Health & Safety

March 27, 2015

The hazards of dietary supplements

Capt. Maggie Coppini
Aerospace & Operational Physiologist

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE- Idaho — How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Have you been hitting the gym like you wanted to, modified your diet, or restocked your dietary supplement shelf?

Before you throw some more money at protein shakes, diet pills, and energy drinks, I encourage you to research the products you’re buying and ingesting.

Americans are crazy about supplements! In 2013 The New York Times reported that Americans spend about $32 billion annually on dietary supplements. 32 billion dollars! Additionally, 55,000 supplements are sold in the U.S. Only 0.3 percent have been studied closely enough to determine side effects. While some supplements like essential vitamins and minerals may be safe to consume regularly, there are many supplements whose long-term effects are simply unknown or downright harmful.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the manufacturing process of supplements and we often don’t know the hazards until someone gets sick or dies from taking them. Manufacturers are required to list the ingredients, include a “supplement facts” panel, and state that the product does not prevent, treat, or cure disease or medical conditions. However, there’s no guarantee of quality, purity, safety or effectiveness.

The FDA estimates that 70 percent of dietary supplement companies aren’t following basic quality control standards.

It is important to be aware of high-risk product categories such as bodybuilding products, weight-loss products, diabetes products and sexual enhancement products. Also, if the label claims to have a similar effect to an FDA-approved drug, that’s an indication that it may contain substances that aren’t on the ingredients list, prescription drug analogs or banned substances.

“May cause positive results in a performance-enhancing drug test” should be a no-brainer red flag, especially for those of us in the military who have to take random urinalysis tests. Also, be on the lookout for labels that claim to cure a wide range of unrelated diseases (i.e. cancer in addition to diabetes), who promise quick fixes (i.e. “Cures XYZ in 7 days!”), has text in a foreign language or has a black box warning.

To make smart decisions about dietary supplements, educate yourselves. Look for products with seals from third-party verification programs, like United States Pharmacopeia, National Sanitation Foundation International, Informed-Choice and

The Human Performance Resource Center online ( is a Department of Defense sponsored organization with a lot of great information about dietary supplements.

Click on the “dietary supplements” section and access the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which allows you to research products before buying them.

Always drink plenty of water if you’re taking supplements. Check with your doctor before starting a new one, and read the label for any warnings. There’s no replacement for a healthy diet and regular exercise. Be smart about what you’re feeding yourself and how to safely build your healthiest physique.

[Editor’s Note: Information Courtesy of New York Times, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Human Performance Resource Center.]

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