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Women’s health and dietary supplements

Military Health System has designated October as Women’s Health Awareness month. Find out how dietary supplements play a role in a women’s life.

About half of all military personnel use some dietary supplements, and military women most commonly use weight-loss supplements. But is there a place for dietary supplements in enhancing women’s health? Dietary supplements, by definition, are intended to “supplement the diet” and can contain a dietary ingredient such as a vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical, amino acid, or combinations of these and/or other substances or constituents intended to be consumed by mouth.

Active women may require more nutrients, but vitamin and mineral needs normally can be met by eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus largely on the recommendation that nutrient-dense foods and beverages—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds—can provide all the nutrients needed by most everyone. These recommendations are based on research that shows a varied, healthy diet lowers the risk of most diseases.

Some dietary supplements have been found to be beneficial for women’s health, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium. Folic acid, a B vitamin involved in the production of new cells in the body, has been shown to help prevent birth defects. Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant should take a supplement that includes 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Fortified foods such as green, leafy vegetables, enriched whole grain breads, flour, pasta, rice, and most ready-to-eat cereals also contain folic acid. Adolescent girls, women of childbearing age, and especially pregnant women also need more iron, which is a mineral involved in the transport of oxygen in the body. Women in these groups should choose iron-rich foods, particularly red meat, fish, and poultry, as well as iron-fortified foods. When iron levels are low, symptoms may include feeling extra tired and weak, along with a decrease in immune function. A healthcare provider or dietitian can determine the need for supplementation if diet alone cannot maintain iron levels or for those who have iron-deficiency anemia. Calcium is an important mineral that helps maintain strong bones, healthy teeth, and proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. All women should strive to get their calcium from foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, dark-green, leafy vegetables, and foods such as orange juice and soy milk that have been calcium-fortified. Those who may need more should discuss calcium supplement options with a dietitian, since there are many forms available and it is important to determine how much and which kind is suitable for your particular needs.

Some dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss are targeted toward women. Do they work? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some weight-loss supplements contain hidden prescription drug ingredients. For additional information, see Operation Supplement Safety’s (OPSS) “Are there any safe supplements to help me lose weight?” Furthermore, women looking to enhance their performance may turn to dietary supplement products. OPSS has additional resources for competitive athletes to search for particular products that are certified, as well as helpful red flags on what to avoid.

Some women’s nutrient needs differ from those of men, and they can vary over the course of a lifetime. From adolescent girls, to women of childbearing age, to women over 50, these needs change based on the demands of the physiological changes that occur in the body.  One thing is certain: A variety of nutritious food is really the spice of life and should be the basis for fueling all of life’s stages.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database App

Healthcare provider app to get answers and data on natural medicines at any time.

Healthcare providers can search for safety and effectiveness ratings for commercially available dietary supplement products, potential interactions between drugs and natural medicines, and other effectiveness ratings for natural medicines used for health conditions. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) App is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android. Use your .mil email address to open an account with NMCD. See more information here. And watch for the Warfighter version coming soon!

Consumer Reports on 10 hazards of dietary supplements

The Consumer Reports website recently posted an article outlining the potential dangers of dietary supplement products.

People take dietary supplements for lots of different reasons, and some may take them because they believe they are “natural” and therefore safe. A new article from lists 10 hazards of taking dietary supplement products, pointing out that supplements are not risk-free.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.

FDA reports dietary supplement manufacturing violations

About half of those dietary supplement manufacturers inspected by FDA found to have manufacturing violations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found violations in manufacturing practices in half of almost 450 dietary supplement companies it has inspected over the last four years, according to a Chicago Tribune article. The implications of these findings can have serious health problems for consumers. Since dietary supplement manufacturers are the ones responsible for ensuring a product is safe before it is marketed, the FDA inspects companies to check for compliance and takes action only if a product is deemed unsafe after it has been marketed. For more information, see the FDA website’s Dietary Supplements section.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) will launch this summer, with answers to many of the questions you may have about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.

