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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements

Can you spot a red flag?

Choose supplements safely. Learn how to spot red flags.

When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Dietary supplements are popular among military personnel, and it’s important to be able to spot the red flags—warning signs of potential problems—when considering a product. Read the OPSS FAQ on how to spot these red flags to help make an informed decision. And be sure to check back often for new FAQs.

Feeling funny? Report it!

You can take an active part in helping ensure dietary supplements are safe. Read about the importance of reporting adverse effects.

An important part of HPRC’s mission of fostering Warfighter resilience and optimizing Warfighter performance is informing you about the potential hazards associated with dietary supplements. But that’s a two-way street—we need your help too. An April 2014 article in The New England Journal of Medicine points out a major problem: Government agencies don’t get information about adverse effects of dietary supplements quickly enough from the public and healthcare professionals.

HPRC offers an easy way for you to directly report side effects you believe are associated with dietary supplements through the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD). Just go to our NMCD page and click on the icon for Natural Medicines Watch. You don’t even need an NMCD account; it’s free for everyone and easy to use. NMCD will make sure the information reaches FDA’s MedWatch.

Don’t hesitate to report something—you’ll be helping others avoid potentially serious health problems. Not sure about your symptoms? Read HPRC’s article about how to know if you’ve had an adverse event.

Revisiting DMAA

Products with DMAA are disappearing quickly since the April 2013 announcement by FDA that DMAA is illegal, but some are still available. Check our updated list to make sure you don't inadvertently buy them.

HPRC presents its shortest list to date of still-available Dietary Supplements/Products Containing DMAA! Since our last update in December 2013, 20 more products have been discontinued or reformulated to remove DMAA, and even more have disappeared from Internet retail sources altogether. Currently, we have found only 41 products (out of more than 200 once on the list) that still appear to be in manufacture, in many cases from non-U.S. sources.

Since its April 2013 announcement that DMAA is illegal as a dietary supplement ingredient, FDA has cracked down on manufacturers and suppliers in the U.S. As an example, an FDA News Release last November highlighted the seizure of more than $2 million in products from a single company. For more about DMAA from FDA, read their “DMAA in Dietary Supplements” web page.

Hemp products: Are they allowed?

Hemp is found in many food products, but what are the service policies on the use of these products?

There’s hemp turning up in yogurt, cereal, milk, and other food products these days. What is hemp, and what are the service policies on the use of these food products? Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ to find out. Be sure to check back often as we add answers to other questions and topics in the OPSS section of HPRC’s website.

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.

Air Force energy drinks guidance for downrange DFACs

Air Force guidance advises downrange DFACs to stop buying energy drinks, nutritional shakes and energy bars due to health concerns.

A new Air Force guidance, which will be go into effect in a few months, directs all downrange DFACS (dining facilities) to stop buying energy drinks, nutritional shakes, and energy bars. Air Force DFACs in the U.S. do not buy these products either. The new guidance is a result of health concerns from consuming energy drinks and these other products. Read the article in the Air Force Times for more information.

Choose Foods First!

National Nutrition Month reminds us to choose tasty, nutrient-rich food first before you consider a dietary supplement.

March is National Nutrition Month, and it reminds us about the importance of healthy eating. The theme this year is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” HPRC receives many questions that ask what the best supplements are for weight loss, bodybuilding, and enhancing performance. Our message is always the same: Focus on food first. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has educational resources to help spread this message, including our “Real Food” poster and “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness” brochure. Be sure to visit OPSS for infosheets, videos, and other educational materials for Warfighters, healthcare providers, and family members.

What’s the story with OxyELITE Pro?

Why has OxyELITE Pro been recalled? Read the OPSS FAQ to find out.

Two versions of OxyELITE Pro have been removed from the market in the past year. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ to find out why, and to get more information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have more questions about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

DMAA products dwindle

HPRC has again revised its list of DMAA-containing products, and most U.S. manufacturers and supplier have either eliminated such products or reformulated them to eliminate DMAA.

In April, FDA announced that the substance was illegal for use as an ingredient in dietary supplements, after which the number of products that contained it rapidly declined.

Only 19 products were added to the list over the past 12 months; none were actually new to the market, but just ones that came to our attention as other products with DMAA became unavailable. By comparison, 46 products were discontinued/reformulated, and 86 DMAA-containing products (or versions of products) appear to have disappeared completely from online retail availability. Only 61 products remain on the “active” list, and many of these are from non-U.S. sources; some still on the list may have eliminated (or are about to eliminate) DMAA, but their manufacturer/distributor websites are unclear as to their status.

HPRC will continue to update its list and report of “Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA,” with the most recent version dated  December 2014, but updates will appear less often than in the last two years.

Focus on food, not supplements

When it comes to nutritional value, dietary supplements just don’t measure up. Choose whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead to fuel your performance.

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.”

Social media “red flags”

You shouldn’t believe everything you read on social media, especially when it comes to dietary supplements and sports products.

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.

RSS Feed for Dietary Supplements