By Tech. Sgt. Wes Wright
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The health promotions coordinator at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is emphasizing caution for Airmen taking or considering taking dietary supplements.
According to Carol Carr, HPC with the 21st Medical Squadron, serious health complications and even deaths can occur from uninformed or misuse of dietary supplements.
“Just because it’s sold in a place legal for you to purchase, doesn’t mean it’s a safe or effective product,” she said. “This is particularly concerning for our Airmen because in addition to health concerns, they could be at risk for legal trouble by taking a banned substance.”
Master Sgt. Jason Kieffer, acting first sergeant for the 50th Mission Support Group, said dietary supplements can impact Airmen’s readiness as well as their legal status.
“Hospitalization due to adverse reactions can impact your ability and ultimately your unit’s ability to accomplish the mission,” he said. “Additionally, as a military member, you are responsible for what you put into your body and failure to understand that does not prevent legal consequences.”
Carr’s cautionary efforts are part of a larger effort called Operation Supplement Safety, a Department of Defense educational campaign to inform leaders, providers, warfighters, and their families about potential health risks and what steps to take before deciding to use dietary supplements.
According to the DoD’s Human Performance Resource Center, by law, dietary supplement manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products are safe before they are marketed.
Unlike drug products, there are no provisions in the law for the Food and Drug Administration to “approve” dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they are offered to the consumer. Once a product is marketed, FDA must show that a dietary supplement is “unsafe” before it can take action to restrict a product’s use or remove it from the marketplace.
Because of this, Carr said suspicious practices may happen as manufactures sometimes put effectiveness or the appearance of effectiveness over safety.
“This is not to say every manufacturer out there is intentionally doing wrong and you shouldn’t ever take dietary supplements,” Carr said. “However, everyone should do their research to ensure what they’re taking isn’t banned and actually complements their health.”
The OPSS program website, www.opss.org, offers a myriad of tools for Airmen. In addition to the most current list of banned substances, Airmen can also find a list of “high risk supplements.” Not all supplements on the list are illegal or banned, but all pose potential health risks.
Additionally, anyone with a .mil email address has free access to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, where people can make informed decisions and get ratings on dietary supplements and natural products, as well as information about product ingredients.
These tools are also linked to a dietary supplement risk matrix which gives a number score to ingredients to help people evaluate risk versus reward.
While these resources contain an exhaustive list of ingredients, one is of particular concern to Carr.
“Caffeine is a drug that is pervasive throughout our culture because there are benefits, but it can also cause serious health problems,” she said. “Typically, about 200 milligrams is the peak number where you get the most benefit for the dosage, but higher doses than that can start to do more damage than good.”
Since many energy drinks and pre-workout powders have well in excess of 200 milligrams, Carr said everyone, but particularly people with heart conditions should pay attention to their caffeine intake.
“Pre-workouts can be especially dangerous because manufacturers will sometimes conceal the dosage behind the term ‘proprietary blend,’” Carr said.
The HPC said it’s a good idea for Airmen to buy dietary supplements that have been independently verified by a third party lab.
“The OPSS has a list of third party verifiers on their website, so you can educate yourself on what seals to look for,” Carr said.
While dietary supplements have their place, Carr said people should address their lifestyle choices as the first step in making improvements to their health.
“The best approach is getting your nutrition from a well-balanced diet,” she said. “Slow and steady consistency is the best approach to weight loss and healthy living. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a cheat meal or splurge once in a while; it’s about finding a healthy balance and having a mindset of not automatically throwing a bunch of supplements at your fitness goals.”