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Filed under: Supplements

What’s in your supplement safety tool belt?

Filed under: OPSS, Supplements
Not all supplements are dangerous, but are you equipped with the tools to help you determine which ones are?

In the sea of dietary supplements, can you tell which ones are safe to take and which to avoid? Do you often find yourself confused, wondering what you should be looking for in a product? Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has you covered. Here are just some of the tools that OPSS provides to help you choose supplements wisely:

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). HPRC receives hundreds of questions every year, and we’ve put answers to the most frequently asked questions in this section of OPSS. You’ll find information about banned substances in the military, hot-topic dietary supplement ingredients, and more.
  • OPSS Scorecard. The scorecard consists of just 7 questions to show you what to look for on a product label and help you determine if a product is okay or a “no-go.”
  • OPSS High-Risk Supplement List. With HRSL, you can see if a certain dietary supplement product might pose a health or sport anti-doping risk.
  • Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. NMCD, a partner of HPRC, provides information about the safety and effectiveness of thousands of dietary supplement products and ingredients. And best of all, it’s free to all DoD personnel with a “.mil” email address.

The goal of OPSS is to provide you with the most reliable and relevant information about dietary supplements, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us a question using our Ask the Expert feature.

Imported supplement scams

Filed under: OPSS, Supplements
Products labeled as “natural” aren’t always what they seem.

If you buy dietary supplements at international stores, gas stations, or online, watch out. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers about imported dietary supplements and nonprescription drug products, specifically those marketed as “natural.” Just because a product is labeled as “natural” does not necessarily make it safe or effective. In fact, many “natural” products have been found to contain undisclosed chemicals or drugs that can be harmful, and it’s possible that some products contain hidden ingredients that could make you pop hot on a drug test. To learn more, please read FDA’s “Some Imported Dietary Supplements…” Only have a minute? Watch their 60-second video below.

The only way to know if a product actually contains the ingredients listed on the label (and nothing else) is by testing it in a laboratory. Before you buy a dietary supplement, check the label to see if it’s been tested by a third-party organization.

Nootropics on your mind?

If you’re looking for cognitive enhancers or “smart drugs,” you may want to think twice.

Many dietary supplement products are marketed as nootropics—substances intended to improve memory, focus, and overall mental performance. While some products contain vitamins, minerals, and plant-based ingredients, others contain drugs that are not legal dietary supplement ingredients. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about nootropics to learn more about these products and whether they are safe and effective.

Not all ingredients found in dietary supplements are legal, so read product labels carefully. For more information, visit FDA’s Dietary Supplement Products & Ingredients.

Protect yourself from health fraud

It’s National Consumer Protection Week, a reminder to always be an informed consumer of dietary supplements and other products.

March 6–12 marks National Consumer Protection Week, a campaign that encourages consumers to make informed decisions about the products and services they purchase and avoid getting caught in a scam. Dietary supplements are often marketed with claims that sound too good to be true, so be a savvy consumer and question claims such as “quick fix,” “miracle cure,” and “scientific breakthrough.” If you find a product you believe is falsely advertised/labeled or caused an adverse reaction, report it.

Visit the National Consumer Protection Week website to learn more about how to protect yourself from fraud, not just this week, but every day of the year. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) strives to provide the best resources and tools to help you choose supplements wisely. You’ll find even more information and consumer updates about dietary supplements from federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, and watch this video from Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

Put aside the pills and powders

Think you need that dietary supplement? Think again. National Nutrition Month reminds us to choose real foods first.

March is National Nutrition Month, a good reminder to eat healthfully and choose the best foods to fuel our bodies. This year’s theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” which isn’t something we can often say about dietary supplements that come in the forms of pills and powders. If you’re looking for a supplement to lose weight, build muscle, or enhance your performance, HPRC always recommends choosing nutrient-rich foods first. They taste better and are better for you. Use the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) “Real Food” poster to see what foods can help you meet your goals.

If you’re still considering dietary supplements, be sure to visit OPSS where you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions, infosheets, videos, and other educational materials to help you make an informed decision. And remember to always talk to your doctor before taking any supplement.

Stimulants—Give your heart a break

Know what’s in your dietary supplement, and if it could affect your heart.

Dietary supplements containing stimulants can negatively affect your heart and increase your risk of an adverse event. Stimulants such as caffeine, yohimbine, and synephrine can cause increased or irregular heart rate and high blood pressure and have been associated with chest pain, stroke, and heart attack. In addition, ingesting stimulants before or during exercise can further increase your risk for such heart problems and lead to potentially worse outcomes.

If you are considering a dietary supplement, it’s important to read the product label carefully, especially if you have a heart condition. There are many different stimulants used as ingredients in dietary supplements, and often products come with a warning. Moreover, stimulants are sometimes contained in a proprietary blend, so you can’t tell from the label exactly how much of each ingredient you would be taking. 

What’s a “new dietary ingredient”?

Some dietary supplements can contain at least one “new dietary ingredient.” If you haven’t heard this term before, you’re not alone.

If a dietary supplement product contains something called a “new dietary ingredient,” manufacturers or distributors must notify the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before marketing any product that contains the ingredient. Aside from this, FDA doesn’t review or approve dietary supplements before they’re marketed. So what’s a “new dietary ingredient,” what makes it different from other ingredients, and what has to be done before one can be used in dietary supplements? Find out in the OPSS FAQ about new dietary ingredients.

Do you have more questions about other dietary supplement terms, regulations, or policies? Check out the other OPSS FAQs for some answers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us a question using our Ask the Expert feature.

Stimulants in your supplement?

Do you know how to spot a stimulant and whether it’s a problem?

Stimulants are common (and potentially problematic) ingredients in dietary supplements such as pre-workout and weight-loss products. But do you know how to tell if your dietary supplement product actually contains a stimulant? OPSS has some answers. Check out the OPSS FAQs about why stimulants are a problem and how to identify them on labels, both of which link to our list of “Stimulants found in dietary supplements.”

And while you’re there, visit our other OPSS FAQs, where you’ll find information about specific stimulant ingredients such as DMAA, DMBA, BMPEA, yohimbe, and synephrine. We also have several FAQs about caffeine, probably the most common stimulant.

Chilling out with relaxation drinks?

Relaxation drinks seem like an appealing way to relieve stress, but some are not as harmless as they appear.

If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.

Is 5-HTP the key?

Can 5-HTP help with depression, appetite, and other conditions?

Your body makes 5-HTP, but it can also be made in a lab and used in dietary supplements. Products containing 5-HTP are marketed to help with a number of health conditions, including appetite control and depression. Do they work? Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on 5-HTP to find out.

Do you have other questions about dietary supplements that need answers? Then check out our other OPSS FAQs, where you’ll find information about performance products, weight-loss products, specific ingredients, and more. 

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