Taking any kind of expired medication is generally not recommended. However, when it comes to vitamin B12 injections specifically, there are some factors to consider before deciding if an expired dose is still safe or effective to use.
What happens when vitamin B12 expires?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it does not get stored in the body’s fat stores and any excess is flushed out in urine. So, in theory, there is little risk of vitamin B12 building up to toxic levels in the body. However, vitamin B12 injections contain more than just B12 – they also have preservatives and stabilizers to help maintain the quality and effectiveness of the active B12.
Over time, these other ingredients can break down and become less effective. The B12 itself can also degrade with exposure to light, air, or heat. So while an expired B12 shot likely won’t cause harm, it may not provide the full intended therapeutic benefit.
How long does vitamin B12 last?
The expiration date listed on vitamin B12 injections is typically 1-2 years from the manufacturing date. However, this is simply an estimate by the manufacturer for when the product is expected to maintain 100% stability and potency.
In reality, vitamin B12 has a very long shelf life, even longer than the expiry date in many cases. One study found that vitamin B12 retained over 90% of its potency for up to 6 years when properly stored.
With optimal storage conditions – away from heat, light, and moisture – vitamin B12 can last for many years past its printed expiration date before the quality degrades significantly.
Does expired B12 work as well?
While expired vitamin B12 may still retain some effectiveness, it likely won’t work quite as well as a fresh dose. The potency does diminish over time.
One study tested various expired B12 samples up to 8 years past their expiry date. The researchers found B12 maintained about 90% potency for up to 3 years post-expiration. At 4-5 years, it dropped to 80% strength. After 6+ years expired, the B12 potency was less than 60% of the original dose.
So while not completely ineffective, an expired B12 shot won’t pack quite as much of a punch as a freshly manufactured one. The dose you receive will be lower than intended.
Are there risks to using expired B12 injections?
There is minimal health risks associated with using expired vitamin B12 injections. Again, since B12 is water-soluble and does not accumulate, there are no concerns with toxicity. An expired shot may cause some mild injection site irritation, but otherwise is unlikely to cause harm.
However, you do run the risk of the B12 shot not being as clinically effective as expected. If you rely on the injections to correct a deficiency, using an expired one could mean your B12 levels remain insufficient. This raises the risk of developing or worsening related neurological symptoms.
While not directly dangerous, relying on degraded expired B12 shots to treat deficiency can put your health at risk indirectly if the desired therapeutic effect is not achieved. For this reason, it is not medically recommended.
How can you tell if B12 has expired?
If your vitamin B12 injections are past the labelled expiration date, they should be discarded. However, there are some visible signs that further indicate the B12 is likely too degraded to be effective:
- Discoloration of the solution – it should look clear pink/red, a brownish tint means oxidation
- Cloudiness in the liquid – it should look uniform
- Mold inside the packaging
- Visible particles, clumps, or crystals in the vial
- The solution separates in the vial and does not mix uniformly when shaken
If you notice any of these warning signs, the vitamin B12 is past its prime and should not be used.
Can expired B12 be toxic?
No, vitamin B12 does not become toxic when it expires. Since it is water soluble, there is no risk of B12 accumulating to dangerous levels in the body. At most, using significantly degraded B12 may cause minor reactions like redness or itching at the injection site.
Some preservatives or stabilizers in B12 shots could theoretically degrade into harmful substances. However, licensed injectables are rigorously tested for this risk. Health Canada and the FDA require safety studies proving the products will not form toxic compounds over time.
So while expired B12 won’t provide the full desired effect, it is generally not considered toxic or hazardous to health when used.
Can expired B12 shots be reused?
Pre-filled vitamin B12 injections are intended for single use. Once opened and injected, these should not be reused due to contamination risks. Even if some solution remains, it is not sterile once opened.
However, if you have unused expired vials of B12, they can be safely reused if sterilized. The vial tops can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. The expired B12 solution itself can either be boiled for 10 minutes and cooled, or passed through a 0.2 micron sterile filter.
