A, B, C, D — or none of the above?
Welcome to January, also known as resolution season, or cough and sniffle season — surely there’s no better time to dust off the bottle of multivitamins at the back of your medicine chest.
Not so fast, according to the experts.
While there’s no substitute for a balanced and healthy diet, giving yourself the gift of a daily blast of extra vitamins and minerals is a fine idea — the National Institute on Aging even considers a daily nutrient boost essential for health and vitality reasons, particularly as we age.
But just how long has that bottle been sitting around?
And is it safe to take expired multivitamins and supplements?
EatingWell.com put the question to Catherine Gervacio, RND, a registered nutritionist-dietitian and certified exercise nutrition coach at EHProject.
Here’s everything you need to know about popping those past-their-prime pills, along with some excellent advice for those looking to get smarter about their supplement consumption.
What if my multivitamins are past their expiration date?
“The shelf life of multivitamin supplements varies, but it may take approximately two to three years for unopened multivitamin products to expire. Once opened, it is ideal to consume them within six months. Always check the expiration date on the packaging to be sure,” Gervacio said.
Supplements can’t go bad, like meat or milk, but the longer they sit around, the less good they’ll do you. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that multivitamins retained their potency roughly two years past manufacture.
Not that this means they suddenly turn harmful — they just get weaker.
You can always consult further with your doctor or health care provider — in fact, it’s a good idea to ask before taking a new supplement anyway.
Is it safe to take expired multivitamins and supplements?
Again, multivitamins don’t go bad, they just get weak — the risk of any kind of serious harm is low. That said, you may find yourself popping pills pointlessly — vitamins can break down over time, although some may not, or at least not noticeably.
“It is not recommended to take expired multivitamins because their potency will have decreased,” said Gervacio. “Therefore, they may not provide the supposed benefits they will contribute to health. As for safety, they don’t rot or spoil like food, so they won’t generally cause harm.”
What are the side effects of taking expired multivitamins?
“In general, there are no known side effects of taking expired multivitamins,” Gervacio said. “The only concern when taking expired vitamins is their potency and effectiveness.”
How do I dispose of my expired multivitamins?
Treat them much like you would any normal meds past their prime — no flushing down the toilet, no tossing them in the trash. EatingWell.com recommends taking your sullied stash to a local pharmacy, where they’re experienced at disposing of bottles of old pills.
“Take precautions in disposing of expired multivitamins and make sure they’re out of reach of children and pets,” Gervacio said. “Remove the contents from the packaging. It’s also best to remove personal information from the packaging for identity protection. Mix the multivitamins with unappealing substances like dirt, used coffee grounds or dirt. If there’s an available medical disposal bag, use it to throw the multivitamins in the household trash. Otherwise, use any disposable plastic bag and seal it.”
How do I store my multivitamins?
“The best way to store multivitamins is to keep them in a cool and dry place, away from heat and sunlight exposure,” Gervacio told EatingWell. “Keep them in their original packaging. Avoid storing them in areas with high humidity like bathrooms and kitchen.”