Is Taking Expired Medication and Supplements Safe?

Taking expired medications

Have you ever been guilty of this? You have a headache, a cold, or a cough. You rush to the medicine cabinet to grab an analgesic or cold medication to relieve your achy head or a runny nose and, lo and behold, the expiration date says it expired three years ago!


What did you do? Did you take it or flush it? If you took it anyway, you’re in good company, surveys show people take expired medications a lot. Taking expired medication is pretty common, but the question is whether it’s smart.


What Does the Expiration Date Mean?


Let’s look at the expired medication issue more closely. The FDA first required medication makers to post an expiration date in 1979. Before that time, medications didn’t have an expiration date. Does that mean an expiration date isn’t THAT important? After all, it took a long time to require an expiration date.


The reason expiration dates came into being is the result of a study by the Food and Drug Administration. The military had accumulated a huge stockpile of medications and didn’t like the idea of throwing them out after a year or two. Not only is tossing them costly, they need to be disposed of properly. 


Probably some of you feel like that too. Medications are NOT cheap. So, a team of researchers monitored the potency of the military’s medications over many years. What they found was 90% of the medications they tested, both prescription and non-prescription, still retained their potency 15 years after the expiration date expired.


Fifteen years? That’s pretty awesome, right? While 90% is a hefty percentage, that still leaves 10% that DID lose some of their potency.



Sometimes the medication is even tougher than the illness – Sanya-Richards Ross



The expiration date on most medications is between 12 and 60 months, but, as the above study shows, a drug doesn’t magically lose its potency the day after it expires. It’s a slow process that occurs over years for MOST medications.


In fact, the expiration date on a medication is a GUARANTEE that the medication, stored under proper conditions, will retain at least 90% of its potency before the expiration date. That doesn’t mean the potency will take a nosedive once that date arrives, it will be a gradual process.


Is It Safe to Take Expired Medications?


It’s helpful to know that most medications retain their potency even after they expire – but what about safety? These studies didn’t address the safety issue – only potency or how much of the active ingredients remained.


Remember, medications are usually a mixture of a variety of chemicals with different properties. Over time, chemical reactions can take place that create new compounds. How stable medications are and how resistant they are to reacting with each other depends on the particular medication, the length of time that’s passed as well as exposure to light, humidity, temperature extremes, and air.


If you store medications in an area where they’re exposed to light or heat, they’re more likely to react with each other and potentially form unhealthy compounds. That’s why many medications and supplements come in dark bottles that minimize exposure to light.


Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

4 thoughts on “Is Taking Expired Medication and Supplements Safe?

  • April 28, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Enjoyed the article regarding medicine expiration dates. Keep up the good work. I appreciate this extra service that you are providing to your patients. Thanks for including it in this week’s email. Greg.

    • April 29, 2016 at 1:50 am

      Greg, glad you enjoyed the article. We’ll keep them coming. 🙂

  • May 2, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    I came across your blog posts by accident one day. Thank you for the time to do this. They are very informative and have caused my wife and I to re-look at some of the items we have been eating and supplements we have been taking.

    Keep it up.

    • May 11, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Tim, sorry to be so slow responding. It’s comments like yours that make what we’re doing worthwhile. Thank you for reading. 🙂

Comments are closed.

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