Do you take one or more vitamin or nutritional supplements? Almost four in five American adults (86 percent) do, according to a study done by The Harris Poll for the American Osteopathic Association, despite not having a documented vitamin deficiency. People see supplemental vitamins as a cheap insurance policy against health problems. Whether they are protective against chronic health problems is debatable.
Still, humans need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, but it’s best to get vitamins and minerals from food. Sometimes, though, a vitamin supplement makes sense. You might need more of a certain vitamin or mineral if you’ve got health problems or take medications that cause nutritional deficiencies.
Many people don’t get enough vitamins, like vitamin D, and might benefit from taking a supplement. It’s important that the supplement you take contains what it says it does. Then, make sure you preserve the vitamin content once you get it home. Just as fruits and vegetables lose vitamins if you store them wrong, vitamin supplements can too. Store vitamin supplements right and you’ll get their full potency.
What is the best way to store your vitamins? You might wonder if they should keep them in the fridge. Keeping supplements away from heat or light is a good idea. Heat and light degrade some of their potency and reduces their benefits.
Vitamin C and riboflavin, a B-vitamin is particularly light-sensitive. These vitamins are less potent when heated and exposed to light, so you won’t get as much benefit from them. For example, vitamin supplements wouldn’t do well on a windowsill where the sun shines.
Should You Refrigerate Vitamin Supplements?
Refrigerating vitamins solves one problem; it keeps them cool. It’s also dark inside a refrigerator when the door is shut. Yet your fridge is also a humid, moist environment. Humidity is bad for vitamins because it shortens their shelf life.
According to Purdue University, vitamin C loses its potency at humidity levels of 80% or higher. Vitamin C and some B-vitamins, like riboflavin, are sensitive to heat, humidity, and light. If you’re taking a supplement that says to refrigerate, then do it. However, refrigeration isn’t always the best way to keep vitamins and minerals potent due to the high humidity.
How about the bathroom? Many people store vitamins and supplements in their bathroom medicine cabinets, where it’s humid. Taking showers and turning on the sink creates a high-humidity environment. It’s humid in kitchens too, but it’s usually not as bad as a bathroom, where people shower and bathe. According to Purdue University, a humid environment, like a bathroom can degrade vitamins like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin C that are sensitive to moisture.
So, the kitchen is a better place to store your vitamins than the bathroom, but another area room where humidity is less of an issue is ideal. If you store vitamin supplements in the kitchen, keep them as far away from the sink as possible, in a dark cabinet or drawer. Keep the lid on tight so moisture doesn’t get in.
Choose a dedicated drawer or cabinet, not one that contains things you use every day, so you don’t have to keep opening and closing it. The drawer or cabinet you choose should also be far from a stove or microwave, since heat also degrades the potency of vitamins.
Liquid vitamins are an exception. Because they don’t have a protective capsule, many of these need refrigeration. You might also have to refrigerate some probiotics. If so, it should say so on the label.
Natural Aging of Vitamin Supplements
If you keep vitamins long enough, they will lose potency, even if you store them in a cool, dark, dry place. Yet vitamin supplements, stored properly, can maintain most of their potency for 10 years or longer if you store them under ideal conditions. Most people don’t do that, so their shelf life is shorter.
Vitamin supplements should have an expiration date on the bottle. It’s best to discard them by that date. Expired vitamin supplements are unlikely to be harmful, but you could experience some potency loss after the expiration date.
Buy From a Reputable Supplier
Another concern is that a vitamin supplement may not contain the same quantity of vitamins as the label suggests. Testing by independent firms shows supplements don’t always live up to their labels. Some contain less than what’s listed of key nutrients while some may contain more.
Also, take supplements with caution. More isn’t always better and taking large amounts of some vitamins, like vitamin A and vitamin D, can be harmful. For example, large quantities of vitamin A are damaging to the liver. Don’t just take a vitamin supplement as an insurance policy. Talk to your physician first and make sure you need it and it won’t be harmful.
The Bottom Line
Vitamins lose their potency and become less effective if they’re not stored properly. Like any food, they need proper storage in a dry, dark, non-humid environment. If you store a vitamin supplement wrong, you’ll lose some of its benefits. Most vitamins don’t need refrigeration, but they do need to be stored correctly to keep their potency. Follow these guidelines and throw out anything that darkens or shows brown spots and bottles that are past their expiration date.
- Hiatt AN, Taylor LS, Mauer LJ. Influence of simultaneous variations in temperature and relative humidity on chemical stability of two vitamin C forms and implications for shelf life models. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Mar 24;58(6):3532-40. doi: 10.1021/jf903342f. PMID: 20163110.
- “Poll finds 86% of Americans take vitamins or supplements ….” 16 Jan. 2019, https://osteopathic.org/2019/01/16/poll-finds-86-of-americans-take-vitamins-or-supplements-yet-only-21-have-a-confirmed-nutritional-deficiency/.
- Purdue.edu. “Vitamins stored in bathrooms, kitchens may become less effective”
- ConsumerLab.com “Do vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements lose effectiveness with exposure to high temperatures and is it safe to order supplements by mail in the summer?”
- “(PDF) Influence of temperature and humidity on the ….” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257615552_Influence_of_temperature_and_humidity_on_the_degradation_process_of_ascorbic_acid_in_vitamin_C_chewable_tablets.
- “Shelf-Life of Vitamin Supplements in a Survival Food ….” https://theprovidentprepper.org/shelf-life-of-vitamin-supplements-in-a-survival-food-supply/.
- “Independent Tests and Reviews of Vitamin, Mineral, and ….” https://www.consumerlab.com/.