My lovely wife got a little under the weather last week, so she reached into our medicine cabinet to find some NyQuil or Robitussin to help her beat back the cold. To her surprise, the Robitussin had expired about six months ago and she wasn’t sure how effective it was going to be. We had always heard that expired drugs and vitamins were fine, they just lost a bit of their effectiveness. As for how much? We didn’t know… so we turned to the internet.
Supplements, like vitamins, aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and so don’t even need to have an expiration date. For that reason, most people recommend that you only buy vitamins with an expiration date because most of the reputable producers will put one.
With vitamins, the chemical composition will change over time though they will still remain viable for up to five years. The purpose of the expiration date is to indicate when the manufacturer believes the vitamin will be at the highest level of quality and that date is usually conservative.
The two enemies of vitamins are heat and moisture, so keep them out of direct sunlight in a cool and dry environment. Don’t put them in the refrigerator though, it’ll speed up the breakdown process.
The only risk when you take an expired vitamin is that it won’t be as effective as intended, though there are no other risks.
Expired drugs also much like vitamins in that the expiration date is marked for when the drug will be at its peak effectiveness. Consumer Reports recommends that you discard any drug  that has expired more than two years ago or if they show any sign of degredation or spoilage (crumbling, melted capsules, etc.).
As much as I am a fan of saving money, keeping drugs around when their effectiveness is questionable just doesn’t make any sense. Two years, five for vitamins, seems like a long enough time that you probably forgot you had them and bought a replacement. Either way, if you have a headache, taking an Advil that’s half as effective isn’t going to cut it.
Finally, be sure to go through your medicine cabinet every once and a while to find the older stuff and take it first.
If you want to read more about drugs, vitamins and expiration, here’s a great writeup by the Health Sciences Institute .
(Photo: striatic )