Vitamins on blue background

Do Vitamins Expire?

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What’s the deal with vitamin expiration dates and do they even matter? Sure, we know that vitamins and supplements, as well as over-the-counter drugs, all come with a ‘best before’ date but do we need to adhere to it, or is it a general suggestion?

While vitamin and supplement ‘best by’ dates should not necessarily be ignored or overlooked, they may not necessarily matter as much as, say, the expiration date on your coffee creamer or yogurt. In fact, extending the shelf life of your vitamins may be as easy as proper storage and paying attention to exactly when you first opened the bottle.

Below, we’re laying out everything you need to know about the ‘best by’ date on your vitamins and supplements — from what to keep an eye out for when assessing whether or not your vitamins have gone bad to responsibly disposing of your unused or expired vitamins, here’s exactly how to ensure you’re getting the full benefit of your vitamins and supplements.

What Do Vitamin Expiration Dates Mean?

According to NOW Foods, the best before date on over-the-counter vitamins refer to the actual recommended date that you should use the product by if you want to ensure you’re reaping the best possible absorption and benefits from the given vitamin or supplement.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not, in fact, an expiration date like you’d see on perishable food products but rather a recommendation if you want to ensure you’re getting the full benefit of the vitamin.

“In general, vitamins are ‘good’ for approximately two years and lose their potency slowly after the printed ‘best by’ or ‘expires on’ date on the bottle,” explains Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads Ph.D., RN, CNEAdvisor at NurseTogether. “While it is safe to take expired vitamins, consumers should be aware that expired vitamins are less effective because they have begun to break down.”

Hoping to extend the life of your over-the-counter vitamins and supplements? Whether you have a product that is past its recommended consumption date or you’re simply slow to polish off your vitamin bottles, keeping your vitamins in the fridge or a cool, dry area in the home will ensure degradation is as slow as possible. You should also ensure that you close the lid of your vitamins very tightly after opening to ensure no unnecessary oxygen makes its way into the bottle.

That being said, you should always refer directly to the vitamin bottle to see how best to store your given supplement. As a general rule, you should think of it in the same fashion as perishable food and avoid storing them in hot or humid conditions.

Which Vitamins Are OK After Their Expiration Date?

If your vitamins or supplements still maintain good sensory quality (meaning they look and smell normal), there’s a good chance you can continue taking them without worry — but keep in mind that the potency might be declining if you’ve had the bottle opened and hanging around in your cupboards for a while.

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“As a general rule, once vitamins are exposed to light, heat, and humidity, they begin to degrade, potentially leaving you with dead vitamins that lack the nutrients listed on the bottle,” explains Darren Litt, Co-Founder of Hiya Health. “That’s why it’s especially important to start the clock on your vitamins once your bottle is opened, and why it’s also especially important not to buy vitamins that come in clear bottles where they’re exposed to excessive light.”

Which Vitamins Should You Avoid?

According to Dr. Arielle Levitan, M.D., author of The Vitamin Solution, it is standard to place a two-year expiration on most products, but testing for viability has shown that many are good for well beyond this time.

“The pills can change color over time due to oxidation (exposure to air) and temperature extremes but this in itself is not harmful,” explains Dr. Levitan. “We know that the products likely will not hurt you at this point but the nutrients may not be as potent.”

Keep in mind, any liquid product or gel containing capsule likely has a much shorter shelf life and that should be adhered to strictly. Dr. Levitan says that, in general, getting fresh products is a good idea if you want to ensure you’re getting the benefits from the vitamin, but in a pinch, you might be able to stretch your supply of vitamins beyond their dates.

How Do You Dispose of Unused or Expired Vitamins?

According to the FDA, the best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired over-the-counter vitamins is to take advantage of the drug take-back sites and drop them off directly. While it might seem over-the-top, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes this is the most eco-friendly option for all types of vitamins.

Vitamins being flushed down the toilet

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If you’re unable to return your unused or expired vitamins to a designated drug take-back site, the FDA suggests flushing the pills down the toilet (if they’re on the approved FDA flush list).

Otherwise, they suggest mixing your old vitamins with dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds before putting the mixture in a sealed bag and then throwing the bag into your household trash for regular disposal.

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