Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 2, 2021

The answer to the question of “Do vitamins expire?” and whether you should take vitamins past their expiration date is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.

They aren’t like food that becomes harmful once expired. Vitamins, however, do degrade and become less effective.

This article will look at vitamins’ shelf life, how to extend it, and what happens when dietary supplements break down.

Do Vitamins Expire?

Holding blue and red pills on hand

A vitamin’s expiration date is more of a “best before” than a “don’t use after.” Unlike food or other things that become unsafe to ingest, vitamins and other dietary supplements begin to lose potency. [1] [2]

The main ingredients in vitamins break down gradually and get less effective the further past their expiration date.

Unfortunately, this means taking vitamin and mineral supplements after they have expired may not provide their intended benefits.

What Is The Average Shelf Life For Vitamins?

A person pouring vitamins on his hand

Unlike prescription drugs or store-bought medication, the food and drug administration doesn’t require vitamins to provide expiration dates by law.

Most reputable supplements will, however, volunteer best before or use by dates themselves anyway.

“The typical shelf life for vitamins is two years. But this can vary, depending on the type of vitamin and the conditions it’s exposed to,” -Shilpa Raut, Senior Researcher at Amway.

Chewable vitamins or gummies absorb more water and degrade faster. In comparison, vitamins in pill form have a more extended expiration date and may last for several years without degradation.

Why Vitamins Expire

A vitamin container and a single pill being held

As mentioned above, vitamins do not have an expiration date but rather a best before date.

Both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins degrade over time, especially when not stored correctly, exposed to moisture or air.

The Vitamin C in a fruit juice, for example, would be virtually all gone after 14 days.

“Vitamins are relatively delicate molecules that do break down with time – some quicker than others,” -Dr. Sarah Brewer, Medical Director, Healthspan.

Other supplements like minerals which are chemical elements, do not expire, so supplements like calcium, iron, or zinc do not break down.

Is Taking Expired Vitamins Safe?

Close up image of vitamins

Yes, taking an expired vitamin is technically safe, but that doesn’t mean you should make a habit of hoarding expired supplements.

We are not looking to provide medical advice about a particular vitamin still working past its expiration, so the blanket rule is - probably not advisable.

To date, there haven’t been any documented cases of expired vitamins causing someone to become fatally ill.

This is due primarily to an expired vitamin not being toxic or poisonous. Instead, it is just likely to lose potency.

Are There Any Side Effects To Taking Expired Vitamins?

There aren’t any known risks to taking vitamins past expiration, other than them losing potency and not being effective.

If you are taking a health supplement for a particular benefit it provides, then the side effect of expired vitamins might be that you flare up on the issues it was helping to treat.

Do Different Vitamins Have Different Expiration Dates?

Different kinds of vitamins stacked

Different vitamins have different expiration dates, and you should always check and not make assumptions.

For example, as mentioned above, water-soluble vitamins or those that come with an added coating such as chewable or gummy vitamins will expire then the pill form.

If you intend to keep a vitamin stored for a long time, check its expiration date before you tuck it away to ensure it still has maximum potency when you’re ready to take it.

What’s The Best Way To Store Vitamins?

Vitamins inside a big plastic mug

Vitamins usually come packaged in the ideal storage container. There will also be instructions on how to store your chosen vitamin in the bottle or container.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to store them out of direct sunlight in a cool and dry place.

For example, a medicine cabinet is perfect, as long as it’s not in the kitchen or bathroom, as they tend to be warmer and exposed to moisture.

When in doubt, refer to the label and consider the type of vitamin being stored. Vitamins A and D will lose a lot of potencies if exposed to sunlight.

Supplements like fish oil may need to be refrigerated. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

How Should I Get Rid Of Expired Vitamins?

Expired vitamins close up image

Don’t just throw away your vitamins that have expired in the trash as they may cause harm. While most vitamins aren’t harmful to you, they may be detrimental to the environment, the water supply, and domestic or wild animals.

Wellness professionals recommend the following three steps to dispose of expired vitamins safely.

  • First, mix your vitamins with used cat litter or coffee grounds to discourage any nosy pets, wild animals, or even wild children that may inspect your bin contents.
  • Put the mixture in a separately sealed bag or container.
  • Chuck the entire container in the trash safe in the knowledge no one will want this foul-smelling bitter bomb.

Should You Take Expired Vitamins?

There is no reason why you should ever be taking expired vitamins. While they may not directly harm you, they are unlikely to provide the benefits you would be taking them for anyway due to the lost potency.

Dispose of vitamins and supplements that are past their best safely. Ensure to follow any specific storage directions on the packaging to keep your vitamins potent for as long as possible.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6451478/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137421/

About the author