Banned ingredients found in supplements marketed to military members

Tests of 30 weight loss supplements aimed at service members revealed most were of low quality and many contained banned ingredients. The researchers called for more education and “other solutions.”

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

May 10, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • New research analyzed 30 weight loss supplements sold to soldiers. 
  • Only five of those 30 met label claims for strength and potency of ingredients. 
  • Most of the supplements contained ingredients banned by the U.S. Department of Defense. 

Supplements marketed to members of the military contain hidden and banned ingredients, a recent study has found. 

The new research was published in JAMA. It was the work of a group of researchers associated with the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi, the Uniformed Services University, and the Henry M. Jackson Institute for Military Medicine. 

The goal of the research was to assess the quality of weight loss supplements marketed to miliary members. The determinant of whether a supplement was marketed in this way was whether a discount was offered for service members. 

Military members targeted with poor quality products, researchers assert 

The researchers noted that service members can face serious consequences if the supplements they use have undeclared ingredients. These include health consequences, as in the two deaths associated with the prohibited ingredient DMAA. But they can also include failed drug tests, which can derail careers. 

“Yet, fraudulent marketing of weight loss products — some with exaggerated claims, some that are potentially dangerous, and some containing illegal ingredients — continues, especially through online sources. Some sources even target service members through offering military discounts. Service members need to know that the weight loss products they access through online sources are of high quality,” the researchers noted. 

Related:Dietary supplements and the elephant in the room: Quality

The researchers used a web search with the term “weight loss supplements military discount.”  Using the results of that search, up to five different supplements — going down the list of results – were purchased until 30 supplements from 12 different companies were reached.  

Those were then analyzed at NCNPR to determine if they met label claim and contained any undisclosed ingredients. 

The chemical analysis was done using a Liquid Chromatography-Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry technique. 

A separate analysis was done using a survey tool called the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) Risk Assessment Scorecard. This has seven yes-no questions:  

1. Is any one of these third-party certification seals on the product label? (BSCG Certified Drug Free, NSF Certified Sport, LGC’s Informed Sport, or USP (United States Pharmacopeia)  

2. Are there less than six ingredients on the Supplement Facts label?  

3. Is the label free of the words proprietary, blend, matrix, or complex?  

4. Can you easily pronounce the name of each ingredient on the Supplement Facts label?  

5. Is the amount of caffeine listed on the label 200 mg (milligrams) or less per serving? (If caffeine is not listed, mark “Yes”)  

6. Is the label free of questionable claims or statements? 

 7. Are all the % Daily Values (%DV) on the Supplement Facts label less than 200%? (If % DV is not listed, mark “No”). 

The products were tested for the presence of ingredients that are on the DoD list of banned ingredients. They were also tested for the presence of ingredients on the prohibited list maintained by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). 

Only four of 30 products pass muster in all respects 

The tests revealed that only five of the supplements met label claim and did not contain undeclared ingredients. Yet even one of those contained a DoD-banned substance, isopropylnorsynephrine, a stimulant drug. 

Of the 30 products, 10 contained ingredients on the DoD list. Those banned ingredients included DMAA, Acacia rigidula, ephedra and others. 

In addition, nine products included stimulants on the WADA list of banned substances. 

None of the products carried any of the sports certifications listed in question one above. Nor did any product list a certification from a third-party cGMP (current good manufacturing practices) audit. 

Solution: Only buy third-party-tested products 

The researchers expressed concern that these products were marketed with language that they considered predatory and might inaccurately convey they were somehow safer or of higher quality because they were being marketed directly to military members. They noted the importance of testing a product through an independent third-party group. 

“In summary, our analysis does suggest that predatory marketing and access to low-quality dietary supplements is present through online sources,” the researchers wrote. “The majority of products analyzed had inaccurate labels, some were misbranded, some would be considered adulterated with ingredients not allowed in dietary supplements, and some contained ingredients prohibited for use in the military.” 

To address the public health issue, the researchers recommended additional education and other solutions. 

“It’s imperative that our service members remain healthy and ready to serve, and not be put in harm’s way with predatory marketing,” they added. 




About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like