Ask Dr. Myatt: How long will vitamins and herbs keep?
Q: There are numbers and dates on my supplements. Are these important? Should I be worried about my supplements "expiring"?
A: That depends on the product and the form that it is in. Most quality herbal and nutritional supplements have an expiration date on the label, but this date does not reflect the whole story.
Herbal tinctures and fluid extracts, especially if made from potent herbs to begin with, are the longest lasting of any product. Dr. Sharol Tilgner, former CEO of Wise Woman Herbals, our primary herbal provider, now dates tinctures with a 7 year expiration date. Dr. Tilgner believes that this is a conservative dating process, and I concur. A well-made tincture is potent and useable for up to 20 years from the time it is made.
Now, "here’s the rub." Many herbal products – and I do mean many – are made from dried herbs that have lost their potency BEFORE the tincture is made. These products are weak to begin with. Although they will "keep" for many years, their strength is questionable. The herbal tinctures that we select for Wellness Club are some of the most potent products available. These liquid tincture formulas will be fully potent 10 years from now (conservatively) and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them 20 years hence.
Any encapsulated product, whether herbal or nutritional, has a much shorter shelf-life. This is because of a process called "oxidation." Individual particles in herbs or nutrients are exposed to air. This is true for both gelatin capsules and tablets.
A super potent herb formula in capsule form (remember, many are not potent to begin with) will be potent 2-3 years from the date of manufacture. (On our products, this date is stamped.) In other words, the product will be potent 1 year beyond the expiration date.
Nutritional supplements are a bit trickier, because different vitamins have different shelf-lives. Dr. Jaques at Tyler Encapsulations (one of our major supplement suppliers) offers this:
- Vitamin C: up to 5 years
- Vitamin B’s: 3 years
- Vitamin A: unknown
- Vitamin D: indefinitely
- Vitamin E: 2 years (except mixed tocopherols, which may last 3-5 years)
- Mineral formulas: 10+ years
- Enzymes: 2 years
All supplements, whether herbal or nutritional, will last longer if frozen. So… if you stock up, keep unopened products in your freezer or in a cool, dark, moisture-free place to extend shelf life up to 3 times the stamped expiration date.
Nurse Mark Comments:
This is a subject that we get a lot of questions about. Please be assured that the “Best By” date on most products does not infer that the product suddenly becomes unusable upon that date, or even at any time thereafter within reason.
A “Best By” date represents the minimum time at which the manufacturer can be assured that the product will still be usably fresh under average consumer storage conditions – which are often less than ideal, to say the least.
We occasionally have products here at the Wellness Club which pass their “Best By” date. What do we do with them? Throw them out? Certainly not – Dr. Myatt and I happily use them for ourselves! All our products are carefully stored in a climate controlled facility and because of that we expect them to be fine to use well after any arbitrary “Best By” date. Unopened bottles are much more stable than bottles that have been opened and thus exposed to air to begin oxidizing.
So, if you have a supplement that is a bit past it’s “Best By” date and you know that it has been carefully stored, chances are very good that it is fine to use. If it hasn’t been carefully stored, say kept on a sunny windowsill (we like to joke about “kept on the dashboard of your car” – but it has happened!) then all bets are off, of course.
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