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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
Food and health are hot topics these days. Just turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, or glance at the margins of your social networking site and you’ll hear and read about the supposed health benefits of dietary supplements containing this or that food component and the promises that they will “burn belly fat” or some similar claim.
Many of these promising food components belong to a group of compounds referred to as phytochemicals—chemicals produced by plants as a means of protecting the plants from various diseases.
Interestingly, when you eat plants (such as fruits and vegetables), the phytochemicals they contain might protect you from disease too. Researchers have found that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. Scientists haven’t discovered exactly how these compounds work to protect us, but they have discovered that they seem to have a synergistic effect. That is, the compounds seem to work better in combination, especially when they are supplied in their natural form—whole foods. Consuming isolated single compounds, as in dietary supplements, rarely has the same beneficial effect as eating the whole food. See these resources about fruits and vegetables and how they may impact your overall health.
Focusing on single nutrients (in pill form) is not only expensive, it just doesn’t offer the promise that a balanced, varied diet can. Focus on food, instead. For more information about the benefits of food versus dietary supplements, check out this OPSS brochure, “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness.”
Sports products and dietary supplements are often discussed on social media, but think twice before taking other’s word for it. A recent article in the British Medical Journal notes that claims and endorsements made on social media such as Facebook & Twitter are not regulated and may promote statements that have not been supported by science. Some red flags noted include:
- Paid endorsers. Do you know that some comments and images about a product can come from people (celebrities and non-celebrities) paid by companies to post great reviews about their products? Be careful that such claims may be coming from a paid sponsor and may exaggerate their results from a product.
- Endorsed hashtags. The hashtag such as “#ad” is a disclosure recommended by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to indicate that a social media post is coming from someone being paid (or otherwise reimbursed) by the company of the product they are endorsing. If such a hashtag appears in a social media post, then you know that it is sponsored and may be biased. (For more about FTC’s new endorsement guidelines, visit their FAQs web page.)
- Biased research. Assessing the science behind claims is the best way to evaluate a product. However, a common practice is that companies cite their own labs and research. When it comes to dietary supplements, it’s best to get information about products from unbiased, evidence-based organizations such as Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, United States Pharmacopeias (USP), or NSF International.
- Unbalanced comments. When you scroll through a product’s social media page, do you find that all the reviews are positive? On platforms such as Facebook, companies have the ability to delete comments. A transparent company usually addresses negative comments and provides support to establish its position.
Look for these and other red flags when it comes to dietary supplements and their advertising. If you have a question about a particular sports product or dietary supplement and can’t find the answer on HPRC’s website, please use our “Ask The Expert” button located on the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) home page.
The Human Performance Resource Center is here to serve Warfighters and their families, commanders, and healthcare providers. If you’ve visited before, you probably know that we focus on “total force fitness.” But do you really know what that means—or how HPRC got started? If you’re curious, check out this PDF that describes HPRC, what we do, and the vast amount of information we cover. In addition, you may have noticed that we use the term “human performance optimization” throughout our site; this article also explains what that means.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Safety Review Panel published their findings on DMAA in a recent report now available through HPRC. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs asked the Safety Review Panel to evaluate the safety of DMAA-containing dietary supplement products. The Panel has recommended that the sale of DMAA-containing products be prohibited in all military exchanges.
HPRC maintains a list of dietary supplement products containing DMAA and periodically updates this list. The most recent version can be found on HPRC’s website. Note that, as of the FDA announcement in April 2013, DMAA is illegal in the U.S. as an ingredient in dietary supplements. For more information, visit the OPSS FAQ about DMAA. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) can provide service members and their families with information to make informed decisions about dietary supplement use. For the full DoD Safety Review Panel report, see the link on HPRC's Dietary Supplements web page.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to 15 companies regarding illegally marketed diabetes products that are in violation of federal law. These products are either dietary supplement products or unapproved prescription drugs with claims that they “prevent and treat diabetes” and “can replace medicine in the treatment of diabetes.”
FDA is warning consumers to stop using these products since they may harmful, and their use may interfere with receiving the necessary medical treatment for diabetes. More information is provided in FDA’s “Illegally Sold Diabetes Treatments,” which includes the news release, warning letters issued, and a consumer update.
The dietary supplement and fitness industries are filled with sport drinks, powders, bars, pills, gels, footwear, clothing, and an array of devices all claiming to provide you with a competitive advantage, whether it be improved performance or enhanced recovery. With the ever-growing popularity of team and individual sports, professional and recreational athletes of all ages are an easy target for these claims. But how many of these claims are backed by evidence-based research?
A recent report now reviews the quality of evidence behind the claims of improved sports performance made by advertisers for a wide range of sports-related products, including sport drinks, supplements, footwear, and clothing. The team identified 431 performance-enhancing claims for 104 products advertised in more than 100 general, sport, and fitness magazines in the UK and U.S. for a single month in 2012. They found that more than half of the advertisements and their associated websites provided no evidence to support the claims of enhanced sports performance. Only 146 references were found, and only 74 of these met basic criteria for research quality and almost all of the 74 were found likely to be biased or lacking scientific objectivity. Only three studies were rated as “high” quality and probably unbiased. Such lack of evidence makes it very difficult for consumers to make well-informed decisions about using performance-enhancing sports products.
This review makes it clear that many of the claims made for sports and fitness products lack reliable evidence to support them and that more and better studies are needed to help inform consumers. In the meantime, consumers should be cautious when reading claims of enhanced performance and recovery and always remember that “true” evidence-based results mean that a substantial number of independent research studies have been performed, with findings that clearly support the claims made by advertisers. Presently, there is still no substitute for sound physical conditioning and nutrition practices.
For more information on dietary supplements and how to choose supplements safely, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS). For information on physical fitness and conditioning, please explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain. The original British Medical Journal open-access article is available online.
Tribulus terrestris is used as an ingredient in some dietary supplement products marketed as testosterone “boosters” and/or to enhance muscle strength. What is it and does it work? Read this OPSS FAQ about Tribulus terrestris to find out. Also, be sure to check the OPSS section often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements. OPSS can help you learn how to choose supplements safely.
If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, and you can’t find the answer on our website, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
Operation Live Well is a new wellness campaign by the Department of Defense that aims to make healthy living the easy choice and the norm for service members, retirees, DoD civilians, and their families. They point out resources for how to eat better, stay physically active, quit or avoid tobacco, and stay mentally fit. The educational, outreach, and behavior-change initiatives provide tools and resources to help you learn about healthy lifestyles. You’ll also be able to develop your own personalized health plan via the Operation Live Well website soon.
A second part of Operation Live Well is their Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), which aims to help the defense community reach or maintain a healthy weight and avoid tobacco use. Scheduled for launch during the summer of 2013 at 13 military installations and DoD sites worldwide, HBI will offer a range of installation-tailored, health-related programs that will be measured for their effectiveness. The programs that are most successful will eventually be expanded to other installations.
For more information on Operation Live Well, visit militaryonesource.mil/olw.
Cheeba Chews are marketed as chocolate taffy, but they actually contain an illegal substance. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ to find out more about these products and whether they are legal for members of the military community to consume. Be sure to check back often as we add answers to other questions and topics in the OPSS section of HPRC’s website.
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.