Do herbal supplements really expire? It's a question that many people have, and the answer is yes. Yes, supplements do expire, but it has more to do with their potency and quality than with safety issues. The date stamped on the bottle is an important indicator, and there's science that explains why it's there. A drug or supplement exposed to high temperatures, humidity, or light will degrade to an unusable level long before its expiration date.
The FDA doesn't require an expiration date, but most vitamins still have one. Other companies may choose to include a date of manufacture instead. If stored properly, most vitamins have a shelf life of up to two years, according to holistic pharmacist Joanna Lewis of PharmD. In other words, they essentially “expire” two years after the date of manufacture.
The Food and Drug Administration says it's not mandatory, but if supplement manufacturers use an expiration date, they must provide sufficient data to prove that the expiration date is real. Unless you fall into one of the categories listed above, taking a recently expired supplement can be as valuable as taking one that was just produced. While an herbal supplement that has passed two years since its expiration date is likely to be less potent, one that has only been a couple of months since the date printed on its package (as long as it's not opened and stored properly) should be as good as new. Most supplements continue to maintain their nutritional value years after their expiration date, especially when stored properly. While it's mandatory for over-the-counter and prescription drugs, the FDA doesn't require supplements to have an expiration date.
Supplements are a generic term and vitamins can be included within that umbrella, explains nutrition scientist and director of scientific affairs at mbg Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph. D. If you've ever stumbled upon an old bottle of vitamins or supplements and wondered if it was still safe to consume them, well, the answer isn't that simple. The package in which a supplement or medication is placed is the last barrier between active compounds and the environment. What annoys me most are these technicalities that supplement companies strategically exploit to get you to buy things that aren't what you think they are.
Ferira explains that potency simply means that the ingredients in the product remain the same or higher than the dose in which they appear in the “information about the supplement” panel on the back of the product. When deciding whether to use or discard an expired supplement, it's important to keep in mind that it's not dangerous (such as using an expired Epi-Pen to prevent anaphylactic shock).It gets more complicated when you move from synthetic compounds normally found in vitamins and supplements to more “natural” options: real powdered foods, botanicals, and even oils. Most manufacturers add antioxidant ingredients, such as tocopherols (vitamin E) and rosemary or ascorbyl palmitate, to protect oil-based supplements for longer periods of time, Ferira explains. So what does this all mean? It means that while it's important to pay attention to expiration dates on your supplements and vitamins, it's also important to understand why they're there in the first place. It's not just about safety; it's also about potency and quality.