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Deadly DNP in supplements

You may have read about deaths associated with weight-loss supplements containing DNP. What is it? Is it really all that dangerous?

DNP stands for “2,4-dinitrophenol,” an industrial chemical used in diet pills in the early 20th century that is now resurfacing. Over the past several years, deaths associated with DNP in weight-loss products have been reported.

A century ago DNP was recognized as dangerous and often deadly. In fact, the first Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938 made it illegal in oral products, describing it as “extremely dangerous and not fit for human consumption.” However, it is still made for pesticides and other industrial uses.

Virtually anyone can purchase the chemical and put it into a product. It is currently being marketed on the Internet as a weight-loss product. It takes very little for a lethal oral dose (as low as 4.3 mg/kg bodyweight, or about 350mg for a 180 lb person), and even skin or respiratory exposure can be toxic. DNP leads to dehydration from sweating, severely high body temperature, and cell poisoning, resulting in organ failure. There is no specific antidote for DNP poisoning, and treatment is often unsuccessful.

If you see “DNP” or “dinitrophenol” on a product label, steer clear! DNP supplements are marketed almost exclusively online, so be careful what you buy.

For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.

Can you spice up your weight loss?

Capsaicin gives certain foods their spiciness. It’s also being sold as a dietary supplement. But will it help you lose weight? Read more in the latest OPSS FAQ.

If you’ve ever eaten something spicy and felt a burning sensation on your tongue, then you’ve eaten capsaicin. Capsaicin is the substance found in chili peppers such as jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros that gives them their spiciness. Although humans have been eating peppers for thousands of years, capsaicin has only recently come into the supplement spotlight. As an isolated ingredient, it is usually sold as capsules labeled “cayenne pepper” or “capsicum” after the family of peppers that naturally contain capsaicin.

Capsaicin supplements are marketed to aid with weight loss in three ways: increase energy use, burn fat, and decrease appetite. Some scientific evidence supports these statements, but the results of most studies were inconsistent, short-lived, and didn’t always result in weight loss. Long-term effects of taking capsaicin supplements, especially at high doses, are still unknown, so their safety over time needs further investigation.

Although capsaicin is considered safe to consume in food, capsaicin supplements can cause gastrointestinal issues (gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea) for some people. They also can interact with certain medications and other herbal supplements, so you should consult a healthcare provider before taking it. Capsaicin supplements also may not be safe if you are allergic to peppers or if you‘re pregnant or lactating.

Visit Operation Supplement Safety for more OPSS FAQs about weight loss.

What is bitter orange?

Bitter orange, synephrine, and octopamine are three ingredients I’ve seen a lot on Supplement Facts panels and labels. What are they?

Bitter orange is an extract from the immature green fruit of the Citrus aurantium plant, also known as Seville orange. It is sometimes used in small amounts in food as a flavorant and often used in weight-loss supplements. The terms “bitter orange,” “bitter orange extract,” or “Citrus aurantium” are often used interchangeably with the ingredient name “synephrine,” but bitter orange (the extract from Citrus aurantium fruit) is actually a complex mixture of many compounds, including synephrine and octopamine. Although both synephrine and octopamine occur naturally in the Citrus aurantium plant, they also can be made in a laboratory.

Many safety concerns have been raised with regard to synephrine and octopamine, which are both stimulants. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) bans both of them, but the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) bans only octopamine. Bitter orange is frequently used in "ephedra-free" products since 2004, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned ephedra for its association with serious adverse cardiovascular effects. Combinations of stimulants—such as bitter orange and caffeine, commonly found together in weight-loss and bodybuilding products—can cause hypertension and increase heart rate in otherwise healthy adults. A major concern with products that list bitter orange (or synephrine, or octopamine) on the label is that the amount of stimulants in the product is sometimes very difficult—if not impossible—to determine. Service members should exercise extreme caution when considering whether to use supplements containing bitter orange.

