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Supplements: Awareness is a serious matter

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- Health, fitness and energy are important considerations for all Airmen, but when does pursuing them result in potential and real problems?

Supplements, health foods and energy drinks may be popular and even come with approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but that doesn't ensure compliance with current Air Force instructions or passing a urinalysis test. There are numerous supplements - and components used in them - which are either banned or not recommended for use by members of the military. Since the responsibility for avoiding non-compliant substances lies solely on the shoulders of each Airman, a little knowledge will go a long way in staying out of trouble.

Vigilance is the operative word. Paying attention to products known to include banned or low value ingredients needs to be part of the regular shopping routine.

"Although supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, that does not mean the products are necessarily safe. Supplements are not inspected or looked into until adverse reactions have been reported on a product," said Tiffany Brunton, a health promotion dietician at the Peterson Health and Wellness Center. "The best advice is (for military members) to seek appropriate guidance from their (health care) providers or, ideally, from registered dietitians, before starting a supplement routine to make themselves aware of the risks or possible interactions."

Products with strong advertising claims, such as, "alternative to FDA approved drug" or weight loss or muscle gain without changing diet or exercise, should draw extra scrutiny, Brunson said. She advised the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database as a source for any government employee to find information on various supplements regarding health risk rankings, adverse reactions, medication interactions and overall effectiveness.

Some products in FDA compliance, but not within Air Force regulations, include items that contain hemp seeds - an ingredient banned by Air Force Instruction 90-507 “Military Drug Demand Reduction Program” section 1.1.6., which reads:

"Studies have shown that products made with hemp seed and hemp seed oil may contain varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient of marijuana, which is detectable under the Air Force Drug Testing Program. In order to ensure military readiness, the ingestion of products containing or products derived from hemp seed or hemp seed oil is prohibited."

According to the 2011 Health Related Behavior Survey – Active-Duty Service Members, nearly 40 percent of personnel reported daily supplement and/or multivitamin use. Among all active-duty personnel participating in the survey, about 6 percent reported misuse with steroids and stimulants at about 17 percent and 12 percent respectively, the most commonly misused among prescription drug users.

Even commonly used energy drinks can present risks like increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety, nervousness, abnormal heart rhythm, sleep disturbance and dependence.

"If you have questions or concerns about a supplement, I suggest asking your doctor or visiting our office before using it," Brunton said.

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