Health & Safety

April 19, 2012

Supplement use highest among overweight service members

Photo Credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Dietary and performance enhancing supplements, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, can produce adverse side effects and are used most by service members who are overweight.

VILSECK, Germany (April 10, 2012) — Dietary and performance enhancing supplements have an artificial image according to an expert who works at the Army Wellness Center here.

“Fewer than 30 percent of service members discuss dietary supplements use with their health care providers,” said Kim Waller, director of Bavaria’s only Army Wellness Center here, who quoted a study she read about supplement use by active duty service members. “A lot of people don’t consider the use of supplements to affect medication.”

Using both medications and supplements at the same time can increase a person’s risk of drug-supplement interactions, according to a statement on National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

The use of supplements alone can produce adverse side effects and cause consumers to feel faint or dizzy, Waller said. The substances may even cause consumers to have a headache or interfere with their sexual performance.

When these adverse effects happen, Waller said, who wants to raise awareness about the potential dangers of using some supplements, consumers “don’t stop taking them, they just try a different one or they decrease the dosage.”

“The thing with dietary supplements is that they are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” Waller said, who has a degree in clinical laboratory science. “The supplements do not have to be tested or proven effective before being sold.”

Testing occurs after a problem arises, like it did with ephedra, which was banned in 2004 after being on the dietary supplement market for almost a decade.

“After a careful review of the available evidence about the risks and benefits of ephedra in supplements, the FDA found that these supplements present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers,” according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.”The data showed little evidence of ephedra’s effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss, while confirming that the substance raises blood pressure and stresses the heart. The increased risk of heart problems and strokes negates any benefits of weight loss.

There is strong evidence that ephedra is associated with an increased risk of side effects, possibly even fatal ones.”

Another supplement containing 1,3-dimethylamylamine, known as DMAA, has been temporarily removed from Army and Air Force Exchange Service shelves because it is being associated with adverse events.

What consumers also need to know is that some supplements are laced with varying quantities of approved prescription drug ingredients, controlled substances, and untested and unstudied pharmaceutically active ingredients, according to the FDA’s website.

“These deceptive products can harm you,” according to the website. “Hidden ingredients are increasingly becoming a problem in products promoted for bodybuilding. Remember, FDA cannot test all products on the market that contain potentially harmful hidden ingredients. Enforcement actions and consumer advisories for tainted products only cover a small fraction of the tainted over-the-counter products on the market.”

There are products tested by third party entities for banned substances and receive a certification for meeting an international standard for a dietary supplement, but unknown ingredients in certified product’s proprietary blend are what concerns Waller, she said.

Proprietary blends do not list ingredients by volumes and are advertised to sell the product to consumer.

“It’s marketed to sound like something extreme,” Waller said. “What exactly is an Ener-Tropic Xplosion? It just sounds cool.”

The total sales for dietary supplements in the U.S. are estimated to be more than $27 billion annually, according to a consumer report from 2011.

Prevalence rates for those who use performance enhancing and dietary supplements are greatest in the Marine Corps, Waller said. Supplements are used most by individuals who have a Body Mass Index of more than 25 and who are moderate to heavy drinkers.

Soldiers’ use of supplements was second behind Marines, Waller said, quoting a 2005 survey on health related behaviors, which was completed by nearly 16,000 active duty members.

“Those who are overweight are more likely to use” supplements, Waller said. “You’re probably never going to get people to stop taking dietary supplements, but it seems like maybe there should be more information about the ingredients that are in them and how to take them safely.”

The Human Performance Resource Center, which is a Department of Defense initiative to promote warrior wellness and apply emerging technologies to Soldiers’ performance, is working to increase awareness about using dietary supplements safely. HPRC’s website, www.hprc-online.org, provides resources to help Soldiers and their families make informed decisions when choosing dietary supplements.

“Due to the long and tedious process of removing any product from the market, many potentially dangerous products remain for sale,” according to the HPRC website. “”The Department of Defense is about to launch an educational campaign to inform warfighters and their families about potential health risks and steps to take before using dietary supplements. This campaign, Operation Supplement Safety or OPSS, will focus on service members and their families.”




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