Expired Vitamins - Is It Safe To Take These?
Have you just noticed the expiry date on your vitamins is long passed? No need to fret, you can still take expired vitamins. The expiry date is based primarily on the potency, not for safety. If you can't see yucky mold growing on your pills then you'll be just fine, although it's likely you won't reap the same benefits.
Expiry dates on vitamins
Funnily enough, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't have strict rules as to putting expiry dates on dietary supplements - this is also true for vitamins and minerals. Although they sound the same, there's a big difference between the expiry and sell-by dates on fresh fruits and vegetables that those printed on supplements. "Expires on", or "best before", or "use by" are typically what's labeled on vitamins by manufacturers if they choose to print it. This is solely to give the consumer information as to when the potency of that vitamin will become less than the labeled dosage.
Expired vitamins - are they safe?
They are safe. Is it recommended? No. The effectiveness after the expiry date will slowly reduce but the rate of which it reduces depends on how you've stored it. There aren't side effects or cause for concern, ultimately you'd be getting less than the specified dose, in which case it's time to grab some new ones.
It is important to note, if there are any signs of mold on expired vitamins, do not take the risk. Microbiological contamination is no joke and you should always err on the side of caution.
Pregnancy and Expired Vitamins
Pregnant women are usually directed by a doctor to take vitamins. Vitamins such as folic acid which is taken to reduce to the chance of neural tube defects (NTDs) are a common supplement but also found in leafy green vegetables, brown rice, granary bread, and some breakfast cereals.
Taking an expired vitamin that is important during pregnancy means that the mother is not ingesting the recommended dose as it'll have lost potency. In this case, it's better to throw the old batch out and purchase new ones, they're inexpensive and great value.
What factors affect the vitamin expiration
There are several factors that will cause the vitamin to expire and in some cases much quicker than normal. Below we've listed these, some of which you can prevent but others are due to the manufacturing process.
Type of container: A nontransparent or opaque container will block the sunlight and UV rays which allows the vitamins to retain potency for longer.
Type of lid: If the container lid is a flip-cap then it may not have a tightly sealed design, this can lead to greater exposure to humidity and therefore vitamin breakdown. Typically a screw-cap will do a better job.
Form of vitamin: Capsules, tablets, or soft gels will last longer than gummy vitamins or even liquid. Although gummy bear multivitamins taste great.
Storage: A cool, dark place away from sunlight and humidity is ideal. Bathroom cabinets tend to high humidity zones and should be avoided.
Contamination: If your morning routine is taking your vitamins after your morning poo, make sure you wash your hands first. Contamination is an easy way to impact shelf life as well as grow mold.
Differences between specific vitamins
Expired vitamins don't all lose potency at the same time. Some vitamins are more susceptible than others. Here's a breakdown:
Vitamin C: the savor of all pirates is more susceptible to deliquesence. The process of absorbing moisture through the constant opening and closing on the container means that the vitamin becomes less potent.
Thiamin: Also referred to as B1 is very similar to Vitamin C, it should be stored well as it has a tendency to absorb moisture quickly.
Vitamin K: which helps wound healing and blood clotting, typically degrades quicker when mixed with other multivitamins.
Fun fact: The expiry life of most multivitamins is dependent on the weakest vitamin that is the quickest to lost potency.
Company expiry date policies
As mentioned previously, the FDA does not require expiry dates on vitamins, therefore it is down to the manufacturer how they wish to handle this. Most of the more well known and larger companies do have a stance on this:
Centrum: Provide a best by date for all products based on the least stable ingredient which is a prudent approach.
Priority One Nutritional Supplements: No expiry dates - however they are working on research and testing to provide this. However, they do recommend based on historical data a 2 year period from purchase.
Swanson Vitamins: Provide either a best by date or manufacture date. If the latter, this is typically 2-3 years after the manufacture data although liquids and probiotics with a lower shelf life are around 1 year.
Nature Made: Includes an expiry date, alongside a guaranteed potency until the given date. This will depend on the supplement type.
NOW Foods: A straightforward policy of including expiry dates on all products. Proper storage conditions must be followed.
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Disposing of expired vitamins
Now that you've read this, take some time to have a look at your supplement and vitamin stores and decide which may need disposing of.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a recommended method to dispose of these.
Take the pills out of its original container
Place these into a bag with undesirable substances e.g. coffee grinds, cat poo, baby nappy's. This way curious kids and animals are less likely to consume them.
Close the bag and trash it.
It's not a great idea to flush supplements and vitamins as this will pass through water treatment plants and end up in natural habitats like rivers, lakes, and other water-based areas.