A Guide to Understanding Supplements
Nithiyaraj Rajalingam from Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) and Regulatory Consultant at NVS Regulatory Services Sdn Bhd.
Does everyone need supplements? Some may just need to change their way of
While most people get their nutrients by eating a rainbow of foods, others may need some extra help to ensure that they have the necessary nutrients their body needs.
When would you consider buying supplements? What should you take into account when choosing? As much as the health benefits of a supplement is important, many fail to look into other important factors, such as the shelf life of the product, expiry dates or whether to consume it before or after food.
To shine some light on this matter, we reached out to a member of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), and Regulatory Consultant at NVS Regulatory Services Sdn Bhd, Nithiyaraj Rajalingam.
What is the average shelf life for supplements sold in pharmacies?
Commonly, in Malaysia, the average shelf life for most registered
health supplements is 24 months which is two years.
Do all supplements have the same shelf life?
All health supplements do not have the same shelf life. There are health
supplements with a lower shelf life of about 18 months (a year and a half year) such as probiotics. On the other hand, supplements with a higher shelf life of about 36 months (three years) are common among multivitamin products.
Is it safe to take supplements past their expiration dates?
Of course not! It is not recommended to take health supplements past the
expiration or after the ‘best before’ date.
Could you share the difference between shelf life and expiry date?
Shelf life is the total number of months the product is stable and can be sold or consumed from the date of manufacturing.
Expiry dates are dates that show the product has expired, therefore should not be sold or consumed. For example, a product has a shelf life of 24 months which was manufactured in October 2020. The expiry date would be September 2022. On the product label, only the manufacturing date and expiry date are usually printed.
"It is absolutely important to be aware of the expiration dates of all products as it can make a difference to whether the product is still effective, or if it will cause some unwelcome side effects!"
Why is it important for consumers to know the expiration dates of each product?
It is absolutely important to be aware of the expiration dates of all products as it can make a difference to whether the product is still effective, or if it will cause some unwelcome side effects!
What are the side effects of taking an expired supplement?
Sometimes, taking nutritional supplements past its expiration date may not be harmful to you, but more of the ineffectiveness of the product as it may not be as effective as it was during the shelf life (before the expiration/Best Before date). However, do take note that the side effects can vary between different products or individuals. But the most common side effects would be:
On top of an expiration date, some products have a limited lifespan after the seal or cap is opened. Should consumers be aware of this?
The lifespan of products is a mandatory label that has to be included in products by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. However, it's only applicable for certain products which have a higher degradation rate when exposed to environmental conditions once the seal or cap is opened.
Do look out for this information on the bottle or outer pack or pack insert (commonly stated as “Use within ___ days after first opening”. If the information is not stated on the label, then the product can be safely used until the expiration or ‘best before’ date once the seal or cap
"The lifespan of products is a mandatory label that has to be included in products by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. However, it's only applicable for certain products which have a higher degradation rate when exposed to environmental conditions once the seal or cap is opened."
What are the best ways to store supplements at home?
For products stating, ‘store below 30 celsius’, then it is best to store them in a cabinet that’s not facing the sunlight such as the bedroom cabinet and most importantly, out of children’s reach. These products can be stored at room temperature. Products that need to be stored in the refrigerator are often stated on the label as ‘store between two to eight celsius.’
What should consumers look into or know before purchasing supplements?
Some of the most important factors that consumers should look into before purchasing supplements for themselves or for others are:
Firstly, get advice from a healthcare professional on whether or not there is a need for you to purchase supplements.
Healthcare professionals will then advise you on the best type of health supplements (as there are a wide range of health supplements that are available in the market) that would suit you or the person you’re buying for based on health status.
Once your healthcare professional has shared their recommendation, consumers can visit their nearest pharmacies to check on the suggested products.
Consumers can get further information from the pharmacist to have a clear understanding on the benefits of the product and what’s the best way to consume and store them.
Apart from that, there are also other factors to look into that will help finalise the choice of brand before purchasing it. This include:
o Quantity in a pack
o Brand reputation
o Shelf life
o Availability in the local retail pharmacy stores
Lastly, is it advisable to take supplements without seeing a healthcare professional?
No, health supplement as the name suggests is to only supplement the health. It is to be taken when the body needs additional minerals, vitamins, or other nutrients to help the body stay healthy.
Do get advice from a healthcare professional before purchasing any health supplements as let it be from an online store or at a pharmacy. Sometimes, the body may not require any health supplements, instead a change in lifestyle and diet. Furthermore, some of these health supplements may have an unwanted interaction with the prescription drug (if any) that you might be consuming.