Health & Safety

May 24, 2013

Shifty supplements: dangers of dietary aids

Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – With summer on the horizon, everyone is looking to get that perfect beach body. For many of us, reaching that goal means hitting the gym, eating better and eventually fitting into the bikini or trunks gathering dust in the closet.

While those goals to become more physically fit are admirable, service members should be cautious about adding supplementation to their workout regimen.

Certain commercial supplements are not allowed for use by service members due to health concerns. Members should understand what to look out for to avoid the consequences, and more importantly the risks, of taking a banned supplement.

“People ask me all the time about what supplements to take or not to take,” said Tony Arroyo, Health and Wellness Center exercise physiologist. “I tell them all the same thing – just try to avoid them.”

Arroyo suggested avoiding supplements because the Food and Drug Administration is not the authority determining the risks of these products. Instead of being FDA-approved, supplement manufacturers alone are responsible for ensuring supplement safety. While they do need approval from the FDA in order to introduce a new ingredient into a supplement, manufacturers do not need clearance to utilize the pre-approved ingredients in any combination they see fit.

Unfortunately, it seems a supplement will only be banned after a tragedy occurs as a result of the unknown effects of “new and improved” formulas.

In 2011, two Soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, died of heart failure during physical training. Doctors later determined that use of dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, was a factor in their deaths. In July 2012, another Soldier died during physical fitness training. His death was also linked to DMAA usage.

While people rarely die from supplementation, service members can still face consequences if they test positive for a banned ingredient. Since it is up to the commander’s discretion, members can face a letter of reprimand or even courts-martial, according to the Langley Air Force Base legal office.

Trying to determine each and every banned supplement by their ingredients is risky, so service members should be wary of any kind of supplementation and should avoid them outright, said Arroyo.

If members do choose to use supplements, Arroyo urged them to follow the instructions for the products.

“A lot of people like to believe more is better when it comes to supplementation,” Arroyo said. “If you want to avoid injury, however, it is important to read the labels and follow them to the letter.”

Arroyo also cautioned against replacing traditional, proven methods of health improvement with supplementation that promises to help users reach their goals quicker with less work.

“With all of the information out there on supplementation, not to mention people’s personal opinions, researching the effects of supplementation can be confusing,” Arroyo said. “Most of the time, service members just throw away their money when it comes to supplementation.”

If a member decides to consumer supplements, however, Arroyo stressed the importance of a good diet while utilizing supplementation in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Anything you find in a supplement can be found in the foods we eat every day,” Arroyo said. “Supplementation means just that; a supplement to your diet.”

Although there are some unknowns concerning supplementation in our diets, there is one fact that is indisputable – where they are purchased doesn’t make a difference to their legitimacy.

“Many people believe buying supplements on base means the supplement is safe to use and approved by the military,” Arroyo said. “That isn’t always the case.”

Companies who sell these products on base do not fall under any military organization, and while they often try to comply with military interests, they do not have to forbid selling certain supplements, said Arroyo.

Army and Air Force Exchange Services and GNC have pulled some supplements off shelves.

Looking good in the summer often means staying fit and eating healthy, and supplements might seem to help while working towards a perfect physique. However, fitness is a year-round effort, so stay vigilant about supplementation in order to spend summer at the beach, not the commander’s office.




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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