Picture this: You’ve recently decided to reignite your healthy lifestyle kick in the new year, so you find yourself rummaging around your house for that bottle of crazy-expensive vitamins you bought a while back that is still basically full.
Vitamins = health, right?
But then you discover -- only after you’ve popped that once-forgotten vitamin in your mouth -- that the expiration date is way old. Like, waaaay old.
But do vitamins expire the same way that milk does? Is it dangerous to take a multi once that “Best By” date is long gone? Do they lose their effectiveness past the expiration date?
Before you ring up Poison Control or try to flush your system out, here’s everything you need to know about expired vitamins.
Should I Be Worried If I Accidentally Took Expired Vitamins?
The short answer: probably not.
While you definitely want to stay as far away as you can from expired chicken or milk, the truth is that vitamins don’t really expire in the same way certain foods do. But according to experts, the ingredients will, in fact, degrade over time, meaning the vitamins you’re relying on for optimal nutrition may not be meeting your specific needs.
Of course, you won’t suffer any nasty side effects or anything like that, but you will have wasted your time -- and if you happened to accidentally purchase expired vitamins at the store, money. This holds true for most medicines.
When and Why Vitamins Expire
How quickly your vitamins expire depends on many different things -- some of which are related to manufacturing and others related to your own habits.
- Type of vitamin: Arguably, the biggest determining factor in the expiration time for your vitamins is the form or type of vitamin you’re taking. Ladies, we know gummies are all the rage these days, but these types of colorful vitamins tend to expire much faster than tablets, capsules, and softgels.
- Type of container: You may not give a second thought to the type of container your favorite vitamin is stored in, but believe it or not, it can have a major impact on the expiration speed of the vitamin. You see, some vitamins retain their potency longer in opaque containers vs. those with a clear container because they are protected from sunlight and UV rays that can speed up expiration.
- Type of container cap: But it’s not just the type of container, it’s also the cap of the container that can impact the expiration of the vitamins. Flip top containers may not seal tightly enough to keep humidity at bay, which causes vitamins to break down much more quickly. Screw-on caps, on the other hand, are more likely to seal well, which will help to preserve your vitamins for a longer period of time.
- Storage conditions: By now, it’s probably safe to say that sunlight and humidity are arguably the worst things for our vitamins. For this reason, storage is of the utmost importance! It’s best to avoid storing your vitamins in an area with a lot of humidity, such as a bathroom medicine cabinet or near a steamy shower, and they should not be placed in sunny areas where they’ll receive a lot of light. The best practice for storing vitamins is to keep them in a cool, dark place.
- Contamination: If you’re constantly reaching into your vitamin container with dirty fingers after doing things like putting on your face for the day or making a tasty lunch, you could be contaminating your vitamins without even knowing it! Introducing food residue or bacterial particles can impact the shelf life of your vitamins, causing them to deteriorate much more quickly. And the gross part? In some cases, mold can even grow on your vitamins -- eeek!
Shelf-Life of Individual Vitamins
The shelf-life of your favorite vitamins may also depend on the actual type of vitamin. For example, some experts suggest that certain vitamins may break down more quickly.
Vitamin C: This crucial vitamin is particularly susceptible to deliquescence -- a process in which the vitamin itself starts to absorb some of the relative humidity in the air. As it absorbs this moisture, Vitamin C quickly begins to lose its potency. If the product isn’t packaged properly, or if you’re opening and closing your vitamin container frequently in a warm, muggy environment, the vitamins will break down much more quickly.
Thiamin: This important vitamin happens to be one of the more unstable B vitamins, which is also affected by moisture via deliquescence. Just like with vitamin C, keeping Thiamin away from humid environments is best.
Vitamin K: When combined in a multi that also contains minerals, vitamin K may degrade more quickly.
How To Properly Store Vitamins
Kitchen or bathroom? Counter or refrigerator? Believe it or not, it really does make a difference where you store your vitamins. Here are the basics you should know to keep your pills from going bad.
Forego the Fridge
For optimal potency, vitamins should always be stored in a cool and dry place. Sure, your refrigerator is certainly cool, but it’s also full of moisture, which can greatly reduce your vitamin’s shelf life and effectiveness. The exception to this rule are vitamins whose packaging specifically recommends refrigeration.
Bypass the Bathroom
Here’s your daily dose of irony for the day: You should never keep medications or vitamins in your medicine cabinet.
Think about it -- storing your vitamins in the same tiny room in which you shower means exposing them to humidity and heat on a daily basis. Even if they’re stashed away in the medicine cabinet, they’re still exposed to the muggy conditions of your bathroom which will decrease their potency in a heartbeat.
Reconsider the Kitchen
Since vitamins are usually always taken with food, it seems only logical to keep them in the kitchen, right? Just be sure to check with your doc to see if there are any foods you should avoid while taking certain supplements.
If storing your meds and important vitamins in close proximity to your food is important, opt for the breakfast nook or dining room rather than a cabinet directly over your oven.
Think High and Dry
If you have little ones running around the house, it’s crucial to store your supplements up and away, so they are out of reach at all times.
When taken in high doses, some supplements are potentially poisonous. In fact, they’re the number one cause of household poisoning.
Store your vitamins like you would any medication, in their original containers and out of reach of children. Be sure to avoid any shelves or cabinets that are close to heating pipes or windows where humidity and temperature might fluctuate.
Another important reason to keep your vitamins in their original containers is that they may require a specific type of packaging for optimal potency. Some supplements tend to lose their effectiveness when exposed to light, for instance, and must be stored in a dark-colored or opaque container.
Avoid transferring your vitamins to smaller or larger bottles for convenience or combining them with other supplements in the same container.
So, do vitamins expire?
Well, yes and no. While vitamins don’t exactly expire per se, they do tend to lose their potency when they are taken past the expiration date. This means that they won’t be as effective or work as well as they should if you were to take them prior to expiring.
The best practice is to get into a good, healthy habit of taking your vitamins every day -- this way, you’ll never have to worry about them going bad or losing their effectiveness!
Ever hear of our 21/90™ rule? Here at Love Wellness, we believe it takes 21 days to build a routine and 90 days to make it stick. Start taking your vitamins today and continue to do so for 21 days, and in no time, you’ll have developed a new healthy habit. Oh, and another plus -- you won’t have to worry about your vitamins expiring!
Check out Love Wellness and get started by taking our quiz to help you find the right wellness product for you -- you’ll be glad you did!