Fish oil supplements contain heart-healthy and inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. If you're having trouble fitting fish into your weekly meals or just want an extra boost, fish oil supplements can help. But when your fish oil supplements have expired, you may wonder if they are still safe and effective. The answer can depend upon a number of factors.
Upset Your Stomach
Taking fish oil can cause a number of stomach-related side effects, including belching, heartburn, nausea and loose stools. If your fish oil supplements have expired, it's possible they have become rancid. Over time, changes in light exposure and temperature can cause fish oil supplements to go bad. If your expired fish oil supplements smell bad or appear slightly discolored, do not take them. Taking rancid fish oil supplements can worsen stomach side effects and cause you to feel extremely sick.
Physicians recommend taking fish oil for a number of serious conditions. For example, they may suggest someone take the supplement after a heart attack or if someone has high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. When it comes to these serious conditions, taking an expired fish oil supplement can be harmful because the fish oil may be less effective. One of the reasons an expiration date is included on fish oil is that the date indicates when the supplement begins to decline in quality. Time, temperature, air and light can cause the fish oil to break down, making it less effective as a supplement. If you are relying on fish oil supplements to keep you healthy, taking an expired supplement can therefore have harmful effects.
Even if your fish oil supplements are in-date, they can still go bad if you store them improperly, which can lead to adverse side effects. Extra light can affect your fish oil safety. Whenever possible, purchase a supplement that is packaged in such a way that light cannot pass through it. Storing them in the refrigerator or freezer also may help keep the supplements fresh. Taking the supplements when they are cold also can minimize adverse stomach upset symptoms.
Supplement manufacturers often place a conservative expiration date on their supplements, according to Jigsaw Health. This is because they take factors like poor storage, time on a shelf, and time for the product to be shipped into consideration. This means in some instances, fish oil supplements can still be effective, though possibly less potent, after they have expired. Therefore, taking expired fish oil supplements is a "do-so-at-your-own-risk" decision. However, if the supplements are significantly past their expiration date -- such as one or more years -- your risk of experiencing adverse side effects is heightened.
- American Heart Association; Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids; 2011
- "Whole Living"; Is Fish Oil Safe?; April 2008
- The Blog of Michael R. Eades, M.D.; Oxidized Fish Oil; October 2005
- Jigsaw Health; My Supplements Have Expired. Now What Do I Do?; 2011
- Life-Enhancement; Supplement Expiration Dates: How Reliable Are They?; 2011
- MedlinePlus; Fish Oil; February 2011