Filed under: Dietary supplements
It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.
Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:
- consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
- avoid energy drinks altogether.
However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.
Whole foods, not dietary supplements, should be your first choice for protein. Protein supports muscle growth and repair. People often turn to protein supplements (such as whey, casein, and soy) to optimize those effects, especially after a workout. Whole food protein sources such as lean meats, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are just as effective (in some cases more effective) than protein supplements. Whey protein products can be an acceptable, convenient, and efficient way to deliver protein when your needs are greater or when normal dietary sources are not available. If you are using protein supplements, be sure to choose a product that has been third-party evaluated for its quality. Read more here.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is again warning about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine. At least 2 deaths (both teenagers) were associated with it in 2014, yet it continues to be sold, primarily in bulk online. FDA recently sent warning letters to 5 distributors of pure powdered caffeine, warning about potential serious health effects. FDA notes that it’s difficult to determine the difference between a safe amount and a toxic amount but that one teaspoon is roughly equivalent to 28 cups of coffee. For more information, read FDA’s update and HPRC’s 2014 article.
Searching for reliable information about dietary supplements and don’t know where to go? Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has answers for you. OPSS has a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)” section with subcategories about general and miscellaneous topics, dietary supplement ingredients, performance, and weight loss. Or if you’re an educator and need some videos or short PSAs, click on “Tools for Warfighters,” and then search the “Video” tab. We also have materials that can be printed for distribution or ordered through the USAPHC Health Information Products e-catalog.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for while in OPSS? Use our Ask the Expert button located on the OPSS home page.
Dietary supplements and medications (prescription or over-the-counter) can be a dangerous combination. Many dietary supplement ingredients, especially herbs and botanicals, can interact with drugs or even other dietary supplements, which can either increase or decrease the effectiveness of your medications. In other words, you could be getting too much or too little of the medications that you need, putting your health at risk.
If you are taking or plan on taking a dietary supplement, inform your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe to use with your medications. Even then, you should still take caution, as some dietary supplements contain ingredients not listed on the label.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to be aware of certain supplement/drug interactions and offers tips to stay safe. For more information, see the FDA’s Consumer Update. And for information about many known interactions, visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD).
Conventional foods and dietary supplements follow different rules when it comes to labeling, but the difference between the two isn’t always black and white. Such is the case with protein powders. If you look closely at various protein powders, you may notice that some are labeled with Nutrition Facts (required for foods), while others have Supplement Facts (required for supplements). So are protein powders conventional foods or dietary supplements? Read more in our OPSS FAQ on protein powder labels.
For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety FAQs.
If you suffer from concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), don’t be tempted to turn to dietary supplements to help you get back on the field. Several dietary supplement manufacturers have promoted products to help with recovery from concussions and TBIs, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these claims. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is monitoring this issue and contacting specific companies making claims that their products can prevent, treat, or cure concussions.
FDA warns consumers to avoid using products that claim to prevent or treat a concussion or TBI. For more information about these claims and FDA’s response, see this Consumer Update.
Stimulants can be dangerous to your health, especially in large quantities, but they’re what give energy drinks their “punch.” You may already know caffeine is a major stimulant found in energy drinks. But do you know that energy drinks often contain other stimulants? These can include “hidden sources” of caffeine (such as guarana, green coffee bean, green tea, and yerba mate), yohimbe, and synephrine (bitter orange).
Many energy drinks, however, aren’t labeled with the amounts of caffeine or other stimulants in them. Some or all of these ingredients are often part of “proprietary blends,” so it’s impossible to determine from the label the exact amount of each ingredient you would be taking. Furthermore, energy drinks might be mislabeled or marketed as sports drinks, causing even more confusion.
Remember, stimulants come in many different forms, so Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) put together a list of stimulants found in dietary supplements to help you identify these potentially harmful ingredients. And to help you understand what’s in your energy drink, check out the OPSS infosheet on energy drink labels, which includes helpful notes about ingredients.
Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are marketed to maximize your performance by giving you extra energy and enhancing your focus during workouts so you can train longer and harder. But these supplements don’t contain any nitric oxide, which is a gas. So what’s really in them, and do they work? More important, are they safe to use? Find out in our OPSS FAQ on nitric oxide supplements.
Service members should be careful about taking dietary supplements because many of these products contain hidden active ingredients that can result in harmful effects.
The most common types of dietary supplements found to contain “undeclared” ingredients (that is, substances not listed on the label) are those marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified over 600 tainted dietary supplements. FDA specifically warns against the use of products that claim to be “alternatives” to FDA-approved drugs or “legal” alternatives to anabolic steroids.
Dietary supplements don’t require approval by FDA before being put on the market, and without laboratory testing there is no way to know the contents of a product. If you’re considering a dietary supplement, be sure to check the label to see if the product has been evaluated by an independent third-party organization.
For more information, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), including the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List.