Taking supplements: What are you putting in your body?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mike Tryon
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
In last week's article, "C4 Extreme" was discussed, as was dimethylamylamine, (DMAA), a legal substance that many military installations have banned. This week's article will discuss what a supplement is and the potential effects supplements have on the body.

The U.S. supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and many athletes and military members take supplements at some point in their lives, if not daily.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dietary supplement is "a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients that are intended to supplement one's diet and are not considered food."

The Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act further defines a supplement as "a product other than tobacco that is taken by mouth, that contains one or more vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, substances supplementing the diet by increasing the daily dietary intake, or a concentrate, constituent, metabolite, extract, or combination of these, that is not represented as a food or as constituting a meal or the sole item of the diet, and that contains as part of its labeling the words 'dietary supplement.'"

Simply put, a supplement is anything, other than food, that one takes to enhance their diet, said Cindy Mulcahy, 90th Medical Operations Squadron dietitian. Supplements range from dietary and performance enhancing pills to energy drinks and even some herbal teas.

"One of the most-used types of supplements today is energy drinks," Mulcahy said. "Those are potentially harmful due to the high levels of caffeine and have the same risk factors as the other supplements taken in powder and pill forms."

Some of the reasons people might take supplements are to promote health, prevent illness, enhance physical and cognitive performance, increase strength and stamina, build muscle mass, boost energy and lose weight, she added.

"You are responsible for what you put in your body," Mulcahy said. "The Department of Defense recently started the 'Operation Supplement Safety' campaign, and on the Web site http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/opss. Information for the warfighter can be found here and the benefits and risks of particular supplements used."

While supplements are not drugs, they can have similar effects to the body. Drugs are regulated and tested by the Food and Drug Administration, whereas supplements are not tested.

"Companies can pay to have their supplement tested, but that doesn't guarantee their safety for the rest of time," Mulcahy said. "Just because the supplement was tested and labeled doesn't mean all supplements by that manufacturer are safe. You need to maintain a 'buyer beware' vigilance when taking supplements.

"You need to pay attention to what you take," she added. "It can happen, that someone ends up getting a 'tainted' supplement."

Tainted supplements are supplements that either contain synthetic steroids or contain multiple ingredients with stimulants, she added. Tainted supplements can cause an increased chance of stroke, organ failure or death. They could also possibly result in a member testing positive during a drug urinalysis.

When it comes to supplement use, there is only one that is banned nationwide, Ephedra; however, using the substance Andro can result in violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for servicemembers, she added. Many supplements contain derivatives of Andro, making it very difficult for a servicemember to understand the ingredients on the supplement label.

"Supplement use can be beneficial to individuals, but nothing will replace the need to live a healthy life," Mulcahy said. "Get a good night's sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise and get regular activity, and reduce stress as much as possible."

*Editor's note: This is the second article in a series of articles focusing on dietary supplements. Read future issues of the Warren Sentinel for additional information.