NEWS | Oct. 13, 2015

Operation Supplement Safety

By Tech. Sgt. Renae Pittman JB Charleston Public Affairs

Airmen and Sailors alike want to be healthy, fit, and have plenty of energy to get through their days. When does pursuing these goals have adverse side effects on your health and, possibly, affect the future of your career?

Supplements, energy drinks and health foods are becoming increasingly popular and some even have approval of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, that does not guarantee these products are safe for military members to consume. Many ingredients used in supplements are not recommended for military members because they can cause failures on urinalysis tests and poor performance on physical fitness tests.

"Dietary supplements are not tested for safety, so at any given time there could be ingredients that aren't listed on the label or dosages that are inaccurate," said Alaine Mills, a health promotion dietitian with the 628th Medical Group Health and Wellness Center (HAWC). "Supplements are also not tested for effectiveness, so claims that supplements produce certain results are often completely false."

Products found at most stores including multi-vitamins, pre-workout drinks, protein supplements and weight loss thermogenics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safe consumption. Health complications such as liver damage, irregular heartbeat, hypertension, insomnia, heartburn and stomach ulcers are all common side effects of using these products.

"Having a proper diet and exercise regimen is the only real way to build muscle, lose weight and become healthy for the long term, there are no short cuts. It is essential to do your homework before putting anything in your body. Just because a product is sold on base does not mean it is safe," said Mills.  Using food in its natural form can produce many of the outcomes that popular supplements promise and it is safer and less expensive.

     · Are you taking body-building supplements? Focus meals around chicken, seafood, eggs, oysters, beans, nuts and seeds. These foods promote muscle growth.
     · Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)? Food sources for those nutrients include cottage cheese, seafood, meat and poultry, nuts and seeds, as well as dried, whole lentils.
     · Whey or Casein protein supplements? Adding milk, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese and yogurt to your daily diet will help your body naturally repair muscle.
     · Creatine Supplements? Try increasing your intake of lean red meats, wild game and fish (particularly salmon, herring and tuna)

"One third of Airmen report using legal body building supplements and one in six say they've used weight loss supplements in the past year," said Col. (Dr.) John Oh, the chief of health promotion for the Air Force Medical Support Agency. "Body building and weight loss supplements, as well as sexual enhancement and diabetes supplements, are high-risk categories that should raise red flags."

There are many resources available to military members to help identify how "high threat" a supplement can be for you, but there is no banned list or approved list of supplements for Department of Defense members. The OPSS website contains videos, fact sheets, FAQs and briefings to help Airmen make informed, responsible decisions on supplement use. Additionally, the website has an "Ask the Expert" feature where Airmen can directly pose questions to a supplement expert.

"Reading the labels on supplements is crucial. Words like "proprietary blend" and "delivery systems" are generic terms used to disguise potentially harmful mixes of chemicals," said Mills. "Bottom line, if it promises a quick fix, has numerous unpronounceable words and has multiple daily values above 200% (besides fish oil and glucosamine), chances are it isn't your best bet to becoming healthy."

"We encourage military members to get educated on dietary supplement safety through Operation Supplement Safety, the Department of Defense dietary supplement education and safety campaign," Oh said. More information about the campaign can be found at: www.hprc-online.org/opss.