Spring cleaning is about more than donating clothes that no longer fit with your lifestyle or dusting the nooks and crannies you neglected all winter long. It’s also important to dedicate time to cleaning out your medicine cabinet, especially your supplements and over-the-counter medications. There’s more to this supplement unburdening than tossing expired items and opening up space on your shelves - here’s what to know while you’re dusting off those bottles:
Expired or No Longer Needed
It’s important to know why this process should be, at least, an annual household event. Supplements are an increasingly popular market and each one is advertised to improve our lives in some way. While there are supplements each of us do need to promote our overall health, we can fall prey to the power of great advertising and buy items we don’t need. Use this opportunity to remind yourself why you bought a particular supplement — at a doctor’s suggestion, a display in the store, an ad in the newspaper, or celebrity endorsement — and if you’re noticing a positive impact while taking it.
Once you’ve decided whether something is important to your daily health or simply an impulse purchase, it’s time to check the expiration dates. While expiration dates vary by company, generally speaking, you should always dispose of expired supplements — if one of the expired bottles is nearly full, even if it passes the “do I need this” test, you’ll be better off getting it off your shelf and getting a new bottle.
Capsules, Tablets, Synthetics, and Condition
A supplement’s benefits and expiration date are important; however, they’re not the only factors for safety and usefulness. Supplements can come as capsules, typically filled with a liquid or powder, and tablets, which are sold forms. Capsules are generally better protected and, for most, easier to absorb. But capsules can break and be tampered with, so part of your purge should include examining the integrity of encapsulated supplements. If a supplement bottle is broken or damaged by extreme temperatures or water, you cannot know for sure whether the contents are still safe to use and they should be discarded.
Another consideration is whether you’re taking the right form of a supplement. For instance, many vitamins used in the supplement industry are synthetic, such as B12 supplements with names that include “hydroxy” or “cyano” and for which natural forms may not be available. Some nutrients, such as Vitamin E supplements, are widely sold in both synthetic and natural forms. Synthetic Vitamin E is listed with names that begin with “DL,” or “dl” while natural Vitamin E ingredients are preceded by “d” or “D.” Research has shown that the human body can discriminate between natural and synthetic Vitamin E, and that natural Vitamin E is more bioavailable and retained longer in the body than synthetic Vitamin E.
Safely Restocking Your Supplements
Looking out for synthetic supplements and considering whether natural options are available is one thing to keep in mind while cleaning and, later, restocking your supplements. But the brand and where you buy your supplements are also important considerations. While the internet makes supplements more accessible, not every retailer is operating in good faith. For instance, some third-party retailers on Amazon may sell counterfeit products, which means their ingredients might vary and could even include harmful additives. Additionally, when searching online for a particular supplement, be careful about purchasing the first bottle that appears in the search results - oftentimes, you may be directed to a similar supplement that’s not exactly what you’re looking for. For example, if you’re searching for Ubiquinol, you may be directed to a website selling a conventional option, like CoQ10, which may not be the right form for you. While it may not always be the most convenient or cost-effective option, it’s safest to buy directly from reputable manufacturers or in-person at a retail store.
While weighing cost, you may also be confronted with buying in bulk versus smaller quantities. Bulk shopping is often a better deal in the immediate term, but consider all the bottles you just emptied into the trash bin. How many were more than half full? How many expired before you could finish them? If you take a supplement daily, buying a larger quantity probably won’t lead to waste. But things you only take occasionally (like seasonal allergy products) or are newly experimenting with should be bought in smaller quantities, such as one- to two-month supplies.