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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
It is estimated that more than 20,000 Americans go to an emergency room every year for reasons related to dietary supplements such as allergic reactions and adverse events, according to a government study. Adverse events can result from ingredients in dietary supplements themselves or from drug-supplement interactions and can have serious side effects. Among adults, common complaints include chest pain and increased heart rate and are often associated with weight-loss products, energy products, bodybuilding products, and sexual-enhancement products.
Before taking any dietary supplement, talk to your doctor and be an informed consumer. It can prevent a health scare and even could save your life! For more information, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), including the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List. And for more information about this study, read this article from MedlinePlus.
If you’re looking for ways to optimize your performance or perhaps drop some weight quickly, you may be tempted by the marketing hype and claims around green coffee beans, a dietary supplement ingredient often found in weight-loss products.
Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. They’re a source of caffeine, but they have become popular as a dietary supplement ingredient because they also contain a chemical called chlorogenic acid that supposedly offers some health benefits.
Some research suggests that chlorogenic acid might help with weight loss and prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, there’s limited evidence to support the use of dietary supplement products with green coffee beans for weight loss or other health conditions, so consumers should beware of health claims associated with this ingredient. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued a company for using unsupported weight-loss claims and fake news websites to market their green coffee extract dietary supplement. Read more in FTC’s Press Release.
Most energy drinks are now labeled with Nutrition Facts instead of Supplement Facts, but that doesn’t automatically make them safe. The most popular energy drinks contain about 80–120 mg of caffeine per serving (8 oz.)—about the same amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce coffee. Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When used appropriately, caffeine can boost mental and physical performance. But each energy drink can or bottle often contains more than one serving, making it easier to consume larger amounts of caffeine, especially if you drink more than one per day. Too much caffeine (>400 mg) can cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heart rate, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks commonly contain amino acids, vitamins, and plant-based ingredients such as guarana (which also contains caffeine) and ginseng. Although these ingredients are generally safe, there still isn’t enough reliable information about their long-term safety or how combinations of these ingredients might interact in the body.
If you drink energy drinks, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how much caffeine (from all sources) is in each can or bottle, and limit the number you drink each day.
- Avoid caffeinated foods, beverages, and medications while using energy drinks. You may be consuming more caffeine than you realize.
- Don’t mistake energy drinks for sports drinks. Unlike energy drinks, sports drinks are designed to fuel and hydrate you during long workouts.
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication but still leave you impaired.
- Find other ways to energize yourself. It’s best to get the sleep your body needs, but you can try other ways to stay alert, such as exercising or listening to upbeat music.
Many people take dietary supplements and medications together as a part of their daily health regimen, but few are aware of the potential for harmful interactions between prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements. To help you learn more about these types of interactions, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) created an interactive web resource that includes information about how supplements can change the effectiveness of your medications and how to work with your healthcare provide to make sure you’re taking them together safely. And for more information, please read HPRC’s Supplements and medications – What’s the problem?
SARMs, or “selective androgen receptor modulators,” are experimental drugs that are illegal for use in dietary supplement products, but they still can be found in stores and on the Internet. SARMs are most often found in products advertised to have effects similar to those of anabolic steroids.
Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about SARMs to learn more, including the ingredient names used for SARMs that may appear on dietary supplement labels. And remember: FDA does not approve dietary supplements prior to marketing. For more information on FDA’s role with regard to dietary supplements, visit FDA Basics.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a major chemical found in marijuana that may have beneficial effects on certain health conditions, but it’s still being tested as a new drug. However, FDA recently announced that products containing CBD cannot be sold as dietary supplements.
Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ for more information, which also includes a link to the OPSS FAQ on hemp. While you’re there, check out our other OPSS FAQs. Still can’t find the answer you’re looking for? Use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
DMAA has been illegal as a dietary supplement ingredient for more than 2 years, but products containing this substance continue to be available. Many are still being produced (or produced again), and some are even new. That means it’s very important to read dietary supplement product labels carefully to make sure yours doesn’t contain this potentially dangerous ingredient. Not only could it be dangerous to your health, it could also be dangerous to your military career. DoD follows federal policy with regard to the use and possession of substances and products considered illegal.
Keep in mind, though, that pre-workout, weight loss, and other performance dietary supplements without DMAA also may not be safe for your health. In fact, FDA has already declared two DMAA “replacement” ingredients unsuitable for use in dietary supplements: DMBA and BMPEA. For more information, please visit these Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs:
- Is DMBA the same thing as DMAA? Why were these products pulled from stores on military base?
- What is BMPEA and why has FDA issued a warning about it?
- Has DMAA been banned for use by military personnel?
And please visit the newest update of “Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA,” which lists DMAA-containing products past and present.
It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.
Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:
- consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
- avoid energy drinks altogether.
However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.
Whole foods, not dietary supplements, should be your first choice for protein. Protein supports muscle growth and repair. People often turn to protein supplements (such as whey, casein, and soy) to optimize those effects, especially after a workout. Whole food protein sources such as lean meats, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are just as effective (in some cases more effective) than protein supplements. Whey protein products can be an acceptable, convenient, and efficient way to deliver protein when your needs are greater or when normal dietary sources are not available. If you are using protein supplements, be sure to choose a product that has been third-party evaluated for its quality. Read more here.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is again warning about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine. At least 2 deaths (both teenagers) were associated with it in 2014, yet it continues to be sold, primarily in bulk online. FDA recently sent warning letters to 5 distributors of pure powdered caffeine, warning about potential serious health effects. FDA notes that it’s difficult to determine the difference between a safe amount and a toxic amount but that one teaspoon is roughly equivalent to 28 cups of coffee. For more information, read FDA’s update and HPRC’s 2014 article.