JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - RANDOLPH, Texas --
Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, herbs and other substances that are used for a variety of reasons, like adding nutrients to one’s diet, lowering the risk of various health problems, enhancing performance and achieving weight loss.
But nutritionists and other health professionals agree they are not a substitute for a healthy diet and some can have a harmful impact on a person’s health.
The Air Force takes the use of dietary supplements seriously, participating in Operation Supplement Safety, a Department of Defense initiative that educates health care providers and service members on diet supplement safety. Air Force Instruction 40-104, Health Promotion Nutrition, directs installation commanders to communicate the “informed, responsible and safe use of dietary supplements at least annually.”
“The purpose of Operation Supplement Safety is to have members make safe, informed decisions on supplements that can be harmful to their health,” said Aracelis Gonzalez-Anderson, 359th Medical Group Health Promotions Program coordinator.
One of the caveats of supplement use is that, although their manufacturers are responsible by law to ensure their products are safe before they hit the market, they are not held to the same standards as pharmaceutical evidence-based medications prior to reaching store shelves, she said.
A problem with some supplements is that they block nutrients the body needs, said Claudia Holtz, 559th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotions Program manager.
“Certain medications can bind with nutrients and inhibit their absorption,” she said. “Some nutrient-rich foods and dietary supplements can interfere with the effectiveness of medications.”
Before taking any medication or supplement, patients should talk to their doctor or a health care professional to discuss possible interactions and what steps they can take to ensure their body is effectively absorbing important nutrients, Holtz said.
Another problem with supplements is that their effectiveness is not really known, said Lt. Col. Michelle Anton, 359th AMDS commander.
“Supplements have not been proven to do what they claim they are supposed to do,” she said.
Holtz said supplements have not been researched enough to substantiate claims about their effectiveness.
“We’re not telling people not to take them,” Anton said. “But if they are taking them, they should make sure they know everything they can about them, including how they interact with medications they may be taking. It’s important to make an informed decision.”
Not all dietary supplements contain unsafe ingredients, Gonzalez-Anderson said, but service members and DOD civilians can see which supplement ingredients are prohibited by the DOD by consulting the Operation Supplement Safety website, www.opss.org, a handy, comprehensive reference that addresses topics such as fitness and performance, dietary supplement ingredients, weight loss and health. The website also includes alerts and announcements that are updated regularly.
“People should refer to that website for a listing of prohibited dietary supplements as the listing is consistently changing,” she said.
One of the ingredients prohibited by the DOD is cannabidiol, or CBD, a naturally occurring substance found in marijuana and a controlled substance that cannot be used in any products. CBD oil has been associated with recent severe adverse events in U.S. service members, especially with regard to vaping, according to the OPSS website.
“There are reports of fatalities and emergency room visits after using the CBD oil vaping with symptoms of confusion, altered consciousness and seizures,” Holtz said. “Other reported symptoms include hypertension, weight loss, irritability and anxiousness.”
The FDA has not approved CBD for the treatment of any condition, she said.
“Researchers are still examining the therapeutic effects,” Holtz said.
Energy drinks to assist performance are another product that should be used with caution, Gonzalez-Anderson said.
“Be aware of the additional amount of caffeine and other supplements unknown that may not be regulated,” she said.
Supplements are not a substitute for food, Holtz said.
“A healthy diet consists of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate recommends for daily allowances,” she said. “The foods should be from a very colorful diet using fruits, vegetables, proteins from a meat or plant source and complex carbohydrates.”