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Filed under: Safety

Are you sold on your supplement?

Should you take advice from people selling dietary supplement products?

When it comes to the topic of dietary supplements, a good rule of thumb is not to believe everything you hear or read from someone trying to sell you a product. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) recently received Ask the Expert questions about products that were recommended by staff at stores, whether or not they were safe to take, and whether they would cause a positive result on a urinalysis test. In fact, two products were “high risk.”

If you’re considering a dietary supplement product, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first. Service dietitians can be another good resource to determine if you really need to supplement your diet. It’s important to know how to spot potential high-risk supplements. Find out too if there is reliable scientific evidence that the ingredients in a product actually work. For more information, OPSS has a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) section with subcategories about general and miscellaneous topics, dietary supplement ingredients, performance, and weight loss. Or, to watch some videos or short PSAs, click on “Tools for Warfighters,” and then the “Video” tab.

Expired sunscreen: Is it safe?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Check the expiration date on your bottle of sunscreen before heading outdoors for summer fun.

Take note: Your sunscreen—important for protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays—has an expiration date! Just as you wouldn’t expect to feel well after eating expired food, don’t rely on expired sunscreen to protect you from the sun.

Sunscreen can be effective for up to 3 years. After that, its active ingredients start to deteriorate, leaving you vulnerable to sunburn and sun damage. Ideally, you should use sunscreen often enough that your bottle doesn’t last through the summer. If that’s not the case, check the bottle you’re currently using. If it’s old, throw it out.

If you buy sunscreen with the expiration printed only on the box or wrapper, use a permanent marker to write the date somewhere on the bottle. And store it in a cool, dry place. Practice safe sun this summer to keep your family healthy and happy!

More “tainted” products

FDA continues to identify over-the-counter products, including dietary supplements, containing hidden active ingredients. Could yours be one of them?

Since July 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released over 25 Public Notifications about individual supplement products marketed for sexual enhancement and weight loss that contain hidden active ingredients. Through laboratory testing, these products were found to contain drugs and controlled substances—ingredients that pose health and readiness risks. For a list of these Public Notifications, visit FDA’s Tainted Sexual Enhancement Products and Tainted Weight Loss Products.

The most common types of products found to contain “undeclared” ingredients (that is, substances not listed on the label) are those marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding. Dietary supplements don’t require FDA approval before being put on the market, and there is no way to know the contents of a product without laboratory testing. So if you’re considering a dietary supplement, check the label to see if the product has been evaluated by an independent third-party organization.

Practice safe sun

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Exposure, Heat, Safety, Sun
Learn how to protect yourself from the summer sun while still enjoying time outdoors.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., but with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. The sun releases invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause cataracts (clouding of the eye lens) and skin cancers. An estimated 63,000 new cases and 9,000 reported deaths from melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—occur each year.

UV rays also cause tanning and sunburns—and can damage your skin after only 15 minutes of exposure. They weaken the skin’s elasticity, causing wrinkling, rash, and freckles too.

Remember that you can get sun damage on sunny and cloudy days. UV rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the sun’s harmful effects. The good news is that you can take steps to protect yourself from UV rays, while enjoying the outdoors.

  • Limit your time in the sun. Seek shade and try to avoid sun exposure during midday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when the rays are strongest. And avoid suntanning and burning.
  • Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Remember that protection decreases when clothes are wet.
  • Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or higher. Apply and let it absorb 15–30 minutes before heading outdoors. Use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips too. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. 
  • Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses to cover the skin around your eyes and help prevent eye damage. When choosing sunglasses, check the label to make sure they block 100% of UV rays. 

Protect yourself from health fraud

It’s National Consumer Protection Week, a reminder to always be an informed consumer of dietary supplements and other products.

March 6–12 marks National Consumer Protection Week, a campaign that encourages consumers to make informed decisions about the products and services they purchase and avoid getting caught in a scam. Dietary supplements are often marketed with claims that sound too good to be true, so be a savvy consumer and question claims such as “quick fix,” “miracle cure,” and “scientific breakthrough.” If you find a product you believe is falsely advertised/labeled or caused an adverse reaction, report it.

