Here we go again! That was my first thought when I saw the recent newspaper headlines that vitamins are rendered ‘useless’ in as little as a week after opening the containers they’re stored in.
One thing’s for certain – sensational headlines sell papers. There’s nothing the media loves more than damning reports about dietary supplements, most frequently in the form of flawed studies or other junk science intended to ‘debunk’ or scare you about them.
So what has prompted the outlandish claims this time?
They’re based on the findings of research carried out by Dr. Lisa Mauer, an associate professor of food science at the Purdue University, Indiana in the US, which suggest that the high humidity present in bathrooms and kitchens is degrading the vitamins and nutritional supplements stored in those rooms.
If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen (and bathroom!)
According to Dr. Mauer:
“If you get some moisture present or ingredients dissolve, they’ll decrease the quality and shelf life of the product and decrease the nutrient delivery… You can get complete loss of the ingredients. It depends on the conditions. It depends on the formulations. Within a very short time – in a week – you can get complete loss of vitamin C in some products that have deliquesced.”
Crystalline substances – including vitamin C, some forms of vitamin B and other dietary supplements – are prone to an irreversible process called deliquescence [becoming liquid, especially by absorbing moisture from the air].
Bathrooms and kitchens can trigger this process because of spikes in humidity in these rooms. And, according to Dr. Mauer storing vitamins or supplements in containers with their lids tightly on doesn’t always help.
“Opening and closing a package will change the atmosphere in it. If you open and close a package in a bathroom, you add a little bit of humidity and moisture each time”, Dr. Mauer said. “The humidity in your kitchen or bathroom can cycle up quite high, depending on how long of a shower you take, for example, and can get higher than 98 percent.”
A little bit of common sense goes a long way
The same of course applies to many substances. Take salt and sugar, for example, left outside in humid conditions they harden and lose their taste. Pharmaceutical drugs aren’t immune from such conditions either – that’s why their labels state that they should be stored in cool, dry conditions (as do the labels on nutritional supplements I hasten to add, certainly good quality ones).
Manufacturers of high quality vitamins and supplements give expiry dates and storage advice for their products with good reason… and they package their products in a certain way for the same reasons… they’ve tested the most favourable conditions in which their products have the best and longest shelf-life.
Follow these tips to protect your vitamins
Extremes of temperature and humidity can damage supplements (as they can pharmaceutical drugs). For this reason it makes sense to:
** Store your vitamins in a cool, dry place away from sunlight (in the fridge is fine)
** Avoid storing in bathroom cabinets or in areas where there could be spikes in temperature (near a stove or microwave for example).
** When buying supplements look for high-end products – especially those with capsules that are individually sealed in foil and plastic. You may pay a bit more but it’s worth every penny.
** Use your vitamins and supplements before their expiry date.
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“Vitamins in the kitchen or bathroom? Consider moving them” by Melanie Kaplan, published online 03.03.10, smartplanet.com
“Vitamins stored in bathrooms, kitchens may become less effective” published online 02.03.20, eurekalert.org
Vitamin pills ‘are useless within a week of opening’, published online 04.03.10, dailymail.co.uk