Expiration Dates Matter

Many people are surprised to find that medications can expire. Whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), once the use-by date has passed, that product shouldn’t be consumed. While some individuals will still pop that pill or use an inhaler past the expiration date, the truth is that efficacy and potency diminish over time. Similarly, vitamins and supplements should also be regularly screened so expired bottles can be tossed in the bin.

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Do vitamins expire?

When a person shops for a multivitamin or supplement in a local pharmacy or drugstore, an expiration date is usually printed on the bottle. Unlike expired milk or moldy bread, where physical changes alert consumers to avoid consumption, what happens with vitamins is slightly different. While the pill or gummy won’t look physically different, the ingredients may break down chemically. As a result, the advertised quantity and quality of the vitamin may not be the same. Over time, some ingredients may also become inert, meaning no real benefits are gained by taking the vitamin.

How long do vitamins last?

Keep in mind that vitamins fall under the dietary supplement category and aren’t regulated in the same way as OTC or prescription medications. While government agencies provide general guidelines for production and handling, manufacturers aren’t held to the same stringent standards as pharmaceutical firms. Consider that supplement brands aren’t even required to post an expiration date on the packaging. In general, vitamins tend to have a 2-year shelf life. However, chewable and gummy versions may have a shorter lifespan.

What about unopened bottles?

Don’t assume that the contents are still safe to consume just because a supplement bottle was never opened. If the expiration date has passed, treat the vitamins as if the bottle was open. Just like with opened containers, unused supplements in the original packaging can still degrade, resulting in lower potency and risk of possible adverse side effects.

User behavior matters too

So far, the focus has been solely on paying attention to the date on a bottle. User error can also accelerate vitamin expiration dates. For example, most supplements are meant to be stored in a cool, dry location without direct sun exposure. However, if a consumer stores vitamins on a bathroom countertop with frequent humidity from bathing and direct sunlight, a 2-year lifespan may be unrealistic.

Be an informed consumer

When purchasing supplements, consumers have the tools to pick the right vitamins. When possible, look for options that adhere to the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). Avoid vitamins containing nutrient amounts that exceed the daily values. If a bottle is expired, avoid taking any of the pills. When in doubt, consider speaking with a physician or registered dietician (RD) about supplementing nutritional needs with vitamins.


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