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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
March is National Nutrition Month, a good reminder to eat healthfully and choose the best foods to fuel our bodies. This year’s theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” which isn’t something we can often say about dietary supplements that come in the forms of pills and powders. If you’re looking for a supplement to lose weight, build muscle, or enhance your performance, HPRC always recommends choosing nutrient-rich foods first. They taste better and are better for you. Use the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) “Real Food” poster to see what foods can help you meet your goals.
If you’re still considering dietary supplements, be sure to visit OPSS where you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions, infosheets, videos, and other educational materials to help you make an informed decision. And remember to always talk to your doctor before taking any supplement.
Dietary supplements containing stimulants can negatively affect your heart and increase your risk of an adverse event. Stimulants such as caffeine, yohimbine, and synephrine can cause increased or irregular heart rate and high blood pressure and have been associated with chest pain, stroke, and heart attack. In addition, ingesting stimulants before or during exercise can further increase your risk for such heart problems and lead to potentially worse outcomes.
If you are considering a dietary supplement, it’s important to read the product label carefully, especially if you have a heart condition. There are many different stimulants used as ingredients in dietary supplements, and often products come with a warning. Moreover, stimulants are sometimes contained in a proprietary blend, so you can’t tell from the label exactly how much of each ingredient you would be taking.
Although DMAA is now illegal as a dietary supplement ingredient, some companies still offer products containing this substance. HPRC’s newest update of “Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA” lists those products still being offered on the Internet, as well as products that have disappeared from the market. Before you buy any dietary supplement, check this list and read the label to make sure it doesn’t contain this potentially dangerous ingredient. Based on federal policy, DoD considers such products illegal to use or possess. Don’t risk your health or your military career!
If a dietary supplement product contains something called a “new dietary ingredient,” manufacturers or distributors must notify the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before marketing any product that contains the ingredient. Aside from this, FDA doesn’t review or approve dietary supplements before they’re marketed. So what’s a “new dietary ingredient,” what makes it different from other ingredients, and what has to be done before one can be used in dietary supplements? Find out in the OPSS FAQ about new dietary ingredients.
Do you have more questions about other dietary supplement terms, regulations, or policies? Check out the other OPSS FAQs for some answers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us a question using our Ask the Expert feature.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development and function, but they also may help protect against damage from concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Several animal studies have shown that omega-3 supplements given before or after a traumatic event not only reduce the severity of damage in certain parts of the brain but also improve mental performance during recovery. Similar studies haven’t been conducted with humans yet, and although the results of these animal studies are promising, there isn’t enough current evidence to recommend taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements to reduce the risk of or assist in the recovery from concussions or TBIs. In addition, FDA has warned consumers to avoid using products marketed for these purposes. For more information, please read FDA’s Consumer Update.
Although omega-3 supplements haven’t been proven to help with TBIs, omega-3s are still important for your brain, heart, and overall health. It’s best to get your omega-3s from food, but if you choose to take supplements, do so under the supervision of your doctor. For more information on omega-3 supplements, please visit “Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth” from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. As such, they have become a popular food item, and you can also find chia (seeds and oil) in many dietary supplements marketed to support heart and digestive health. On its own, chia will not produce a positive drug test. However, when you look at ingredient lists on product labels, don’t confuse Salvia hispanica (chia) with Salvia divinorum (Diviner’s sage), which is banned by some services. There are many types of salvia, so please read the OPSS FAQ about salvia for more information. If you’re interested in learning more about chia seeds, visit this webpage from MedlinePlus.
HPRC has received a lot of questions about phentermine, a prescription drug used for weight loss that’s similar to amphetamine. If you’re a service member, is it okay to use as long as you have a prescription? Will you pop positive on your drug test? Read the OPSS FAQ to find out answers to these questions.
For answers to other frequently asked questions that we’ve received, visit the FAQs section of OPSS. You can also visit the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List for information about certain dietary supplements that may pose a sport anti-doping or health risk.
Trying to lose weight as your New Year’s resolution, meet body composition standards, or just be healthier? Weight-loss supplements might be a tempting solution, but before you take one, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it safe? Having a faster heart rate isn’t “normal” or a “good sign” that the supplement is working! Many weight-loss supplements contain plant-based ingredients and other stimulants that can have serious side effects such as chest pain, high blood pressure, and even heart attack. If you want to know about the safety of a specific product or ingredient, you can look it up in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
- Does it work? Unfortunately, just because a product seemed to work for your friend doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. There’s limited scientific evidence that weight-loss supplements alone help people lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off. Question the claims on the label, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do you know what’s in it? Many dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss have been found to contain hidden prescription drugs or compounds that haven’t been adequately studied in humans. Be sure to check the label to see if the product has been evaluated by an independent third-party organization.
If your goal is to lose weight this year, challenge yourself to do it the old-fashioned way with a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity. And be patient: Making changes to your lifestyle and body takes time, but you will see results.
For more information about weight-loss supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs about Weight Loss.
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.
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.