Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
Searching for reliable information about dietary supplements and don’t know where to go? Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has answers for you. OPSS has a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)” section with subcategories about general and miscellaneous topics, dietary supplement ingredients, performance, and weight loss. Or if you’re an educator and need some videos or short PSAs, click on “Tools for Warfighters,” and then search the “Video” tab. We also have materials that can be printed for distribution or ordered through the USAPHC Health Information Products e-catalog.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for while in OPSS? Use our Ask the Expert button located on the OPSS home page.
Dietary supplements and medications (prescription or over-the-counter) can be a dangerous combination. Many dietary supplement ingredients, especially herbs and botanicals, can interact with drugs or even other dietary supplements, which can either increase or decrease the effectiveness of your medications. In other words, you could be getting too much or too little of the medications that you need, putting your health at risk.
If you are taking or plan on taking a dietary supplement, inform your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe to use with your medications. Even then, you should still take caution, as some dietary supplements contain ingredients not listed on the label.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to be aware of certain supplement/drug interactions and offers tips to stay safe. For more information, see the FDA’s Consumer Update. And for information about many known interactions, visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD).
Conventional foods and dietary supplements follow different rules when it comes to labeling, but the difference between the two isn’t always black and white. Such is the case with protein powders. If you look closely at various protein powders, you may notice that some are labeled with Nutrition Facts (required for foods), while others have Supplement Facts (required for supplements). So are protein powders conventional foods or dietary supplements? Read more in our OPSS FAQ on protein powder labels.
For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety FAQs.
If you suffer from concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), don’t be tempted to turn to dietary supplements to help you get back on the field. Several dietary supplement manufacturers have promoted products to help with recovery from concussions and TBIs, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these claims. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is monitoring this issue and contacting specific companies making claims that their products can prevent, treat, or cure concussions.
FDA warns consumers to avoid using products that claim to prevent or treat a concussion or TBI. For more information about these claims and FDA’s response, see this Consumer Update.
Stimulants can be dangerous to your health, especially in large quantities, but they’re what give energy drinks their “punch.” You may already know caffeine is a major stimulant found in energy drinks. But do you know that energy drinks often contain other stimulants? These can include “hidden sources” of caffeine (such as guarana, green coffee bean, green tea, and yerba mate), yohimbe, and synephrine (bitter orange).
Many energy drinks, however, aren’t labeled with the amounts of caffeine or other stimulants in them. Some or all of these ingredients are often part of “proprietary blends,” so it’s impossible to determine from the label the exact amount of each ingredient you would be taking. Furthermore, energy drinks might be mislabeled or marketed as sports drinks, causing even more confusion.
Remember, stimulants come in many different forms, so Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) put together a list of stimulants found in dietary supplements to help you identify these potentially harmful ingredients. And to help you understand what’s in your energy drink, check out the OPSS infosheet on energy drink labels, which includes helpful notes about ingredients.
Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are marketed to maximize your performance by giving you extra energy and enhancing your focus during workouts so you can train longer and harder. But these supplements don’t contain any nitric oxide, which is a gas. So what’s really in them, and do they work? More important, are they safe to use? Find out in our OPSS FAQ on nitric oxide supplements.
Service members should be careful about taking dietary supplements because many of these products contain hidden active ingredients that can result in harmful effects.
The most common types of dietary supplements found to contain “undeclared” ingredients (that is, substances not listed on the label) are those marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified over 600 tainted dietary supplements. FDA specifically warns against the use of products that claim to be “alternatives” to FDA-approved drugs or “legal” alternatives to anabolic steroids.
Dietary supplements don’t require approval by FDA before being put on the market, and without laboratory testing there is no way to know the contents of a product. If you’re considering a dietary supplement, be sure to check the label to see if the product has been evaluated by an independent third-party organization.
For more information, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), including the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List.
An “adverse event” can occur as a result of taking some dietary supplements. Learn how to identify an adverse event from the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ, and find out where you can go to report one. And for healthcare providers, HPRC has a helpful video, “How to probe for dietary supplement use and report adverse events.” (Click on the “Video” tab to access the link.) Documenting adverse events is an essential part of how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates potentially dangerous dietary supplements, so it’s very important to report potential problems.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates can be essential to performance by replenishing what is lost during activity, mostly through sweat. For activities less than 60 minutes, water is the best drink to replace lost fluids. If your exercise session or mission exceeds 60 minutes, then sports drinks can be helpful. Follow HPRC’s guidelines for maintaining important nutrients such as fluid, carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium during activity to keep well hydrated and on top of your game. Read more here.
High-risk dietary supplements are those that may present serious health risks. Many have been found to contain undeclared drug ingredients, steroids, steroid-like ingredients, and/or stimulants, which can have negative and dangerous side effects. Products most commonly “tainted” in this way are those marketed for bodybuilding, performance enhancement, weight loss, sexual enhancement, and diabetes. Such products may also result in a positive drug test. For more information, read FDA’s Consumer Update “Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements.” For more information about urinalysis and drug testing, read HPRC’s “Dietary supplements and drug testing."
In addition, you can visit the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List for information about certain dietary supplements that may pose a health or sport anti-doping risk.
For more Frequently Asked Questions about dietary supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.