Filed under: Supplements
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight, earning it the nickname “sunshine vitamin.” It plays key roles in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including depression, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside on a sunny day with your arms and legs uncovered can provide nearly all the vitamin D most people need—challenging when you’re wearing a long-sleeved uniform or working inside all day—but you can also get some vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish (such as salmon), mushrooms, and many fortified foods.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for most individuals is 600 IUs. People who have a vitamin D deficiency or certain medical conditions might require supplemental vitamin D but only under the supervision of their healthcare provider. That’s because excess vitamin D can be stored in your body, putting you at risk for toxicity. Over time, too much vitamin D can lead to irregular heart rhythms, kidney damage, and other serious health problems. If you take large doses of supplemental vitamin D and eat foods that are fortified with it, you could easily obtain more than recommended amounts.
Despite the risk for toxicity, nearly one-fourth of people living in the U.S. have low vitamin D levels, so all adults and children should have their vitamin D status checked by their healthcare provider. For more information about vitamin D, read this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is a joint military initiative between the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to educate service members and retirees, their family members, leaders, healthcare providers, and DoD clinicians about dietary supplements and how to choose them wisely.
OPSS has partnered with Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) to provide all DoD personnel with access to evidence-based information on dietary supplements, including Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)®.
Now there is an Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data (OPSS & ND) app available that can help you make an informed decision by giving you:
- Dietary supplement safety and effectiveness (NMBER) ratings.
- Interaction ratings between drugs and natural medicines, known as “adverse reactions.”
- Effectiveness ratings for natural medicines by medical condition and more.
To access the app you must first visit HPRC’s link to NMCD and sign up for your free account. Click on the Warfighter version and use your valid .mil email address. Once you’ve created your free account you will have access to the full version of the app. Up-to-date reviews of commercially available products, Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)® for commercially available products, an Effectiveness Checker, and more will be at your fingertips.
If you have questions, please use the “Ask the Expert” button on the OPSS home page.
Dietary supplements containing ephedra are illegal. What is ephedra and why is it illegal in the United States? Read HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about ephedra to find out.
Also, be sure to check out our other OPSS FAQs, and if you still can’t find what you are looking for, use our “As the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers about powdered pure caffeine, particularly as sold in bulk on the Internet. At least one death has been associated with the use of such products, and FDA advises consumers about the potency of powdered pure caffeine. See FDA’s Consumer Advice, which includes information about how to report an adverse event.
According to this consumer resource from FDA, you should limit your caffeine intake to just 100–200 mg per day (about 5–10 ounces of coffee). Taking large doses of caffeine—roughly 400–500 mg—at one time can result in a serious condition known as “caffeine intoxication.” Some symptoms of caffeine intoxication are minor and include nausea, vomiting, agitation, nervousness, or headache. Other symptoms can be more life-threatening, such as rapid heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, very high blood sugar, or high levels of acid in the blood, which can cause seizures. See the OPSS FAQ to help you avoid hidden sources of caffeine.
HPRC has written several articles about energy drinks, their ingredients, and their potential harmful effects, especially for adolescents. They continue to be the topic of news articles, with another recent death of a teen who apparently consumed several energy drinks while on vacation and then died from cardiac arrest. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) urges the public to use caution when consuming energy drinks and lists many potential harmful reactions. Read more on this AAPCC web page, including statistics on reports of “exposures” to energy drinks.
HPRC has an Infosheet on energy drinks, highlighting the ingredients you may find on labels,and their potential stimulant effects. Be aware of the potential dangers, especially for children and teens, as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Garcinia cambogia is being used as a dietary supplement ingredient in some products marketed for weight loss. What is it? And is it effective? Read this Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about Garcinia cambogia to find out. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
If you have more questions about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, you can visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
Last summer the Netherlands removed the weight-loss dietary supplement product Dexaprine from the market due to reports of serious adverse events, but the results of research into the cause has just been released. A recent article in Drug Testing and Analysis described at least 26 cases of Dexaprine toxicity reported to the Dutch Poisons Information Center. Testing revealed the existence of “a cocktail of synthetic stimulants” including synephrine, oxilofrine, deternol, yohimbine, caffeine, and theophylline, and possibly ß-methyl-ß-phenylethylamines. (Problematic forms of phenylethylamines, including ß-methylphenylethylamine. were discussed in an April 2014 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.) For more information about tainted weight-loss dietary supplements, see the Food and Drug Administration’s information. Note that this product is still available in the U.S. and online.
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.
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.
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.