Visit the National Consumer Protection Week website to learn more about how to protect yourself from fraud, not just this week, but every day of the year. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) strives to provide the best resources and tools to help you choose supplements wisely. You’ll find even more information and consumer updates about dietary supplements from federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, and watch this video from Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

Stimulants in your supplement?

Do you know how to spot a stimulant and whether it’s a problem?

Stimulants are common (and potentially problematic) ingredients in dietary supplements such as pre-workout and weight-loss products. But do you know how to tell if your dietary supplement product actually contains a stimulant? OPSS has some answers. Check out the OPSS FAQs about why stimulants are a problem and how to identify them on labels, both of which link to our list of “Stimulants found in dietary supplements.”

And while you’re there, visit our other OPSS FAQs, where you’ll find information about specific stimulant ingredients such as DMAA, DMBA, BMPEA, yohimbe, and synephrine. We also have several FAQs about caffeine, probably the most common stimulant.

Chilling out with relaxation drinks?

Relaxation drinks seem like an appealing way to relieve stress, but some are not as harmless as they appear.

If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.

Is 5-HTP the key?

Can 5-HTP help with depression, appetite, and other conditions?

Your body makes 5-HTP, but it can also be made in a lab and used in dietary supplements. Products containing 5-HTP are marketed to help with a number of health conditions, including appetite control and depression. Do they work? Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on 5-HTP to find out.

Do you have other questions about dietary supplements that need answers? Then check out our other OPSS FAQs, where you’ll find information about performance products, weight-loss products, specific ingredients, and more. 

Unmasking high-altitude training

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Should you be using your Pro Mask for altitude training?

Using your military Pro Mask or other commercial mask device as a method of respiratory muscle training (RMT) isn’t going to prepare you for higher elevations. Increasing the strength of your respiratory muscles which help you breathe—your diaphragm and the muscles between your ribs—will improve aerobic fitness, especially for long-duration tasks.

RMT can be achieved through whole-body aerobic exercise, upper-body strength conditioning, and some commercial RMT devices. Studies show that RMT slightly improves performance in those who are already aerobically fit (e.g., military personnel). It offers somewhat more benefit for those less fit or with chronic conditions.

Your Pro Mask was made to protect your lungs, eyes, and face from chemical and biological agents, radioactive particles, and battlefield contaminants. It doesn’t create enough airflow resistance to help improve aerobic capacity. In addition, it wasn’t designed as exercise equipment. There is no scientific evidence that suggests using commercial masks at normal altitudes will improve your performance at high altitudes. Read more about the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s (USARIEM) review of Pro Masks and commercial products for exercise training. Check out HPRC’s take on using high-altitude masks and improving work performance at higher elevations.

Running safety

Filed under: Fitness, Running, Safety
Safety first! Check out some tips on how to stay safe while you’re out for a run.

Running is one of the simplest forms of exercise—just throw on your shoes and head out the door. But there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your run is safe too:

  • Carry identification. Bring some form of identification with you. There are various types of wristbands and shoe tags to provide emergency contact and medical information too.
  • Stay visible. Wear a headlamp and/or reflective gear so drivers can see you when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Make yourself visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Turn the music down. Music can be a great way to help you keep pace. But if your tunes are too loud, you may not be able to hear cars or people coming up behind you. Keep music at a volume low enough that you can hear what’s going on around you, or try wearing just one earpiece when you run.
  • Grab a buddy. Running with a friend is a great way to keep both of you motivated and accountable. But when you do run alone, let someone know and share your planned route.  
  • Use the crosswalk and follow crossing signs. Drivers tend to be more aware of pedestrians near crosswalks because in many areas pedestrians (runners included) have the right-of-way there. If you’re running where there is a crosswalk, use it.
  • Don’t assume a car will stop just because you’re in a crosswalk. Make sure the driver sees you, slows down, and allows you to safely cross the street.
  • Run against street traffic. Sometimes it’s easier to run on the shoulder or in a bike lane. Remember to run against traffic (normally the left side of the road) so you can see the cars and the drivers can see you.

Stay safe and happy running! 

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