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Supplements: Understanding what you put in your body...

By Sgt. Lukas Atwell | | March 9, 2007

When walking into a general nutrition store, people are often bombarded by dietary supplement labels promising to melt fat, boost energy or increase strength.

These promises can be especially appealing to service members, who must meet stringent weight requirements and physical fitness standards.

“Marines (and sailors) look for ways to optimize their fitness potential and might invest money in a dietary supplement that claims to have desirable results,” said Crystal A. Dilliard, a certified nutritionist with Marine Corps Community Services. “Whether you are consuming a dietary supplement in the form of a pill, powder, bar or drink, you need to be a smart consumer and do your research first,”

With prices ranging from a few dollars to more than $100, and products coming in all shapes and sizes, it can be hard to understand what your money is being spent on.

According to the Warfighter’s Guide to Dietary Supplements, consumers should also consider whether or not the product could have an adverse reaction to any prescription medications they may be taking or existing health conditions that may affect them.

Marines and sailors should talk to a nutritionist or a medical professional before taking supplements because their duties could put them at a higher risk for side-effects, said Navy Lt. Anis Miladi, the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 medical officer.

“If you do take supplements, you should adhere to the prescribed dosages,” Miladi added. “Supplements should be treated with the same care as medications.”

While food and medications are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, supplements aren’t held to the same standards.

The FDA holds supplement manufacturers responsible for the safety of their products and makes sure their claims are not misleading, Dilliard explained. However, manufacturers don’t have to register with the FDA before selling their product.

There have been measures taken by the government that help protect the public from harmful products.

In October 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. It was signed by former President Bill Clinton and mandated that supplements be labeled as “dietary supplements” and not make claims to treat, cure or prevent specific diseases. 

The act also calls for manufacturers to not only clearly list all ingredients, but also label that the contents have not been approved by the FDA.

In addition to health concerns, consumers should consider their performance needs when considering taking supplements.

“As a competitive power lifter and body builder, I found that supplements had no effect on my performance,” Dilliard said. “What worked for me was periodically evaluating and redesigning my exercise regimen, maintaining proper nutrition, adequate hydration, proper rest and living a healthy lifestyle.”

When choosing supplements, service members should also consider that some supplements like ephedrine have been banned for use by Marines and sailors.

Despite having a very physical lifestyle, Marines and sailors may find the answers to their nutrition concerns simply at the grocery store by choosing fruits, vegetables and low-fat meats.

“The best bet for proper nutrition is a balanced diet,” Miladi explained. “The average Marine or sailor can get everything they need from food.”

“Food provides your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function in a healthy manner, including achieving results in your work-out program,” Dilliard said.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series focused on nutrition, running in March in honor of National Nutrition Month.