't require expiration dates on dietary supplements. 

It can all get a little confusing, we know. That's why in this article, you will discover more about vitamin expiration, the factors that affect it as well as a safe guide on storing your medicine and supplements better. 

Do vitamins really expire?

This is a common question asked by those who take their own food supplements. The answer is yes, some do and some don't. As soon as vitamins are produced or created, they begin to slowly lose their potency over time due to processes known as oxidation and hydrolysis.

Oxidation

Oxidation is what causes the expiration of vitamins, once the antioxidants in them are weakened by oxygen over time. Vitamin C, for example, will lose about 23% efficacy every year if it's kept at room temperature.

Hydrolysis

Hydrolysis is the process of breaking down a compound using water. The process occurs in our bodies when enzymes break down starches, proteins, and fats for digestion. It also occurs when vitamins break down after time.

 It is important to note that if handled incorrectly, vitamins can easily spoil or become contaminated with harmful bacteria. To avoid this, only purchase the amount of supplements you will use immediately and store them in a cool area such as a refrigerator but do not freeze the supplement.

If you store your vitamins properly sealed in its container, and out of heat and light, they can last for several years before losing their full potency.  But let's get to more of that a little later.

When and why do vitamins expire?

When stored under safe conditions, the shelf life of dietary supplements and other common medications is approximately two years from the date of manufacture. However, there are many factors that can affect when vitamins may expire such as:

  • light
  • heat
  • moisture
  • oxygen
  • humidity
  • pH levels

It is best to speak with your health care provider or search for medically-reviewed sources before taking anything new or old. Furthermore, you should always carefully read labels and use common sense when taking any dietary supplement by checking the expiration dates against storage conditions.

What happens when vitamins expire?

Vitamins tend to become ineffective or even dangerous if they go beyond their shelf life. If a vitamin is ingested past its expiration date, there is potential for it to have a reduced effectiveness on the body and cause side-effects. There have been cases where people felt nauseous after ingesting expired vitamins, or even experienced flu-like symptoms because a certain type of vitamin was no longer effective in their bodies.

Some vitamins do have more liquid-based content, which makes them more sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. It's important that these types of supplements are not exposed to any of these factors because they could lose potency faster than expected.

It also helps to be mindful about your vitamins' packaging. Keep the lid tight and the bottle stored in a cool, dark place at all times.

Storing your vitamins properly not only means the container is away from environmental elements. It also means keeping them away from those who could be at risk, for example, children. 

Can you take expired vitamins?

Some do, but they may not be as effective or can be costly if the vitamins do expire.

If you do decide to take expired supplement beyond indications on its label, do so at your own risk and inform your doctor of any changes in health. Always read the label before taking anything new to make sure it is right for you. If you do not feel well after taking an old supplement, do seek medical attention immediately.

Remember: don't ever stop suddenly without speaking with your doctor first. The best way to ensure safety when trying out a new supplement or medicine is getting advice from professionals first.

child taking vitamin

Every vitamin has its own shelf life, so it's important to do some research before buying anything in bulk. This is because many vitamins are water-soluble and do not last very long when exposed to air or moisture. To maximize their shelf life before becoming completely useless, store your bottle of vitamins somewhere dark and dry where the temperature is relatively stable.

What are the tell-tale signs of vitamins going bad?

The actual structure of the vitamin itself does not change in any way when its potency starts to decrease with time, but there are certain properties of vitamins that do indeed expire after a certain period of time, depending on how they have been stored or manufactured. Furthermore, if a vitamin is close to being out of date, it may no longer work as advertised even before it officially expires.

There are various ways you can tell when your vitamins have met their best-by-date, especially when yours don't have any labels. Consider the following signs:

  1. Smell your vitamins. It shouldn't have any distinct or foul odor. With the general rule that many vitamins may go beyond their expiry, those that still smell the same can still be considered safe to take.
  2. Check if the color has changed. It does change some times but do not worry as long as these vitamins are within their expiry period then they are good to take! If your vitamin changes color then it usually means that it looses its properties or some ingredients.
  3. See for signs of mold. Related to food, another easy way to tell if your vitamins have gone bad are seeing signs of mold. This is no thanks to bacteria that has already formed inside its packaging. If they no longer look like they were before, be sure to dispose of them.
  4. Ask for professional medical advice. It is always best to seek medical help from your physician. Don't hesitate to ask them if you can still continue taking your supplement beyond its best-by-date.
vitamins rotting

How should you properly dispose expired vitamins?

Many people do not know what to do with expired vitamins so they simply discard of them in the trash or worse, down the drain. Below are ways to dispose of expired vitamins:

  1. Take them back to the pharmacy. One of the easiest ways to throw your old vitamins is to take them back to your local pharmacist. They will have access to proper disposal.
  2. Bring them to drop-off stations. Many towns and large cities have organized ways to ensure people throw their expired vitamins correctly, one of which is generating drug drop-off stations. Search for these initiatives in your local area, and find the right process of dropping them off.
  3. Throw them the right way. If your vitamins are way past their safe dates, the FDA recommends mixing them with other substances like coffee grounds or even cat litter before throwing. This way, children or animals won't mistake it for something else, thereby keeping not only you but others around you away from danger.
happy and healthy family

Conditions and factors vary in terms of ensuring your supplements and medications are safe to consume. Keep these things in mind and always seek help from professionals. After all, your health must always be top priority.