Is it safe to take expired vitamins?

That’s a question a lot of people want to know. It’s not uncommon either that people never finish a bottle of vitamins. They buy it for their cold and flu symptoms, perhaps, but after a few days when they are feeling better or get busy on something else, they forget about their vitamins, only to discover them in the medicine chest or somewhere else months later.  Now you have some other ailment and you have found the bottle that you bought months earlier; you want to know can you continue taking those vitamins – is it OK?

They do lose their potency over time

  • The fact of the matter is, that by taking a nutritional supplement past its expiry date is not going to harm you. But they will lose some of their potency after they have expired, and that means their effectiveness.
  • In some countries like Canada for instance, manufacturers of supplements have to include expiry dates on their labels. These dates indicate the last date that the manufacturer will guarantee the product when it is at its best.
  • There are some vitamins and some herbal extracts as well as omega-3 fatty acids that will actually start to decompose immediately after they are manufactured, continuing to decompose as time passes on. They become exposed to heat, light, humidity, and air, causing the nutrients therein to break down more rapidly.
  • Some minerals like iron, calcium, or zinc don’t degrade when they are properly stored.
  • Then you get vitamins or nutrients like folic acid, some of the B vitamins, vitamins D and C, as well as beta-carotene, these deteriorate quicker than others do. The manufactures might even beef up the strength of some of these vitamins by adding 30-40% more than what is on the label to try and ensure that their nutrients supplied remain at 100% strength at the time the expiry date comes around.
  • You might have noticed too, the drying agent in bottles, those little silica gel packets – these are inserted to slow down the degrading of the nutrients by absorbing moisture from the air. You have also seen that sweetish hard coating that surrounds some tablets – it is there for a reason – to keep the supplements stable for longer.
  • It is far better to check any tablets you buy for unusual odors or change in color rather than worrying about the expiry date. Those you should definitely return to the pharmacy; to be replaced by new vitamins.

Tablets are like many humans – they become less effective as they age

So, back to that question – is your health benefiting at all by taking in multivitamins which have expired some months previously?  The answer is that they are not unsafe; they are not dangerous. They only thing is they might not be as potent as they were before the expiry date. One vice president of a vitamin manufacturing company said that once the expiry date has passed, they, the vitamin manufacturer, cannot guarantee confidently how much less potent vitamins will be after say 3-6 months have passed after the expiry date. The potency deterioration of vitamins is pretty slow too; you can be assured that the nutrient content will still be very close to what it says on the label after 2-3 months from the expiry date.

There are some ingredients that are more fragile than others though, as mentioned above, and things like probiotic supplements, which as you know, consists of live bacteria and yeasts – it makes sense that because of that, it would be better to throw them out past expiry date, as they will have probably lost their potency.  And that goes the same for oil supplements that you find in gelatin casings such as cod liver oil, flax oil, fish oil, vitamin E, or evening primrose oil. It is because these fats get oxidized much quicker than what vitamins do – just toss them out once they have expired. Consider too, that the flavors will be affected over time – those chewy vitamins aren’t going to be quite so orangey and flavorsome past their ‘best’ date!

Always remember that if you want your supplements to stay fresh and potency-strong, follow the rules of storage as directed on the label. A lot of these say ‘keep away from heat and light’. And don’t remove that little silica packet either; they are there to protect the tablets. Probiotics, too, should be stored in the fridge to prevent them ‘dying’ at a faster rate. Take care of your vitamins if you want them to take care of you!