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Alert: Dendrobium for performance?

A new dietary ingredient—a stimulant—has emerged in dietary supplement products marketed to boost athletic performance.

A new dietary supplement ingredient, dendrobium, is appearing rapidly in dietary supplement products promoted to boost athletic performance. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, manufacturers claim that dendrobium is a natural source of the stimulant phenylethylamine, but some researchers say that phenylethylamine doesn’t occur naturally in dendrobium. Phenylethylamine is a stimulant, with effects similar to those of amphetamines. At this time, the safety of dendrobium is unknown, so users should be aware that products containing this ingredient might be unsafe, particularly when used in combination with exercise.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.


FDA Warns Companies about DMAA Safety

Marketers and distributors of products containing DMAA warned by FDA.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements containing 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA) due to lack of safety evidence provided before marketing. The FDA states that information about the safety of DMAA as a dietary supplement ingredient has not been identified. For more information, see the FDA News Release and HPRC’s latest on Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA.

DMAA list updates

HPRC has again updated its list of DMAA containing products. The latest news includes New Zealand’s ban on DMAA-containing products.

The latest news on DMAA includes the New Zealand government’s ban just placed on DMAA-containing products. DMAA has already been declared a drug in Canada and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA), collegiate sports teams, and most professional sports teams.

HPRC has again updated its list of DMAA-containing dietary supplements, including a number of additions as well as some products that have been discontinued or reformulated. The additions mostly represent lesser-known products that have been around a while, but surprisingly there are a couple new products too. And we have added two new “aliases” to the list of other names for DMAA. To download the list, click on this link to “Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA.

Introducing OPSS: Operation Supplement Safety

Watch for new educational materials about how to determine if a dietary supplement is relatively safe or not.

Do you buy dietary supplements when you want to lose weight, improve your performance, or give yourself a boost to get through a long day or hard workout? Then watch for this soon-to-be-released service-wide educational campaign by the Department of Defense in collaboration with the Human Performance Resource Center. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) will help Warfighters and their families make informed decisions when choosing dietary supplements. See HPRC’s new OPSS link for an introductory article on supplement safety.

Dietary supplements and drug testing

Want to know if your dietary supplement or prescription drug product will affect your drug test? Consult with DoD laboratories for help.

HPRC has received a number of questions about whether dietary supplements—especially those used for bodybuilding and weight loss—could result in a positive result on military drug tests.

Military drug testing begins with urine, which is first screened and then followed by additional tests depending on the outcome of the screen. You can get extensive information about DoD’s drug policy and drug testing from the Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP), including military testing. And for answers about the potential effects of specific dietary supplements on drug screening tests, you can contact your service’s military drug-testing laboratory by phone or email at:

Positive urinalysis results due to dietary supplement use can occur because products on the market may contain undeclared drug ingredients—that is, controlled substances that are not stated/listed on the product label. More information can be found in the FDA Consumer Update There you will also find information about how to get updates about products FDA has identified as tainted. There is no way to know if a particular supplement contains an undeclared drug without laboratory testing, but FDA does keep track of such products once identified through its MedWatch program.

The Department of Defense (DoD) currently has no formal policy on the use of dietary supplements and no list of either banned or safe supplements. For more on this topic, see Operation Supplement Safety’s (OPSS) FAQ “Is there an all-encompassing list of dietary supplements that are banned or illegal for use by military personnel?”

Dietary supplement module for continuing education credits

HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
Earn continuing education credits—or just learn more—from this two-hour educational module designed for military healthcare providers.

A web-based dietary supplement education module is available for military healthcare providers to provide valuable information about identifying and reporting adverse events, how to take a comprehensive supplement history from patients, and where to get evidence-based resources on evaluating dietary supplement literature. This two-hour module is available from HPRC’s website, and continuing education credits are available for those who are eligible.

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