No conclusive, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence clearly establishes that bitter orange is any safer than ephedra. For more information on bitter orange and ephedra, read the monographs in HPRC’s Dietary Supplement Classification System series.

For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.

Weight-loss promises

FDA warns against weight-loss products that don’t live up to their claims.

With New Year’s resolutions upon us, weight loss is often at the top of the list for many. However, before you consider a dietary supplement to help your weight-loss goals, be aware of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings that these products don’t live up to their claims. Even worse, some can result in serious harm.

Many dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss have been found to contain hidden prescription drugs or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans. FDA continues to identify “tainted” products and warns consumers to stay away from these tainted products. You can read more about this in FDA’s consumer-health article Beware of Products Promising Miracle Weight Loss and watch their video. Also, be sure to check out the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs about Weight Loss for additional information on weight loss and dietary supplements.

Those last 10 pounds—the weight-loss plateau

Struggling to lose those last few pounds? Here are some tips to help you get past the plateau and back on track to achieving your goal.

You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.

Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.

Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.

Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.

Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Intermittent fasting—long-term results?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Intermittent fasting has become a popular way to lose weight. But it is an effective and, more important, safe way to lose weight?

Intermittent fasting has become a popular strategy for weight loss. “Fasting” can mean different things—from fasting as much as 16 hours per day to skipping or restricting caloric intake (for example, to less than 500–600 calories) one or two days a week. Fasting programs may make promises to their followers to lose weight and improve health, but are they safe and effective?

The health benefits claimed for intermittent fasting have mostly come from studies with animals. A few small studies with humans have shown intermittent fasting—eating as usual five days a week and eating 25% less two days per week—may be useful for weight loss. Because these studies were short term, however, the long-term safety and effectiveness of intermittent fasting are unknown.

In addition, it is unclear if intermittent fasting is more effective for weight loss than just eating less on a daily basis. Intermittent fasting could lead to overeating on non-fasting days, and even advocates of intermittent fasting point out that the key to weight-loss success is not to overeat on “normal” eating days.

Eating too few calories over time can result in low levels of vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, and even the loss of muscle mass. And intermittent fasting can be dangerous for people with medical conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes, or eating disorders.

Common side effects of fasting include lack of energy, headaches, feeling cold, and constipation. Fasting can cause low blood sugar if you aren’t getting enough fuel to your brain, reducing your ability to concentrate and focus and affecting your sleep cycle and mood. These effects can interfere with your body’s ability to perform optimally.

Athletes who fast during Ramadan—a holy month when Muslims are expected to fast daily (no food or water) from pre-dawn prayer to post-sunset—provide some insights into the effects of fasting on performance. The limited intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid during fasting days sometimes affects their bodies’ ability to recover from exercise. Some found that their cognitive performance suffered as well due to the effects of even mild dehydration and inadequate carbohydrate intake. Exercise that is both physically and mentally challenging and long-lasting could have even greater negative effects.

Intermittent fasting may be unrealistic for long-term use. Reducing your overall caloric intake and a regular exercise program are the best combination for weight loss. 

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.

Will Phentermine cause a positive drug test result?

If I take Phentermine for weight loss, will it make me pop positive? Check out the new OPSS FAQ.

Phentermine, a prescription drug used for weight loss, is similar to amphetamine. So, will it cause you to pop positive on your military drug test? Is it ok to use as long as you have a prescription? Read the OPSS FAQ to find out answers to these questions.

OPSS has other FAQs to help answer questions about the safe use of dietary supplements. And the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List will be available soon, so check the OPSS homepage often for up-to-date information.

CLA for weight loss?

What is conjugated linoleic acid and why is it being used in weight-loss dietary supplement products?

Dietary supplements with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are being marketed to help with weight loss. What is CLA and can it really help you lose weight? Read HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about CLA to find out.

While you’re there, check out our other OPSS FAQs. Still can’t find the answer you’re looking for? You can visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

What is Garcinia cambogia?

What is Garcinia cambogia and why is it being used in weight-loss dietary supplement products?

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.

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