What Happens to Vitamins When They Expire?

Do Vitamins Expire?

You will typically find a "best before date" stamped on supplement labels but what does this mean exactly? Is there cause for alarm if you consume a vitamin past its expiration date?

Supplements, unlike food, can remain stable for long periods of time without causing harm or toxicity however their potency will likely reduce. 

Certain vitamins may expire more quickly than others due to various factors such as the form and type of the vitamin. Chewables, softgels, powders, liquids, and gummy vitamins tend to have a shorter lifespan as they are more susceptible to moisture.

Solid supplements such as vitamin tablets and capsules tend to last the longest.

Certain vitamins may also be more fragile than others. Vitamins such as Vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B12, and vitamin B-1 have been shown to break down quicker than others and be more susceptible to environmental degradation.

Though supplements do not technically expire the biggest concern would be their loss of potency and lack of delivery of maximum benefits therefore it is a good idea to follow the instructions and dispose of the supplement at the date indicated.


Is It Safe to Take Expired Vitamins?

Though no known toxicity has been reported from consuming vitamins past their expiration date it is recommended not to exceed the dates listed on the vitamins to guarantee maximum potency and to receive the most bang for your buck. 

The date of expiration is there for a reason and should be followed if you want your supplements to be effective and make a difference to your health.

If you do notice your supplement has a foul odour, contains mold, or has changed colour or texture, dispose of it right away to avoid any potential negative effects. This may also result in less than desired outcomes and potential nutrient deficiencies as the potency will have decreased. This means you might be taking a supplement and expecting to receive a certain dosage per day that may be incorrect. This is especially important to be aware of if you are taking the supplement to replenish a deficiency.

At the end of the day it comes down to one simple rule: if it doesn't look or smell good, toss it.


When and Why Vitamins Expire

The average shelf life of vitamins is 2 years. The reality is vitamins do lose their potency over time and may become less effective. 

The expiration date or "best-by date" is there to provide quality control by supplement manufacturers ensuring full potency of the supplement by the displayed date. After that, there is no guarantee of the beneficial effects of the vitamin as degradation will likely occur.

Though it may not necessarily cause health problems, ignoring the date of expiration can result in a waste of time and money therefore we recommend consuming your supplements well within the expiry dates to avoid loss of potency and degradation. If you do consume an expired supplement there will likely be no call for alarm though it may not be providing you with the benefits you are after. 

The best way to avoid having a bunch of expired pills that do not give you the therapeutic effects they claim to provide is to take your supplements regularly and avoid missing days. If you find you simply cannot keep up and keep forgetting to take your supplements buy a smaller bottle and keep it stored in a location that is directly in your line of view every single day.

Check with your health care provider if you are still unsure or have any questions about dosage and frequency of consumption.


How should I store my vitamins?

Do vitamins require special storage? The loss of potency of a vitamin can also occur due to storage conditions. However, if you do take the right measures to store them correctly they will likely stay potent until the date expressed.

Airtight containers help to conceal freshness thus all supplements should stay stored in their plastic container of origin.

Storage instructions will typically be indicated on the bottle. Most supplements do fine being stored in a cool dry storage spot though some may require refrigeration. Supplements such as probiotics, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids will likely need to be stored in the fridge however this is not always the case.

Oils such as fish oil and flaxseed oil can go rancid quite quickly under certain circumstances especially under hot or humid conditions. 

Avoid sticking your fingers into your supplement bottles with dirty fingers to avoid potential contamination from food residue or bacteria. Wash your hands before!

Exposure to light, heat, oxygen, and moisture can also reduce the level of potency of a vitamin. This is why it is always recommended to seal up your supplement containers when not in use. The bathroom and kitchen cabinets may not be ideal environments so make sure you choose areas that are cool and dry such as a bedroom drawer or other location that is supplement friendly.

When in doubt, be sure to read the instructions on the bottle in order to store your supplement correctly. 


Disposal of Expired Vitamins

There is a right and wrong way of disposing of expired supplements. Do not dispose of vitamins in the trash or toilet as this can pollute the environment and affect humans and wildlife by ending up in landfills and the water supply.  You can either drop them off at participating locations that take back expired supplements or you can follow the instructions below:

  • Remove your supplements from their original containers
  • Toss supplements into a sealable bag
  • Fill the bag with coffee grinds, cat litter or dirt
  • Throw the bag into the trash

If you simply throw your vitamins in the trash this can pose a potential danger to other humans and animals so make sure to follow the above instructions and do your part in keeping our environment clean and avoid putting others at risk.

The best way to ensure you are getting the most benefits from your supplements and using them correctly is to read the instructions listed on the bottle or check in with your health care provider if you are unsure. 



About the Author

Laurence Annez

Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.


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