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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.

What’s in your energy drink?

Learn how to spot potentially problematic ingredients in energy drinks.

Do you really know what’s in your energy drink? HPRC put together a new resource that points out some common ingredients found in energy drinks. Our ingredient label includes some hidden sources of caffeine and other ingredients that can have stimulant effects on your body. It also highlights other information that you might see on a label, including warnings. So check out the energy drinks infosheet, and then go to Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) for more information about how to choose dietary supplements safely.

Energy Drink Can [JPG]

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.

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.

Dinner in a pill?

It would be great if you could meet all your nutritional needs just by popping a pill. Or would it?

In a 1960s TV cartoon series, George Jetson of The Jetsons simply popped a pill when he wanted to eat. “Dinner in a pill” was promised as the food of the future. So why hasn’t technology delivered on its promise? Simply put, no dietary supplement can reproduce the aromas, flavors, textures, or nutritional value of oven-roasted turkey, crusty, fresh-baked bread, juicy ripe pineapple, fragrant hot tea, or any other wholesome, delicious, performance-enhancing real food or beverage. And substituting dietary supplements for real food won’t help performance either – check out our video here. So skip supplements—not meals. To learn more about how real foods should come before dietary supplements, check out HPRC’s article in Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS).

Can I take weight-loss prescription medications?

What are the service-specific policies on weight-loss prescription medications? Read more to find out.

Weight-loss (diet) prescription medications are generally not permitted, but it’s important to check your service’s policy for specific conditions that may exist. Read this OPSS FAQ to find out more details, including links to specific policies. Also, be sure to check the OPSS site often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

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

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.

DoD’s DMAA report

The DoD Safety Review Panel has completed its review of DMAA, and the report is now available on HPRC’s website. The result is that DMAA-containing products will no longer be sold on military installations.

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.

FDA warning: Illegal diabetes products

FDA has cracked down on misleading claims and warns consumers about potentially harmful products marketed to prevent or treat diabetes.


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.

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