Nothing lasts forever really. Even your vitamins and supplements have an expiration date, though it may not be listed on the package. It’s not that they have a hard and fast date after which it becomes dangerous to take them. The reason they have expiration dates is that, over time, vitamins, supplements (and most medications) lose their potency. There may be some companies that claim their products last forever, or for at least a seemingly inordinate amount of time. Be skeptical.
The shelf life of a supplement is impacted by a number of factors. The chemical makeup of the ingredients used, the oxidizing and reducing agents, the pH level, and packing compounds all affect their expiration date. Storage is an important factor in vitamin potency, as humidity, temperature, light, and exposure to oxygen also impact the duration of effectiveness and potency for supplements.
At Care/Of the recommendation is that prepackaged individual supplements be consumed, or used, within 4 months for maximum effectiveness and dosages listed on the label.
Gelatin and pectin products, like gummy vitamins, are more like food than supplements in that they can get stale over time depending on how they are made and stored. While their vitamin potency will diminish gradually, their candy-like taste and texture will decrease at the same rate as a gummy candy. If they don’t expire at the same time you could be left with a potent vitamin in a not-so-tasty snack. And let’s face it, who wants to eat a stale, old gummy treat?
Like most supplements, vitamin C comes with an expiration date on its packaging. The tablet, powder, chewable, or gummy does not become unsafe, but instead its potency has diminished beyond the point that its manufacturer can verify that you’re getting the promised dosage of vitamin C. The shelf life of supplements is impacted by how and where they are stored, the amount of moisture that gets into the container, and, quite frankly, the quality of the product. Even the potency of vitamin C consumed as a food source is subject to external factors like cooking temperature, exposure to oxygen, handling of the particular food, and its age. When you’re reaching for an orange, would you grab one that is brightly-colored and fresh off the tree, or would you pick something that’s been sitting in a bowl on the counter in your kitchen for a month? They both contain vitamin C, but the old, tired fruit is probably not the best option. When looking for a C supplement, be sure to look for a premium brand like Care/Of’s Vitamin C The Citrus Savior.
Once vitamin E oil is exposed to air and light, oxidation begins and the product will start to lose its potency. The fat-soluble vitamin requires proper storage in a cool, dry place, with its cap tightly sealed in order to keep the product as fresh as possible. Even though vitamin E is an antioxidant and oxidation will be slower because of that, eventually vitamin E oil will begin to smell foul. At this point, potency is not even a factor. It’s time to get rid of it.
Like most supplements, fish oil does come with an expiration date. As soon as the bottle is opened, oxidation begins. Improper storage of fish oil can result in early oxidation. It is best to keep it away from heat, moisture, and direct light. It is possible that fish oil can expire even before the expiration date on the label. Rancid fish oil (and capsules) may have a foul smell, a fishy taste, or generate fish-tasting burps after consumption. Always look for premium quality supplements like Care/of’s Fish Oil Wild at Heart.
It’s generally a good idea to avoid ingesting expired vitamins. While they’re not likely to harm you, most supplements have lost enough of their potency by the time they reach the expiration date that you wouldn’t be getting the amount listed on the label. If, for example, you’re looking to take the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of a particular supplement and you take one that is past its expiration date, you really have no idea how much of the nutrient you are actually getting. You’re better off getting a fresh product. Also, oil-based supplements can run the highest risk of being rancid past the expiration date. That can come with its own set of unpleasantries, (foul taste, fish-tasting indigestion), you probably want to avoid.
While the FDA does not require an expiration date on supplement labels, each company may put a ‘best buy’ date which indicates how long the supplement will continue to deliver its promised nutrients at 100% strength. The companies are required to have scientific data to substantiate their claim. After that date, you are getting products with steadily declining potency and no real way to measure how much of what you’re taking is doing its job. While there are plenty of opinions online, there is no quantifiable data to support taking expired supplements.
Upon reaching the expiration date, supplements begin to lose their potency and, ultimately, efficacy in addressing your supplementing needs. There is no way to measure how much of the product you’re actually absorbing. While they may be somewhat effective, there’s no way to determine to what (if any) degree.
Read the product label for the best way to store the supplement. Typically, they require a cool, dark place away from humidity or moisture. Some supplements, like probiotics, may require refrigeration.
Do not flush expired supplements (or any medication) down the toilet. Some larger municipalities and pharmacies have the capacity to accept unused, expired supplements that need to be disposed of. If you must put them in your trash, make sure they are mixed with something unappealing like used cat litter or coffee grounds so that children and animals don’t find and consume them.
Vitamins do expire, but their expiration simply means that their potency is waning. While it won’t likely do you any harm to take them, you won’t really know how much nutritional value you are actually getting. The further past the expiration it is, the higher the likelihood that you’re getting little to no benefit from them. Read the labels. Know what you’re getting. Make sure the company is third-party tested, using quality ingredients, and always inquire about the shelf life of your product.