This deletion process eliminates bacteria that may have entered the vial over time. Properly sterilized and filtered, unopened expired B12 vials can be safely used.
Who should not take expired B12?
Certain individuals should avoid using expired vitamin B12 even more than the average person:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women – Babies in utero rely on mother’s B12, so degraded doses may not meet needs for proper development.
- Infants and children – More vulnerable to effects of subpotent dosing.
- Elderly – May not absorb or utilize B12 as efficiently so need the full dose.
- Vegans or vegetarians – At higher risk for deficiency since their diets lack natural B12 sources.
- Patients with pernicious anemia – Have impaired ability to absorb B12 so require optimum injection doses.
- Neurological patients – Already at risk for neuro symptoms low B12 can cause or worsen.
These groups have higher B12 needs, so degraded expired doses are more likely to be ineffective for them. The risks outweigh any potential benefits.
Should you notify your doctor if you took an expired B12 injection?
If you took a vitamin B12 injection that you later realized was expired, it is a good idea to notify your healthcare provider.
Even though there is likely minimal health risk, your doctor will want to know in case you do not achieve the desired benefits from the degraded dose. They may advise you to re-take a fresh injection or have your B12 levels tested soon after to ensure they are not remaining insufficient.
Reporting use of an expired medication also gives the doctor insight into your response. If you do experience any unusual symptoms, they will know it may be related to the expired B12 rather than assume it is for another reason.
Transparency with your healthcare provider about expired B12 use allows them to best monitor your health and either adjust your treatment or provide reassurance that all is fine.
Can you take an expired B12 pill orally instead?
Some people consider taking expired B12 tablets or capsules by mouth instead of injecting the expired dose. However, this is not advised for several reasons:
- Oral absorption of B12 is already limited, using expired capsules reduces absorption even further.
- The expired solid dose may contain the same degraded B12 as injections.
- Oral doses contain fillers and binders that may also expire and be unsafe.
- High oral B12 doses can still cause side effects like discomfort, headaches, nausea.
Ultimately, expired vitamin B12 has reduced efficacy regardless of the administration method. It is better to properly dispose of expired B12 products and replace them with a fresh supply.
The bottom line
While vitamin B12 itself does not really expire, the other ingredients in injectable formulations can degrade over time reducing potency and effectiveness. Used infrequently, expired B12 injections are unlikely to cause harm.
However, those relying on the shots to treat deficiency could be left vulnerable if degraded doses do not restore their B12 status sufficiently. For this reason, it is best to avoid using vitamin B12 injections beyond the manufacturer’s printed expiration date.
Instead, expired vials or pre-filled syringes should be safely discarded and replaced with fresh B12 doses to ensure you get the full treatment benefit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take an expired vitamin B12 injection?
It is not recommended. While generally not dangerous, degraded expired B12 may not provide the full effective dose needed. Those relying on injections to correct deficiency could remain at risk if using expired B12.
How long does B12 last after the expiration date?
Studies show vitamin B12 retains around 90% potency for 3-4 years past expiry when properly stored. At 5-6 years expired, it drops to 60-80% strength. Effectiveness continues to decline further beyond 6 years.
Can expired B12 hurt you?
No, there is no safety risk with using expired B12. At worst, an injection may cause mild irritation or redness at the injection site if degraded. But the B12 itself does not become toxic or dangerous.
Should I take a lower dose of expired B12?
No, it is not recommended to take a lower dose of expired B12. Since the degraded potency is unknown, lowering the dose could in fact leave you with even less B12 than intended. It is better to avoid expired B12 altogether.
How can you rejuvenate expired B12?
There is no reliable way to rejuvenate or restore potency to expired vitamin B12. Methods like freezing, boiling, or filtering cannot reverse degradation that naturally occurs over time. Expired vials should be discarded and replaced.
While vitamin B12 has a low toxicity risk even when expired, degraded injections may not offer the full therapeutic effect needed especially for those treating deficiencies. It is best not to use vitamin B12 shots or oral supplements beyond their labelled expiration date. Instead, properly dispose of expired vials or tablets and replace them with a fresh supply.