Supplements 101: What are you taking?

Supplements may have benefits when used to complement a proper diet and workout plan. Due to certain supplements having been banned for health concerns, service members should know what they are using and how to use it properly before taking any type of supplement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras/Released)

Supplements may have benefits when used to complement a proper diet and workout plan. Due to certain supplements having been banned for health concerns, service members should know what they are using and how to use it properly before taking any type of supplement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras/Released)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- In today's military community, fitness is a key component to maintaining readiness. Whether performing a cardio routine or weightlifting, there are supplements that claim to offer an athletic advantage to increase performance in these areas.

With a plethora of enticing options on the market, questions come to mind on whether or not supplements are worth using and, more importantly, if they are safe to use.

Susan Runyan, 354th Medical Operations Squadron health and wellness dietician, said supplements are taken for multiple reasons, from trying to prevent illness to seeking weight loss alternatives.

Runyan explained that dietary supplements are generally taken orally to enhance health, fitness or nutrition, but are not considered a food. They differ from food additives, however, which must receive Food and Drug Administration approval before use.

"Supplements are not regulated in the same way as food and drugs, so people need to be even more cautious. They have their own set of laws that govern them that are less stringent than foods or drugs," she said. "I recommend individuals research the benefits and risks of a supplement, such as if there is evidence that it actually works."

Taking supplements can be beneficial and can often complement a healthy lifestyle, but they should not be seen as a cure for having an unhealthy routine, Runyan added.

In a 2011 report, more than one-third of military personnel reported daily dietary supplement use. That same year, two Soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, died of heart failure during physical training. Their deaths were linked to the use of products containing dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, which has since been banned by the FDA.

Certain supplements are not allowed for use by military members due to health concerns. Runyan advised that anyone thinking about using supplements should understand the potential risks of taking them first.

By their namesake, supplements are specifically meant to supplement a diet. Food can provide the necessary carbohydrates and proteins supplements offer, but there are exceptions.

"Food should always be the first choice for extra nutrients," Runyan said, "but I do recommend supplements that would help eliminate a nutritional deficiency or reduce a health risk."

The bottom line is that military members should be cautious when choosing a supplement, Runyan said. Know what you are putting in your body before you do it and be sure to use them correctly, following all usage instructions.

For more information about supplements, contact Runyan at 377-9357, or go to http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/.