Humidity, condensation could affect potency of supplements?

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday April 09 2014 in Opinion
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Which of the following places in your home is the worst to store your dietary supplements and meds: the bathroom? Kitchen? Refrigerator? Linen closet?


If you are like most of us who use nutritional supplements, you probably store them in your bathroom. For convenience sake, easy to remember to use. Well, every convenience has its concomitant inconvenience, and keeping these products in the convenient bathroom could be a challenge to their potency. Yet, where else in the home is there the possibility of having humidity and condensation occurring; the very factors which most degrade the potency of your supplements.


But first, what are nutritional supplements? In the Caribbean, our parents and grandparents would have used what we called ‘bush medicine’. There was always somebody around, sometimes an old man, more often a woman, who knew what to give you for measles, or for worms, or even if ‘yuh was behavin’ bad’, and needed a bush bath.


For example, shark oil was good if you had a bad fall … if only because the smell and taste of shark oil, unrefrigerated, would kill ‘deader than the fall’. Also, in Trinidad and elsewhere, we were familiar with local bush treatments using plants like the ‘shadow bene’. Also called, Chadon Bennie – creole patois for ‘Blessed Herb’, its Latin name is, Eryngium Foetidum.


Herbs like this would have been our first introduction to supplements, plants used to reinforce and replenish our health against colds, worms, etc. This plant my grandmother used when she thought her blood pressure was too high. She would pick a few leaves–they looked much like dandelions, but grew with their leaves close to the ground and, when crushed for use, had a pungency you could smell all over the house.


Today, Shadow Bennie is used as flavouring in the most expensive restaurants en Paris! Today, too, such supplements are no longer the business of locals practising medicines passed down word of mouth. The nutritional supplement industry is the largest growing, both globally and nationally. And it is expected to grow exponentially since it is fueled by the Baby Boomer generation, a population that is beset by the fears of aging, and keen on remaining in good health. For them, life is not to be experienced while dying more slowly, but about living longer and living well.


In short, supplements are here to stay, for good and/or ill.


It is in this vein that these articles are geared to a better understanding of ourselves as parents, grandparents and youth, since these fears and desires and, as well, attempts to meet them, affect our communities as they do others, and affect us in our homes both here in Canada and where ‘our navel strings are buried’.


What then are some factors which can affect your use of these products to your benefit and while avoiding the risks?


Proper storage is one of these factors, and especially because of the ever-present challenges of humidity and condensation. And what are these?


Wherever you are, the air is either moist or dry; warm or cold. Humidity is determined by the amount of moisture in the air. Invisible, we can feel its damp effects as we perspire on a warm summer’s day, indoors, no AC, and with no breeze blowing. As you know, this occurs because the air, already saturated with moisture is unable to absorb any more from around us and from on our skin. And we sweat.


However, in winter, when the air can sometimes become very dry, we have to moisten our lips or they would crack, painfully, for lack of moisture. Condensation can also occur in summer and in winter. In the latter, it is the nuisance of the moisture that forms on the windshield, and which we remove by blowing warm air on it. Without this warm air, the moisture will condense, and even freeze, making it difficult to see outside.


Exposure, too, of a product like supplements has these effects of either drying out or moistening. Such exposures can create conditions suitable for the growth of moulds. Such exposures, too, to different humidities can create what is called a ‘micro moisture equilibrium curve’. Such exposures to moisture occur each time you open and close the lid on a supplement container, allowing air to seep in.


Air seeping in further leads to increased exposures to oxidation, a process that can degrade the product’s potency. Examples of the degrading oxidative effects are seen when slicing a banana and leaving it exposed to air. Such exposure and oxidation, causes it to degrade, changing colour. Another example of the degrading effects of oxidation is seen in the rusting of an exposed piece of iron to oxidation and moisture. At our body’s cellular level, the oxidative process causes similar degradations, resulting in problems associated with illness and ageing.


If you purchase these products in bulk, it is advisable that you transfer smaller portions to one container for daily use, thus leaving the larger quantities less affected by oxidative and other processes degrading its potency.


Of note, too, is that some supplements, for example vitamins, are water-soluble; others oil-soluble: one is absorbed in water; and the others stored in our fat tissues. In short, the heat and moisture in bathrooms can therefore affect your supplements, as well as other medications, negatively.


But are the kitchen cupboards more supplement friendly? Dr. Richard P. Penna, a spokesperson for the American Pharmaceutical Association, suggests that, ‘There is (sic) usually a lot of moisture and vaporized fats in the kitchen that tend to collect on the tablets or capsules. What most people choose (instead) is the linen closet’.


At least, in there, foods like crackers might not go so quickly soft from oxidation as they would … in the bathroom. Ew!


To further counteract these twin challenges of humidity and condensation affecting your supplements, also check the containers. Are they marked, ‘absorbent tolerant’? And are the contents becoming discoloured?


In closing, based on the contents of your supplement, different storage sites and conditions might apply. There are, however, some conditions which apply across the board. Nutritional supplements should be kept in containers that are tightly sealed, and also kept from exposure to the light. Some oils, however, degrade from oxidation at room temperature. Therefore, temperature-sensitive supplements after being opened may also require more specialized storage sites: e.g., the fridge.


TO BE CONTINUED. Part 2, How does your supplement define Potency?

Contact Lennox at

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